Ever since the selling off of YouTube Premium original programming, where Cobra Kai started, to streaming giant Netflix, fans have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of Season 3 of the Karate Kid spinoff series. Originally slated to be released on YouTube Premium in the summer of 2020, Netflix delayed the release so that they could put seasons 1 & 2 on their service first to further drive interest for what was YouTube’s most successful original program, and it worked. With fans clamoring for the new season, Netflix bumped up the already filmed season (completed back in 2019, pre-pandemic, specifically designed for Youtube as the previous 2 seasons were) up a week to coincide with the NYE clock strike (PST), Cobra Kai Season 3 was released unto the masses.
Picking up with the aftermath of the chaotic high school karate fight, we learn that Miguel (Xolo Mariduena) is in a coma after Robbie’s (Tanner Buchanan) ill-fated kick, which has sent Robbie on the lam from both surrogate dad Daniel (Ralph Macchio) and real dad Johnny (William Zabka) as well as the law. Meanwhile, Samanta Larusso (Mary Mouser) is still haunted by the events of the fight and tensions are at an all-time high between former best friends Eli, aka ‘Hawk’, (Jacob Bertrand) and Demetri (Gianni Decenz0).
Johnny is still on the epic bender we saw him start at the end of season 2, as we pick up weeks later after the incident, leaving Kreese (Martin Kove) to further increase his influence on the ever-growing malicious pack of Cobra Kai’s during his absence, further transforming them into a group of vipers that may be even more sadistic than his original class from the first Karate Kid film.
This season tries to incorporate in many subplots along with the main story of the fight that continues to brew between dojos. The effects of the season 2 fight damages the reputation of the Larussos in the community, causing Daniel and Amanda (Courtney Henggeler) to possibly consider selling their car dealership before a fortuitous trip back to Japan for Daniel brings back old friends and foes (Tamilyn Tomita’s Kumiko and Yuji Okumoto’s Chozen) to conveniently wrap things up with that story all too quickly. We also see development in the relationship between Johnny and Miguel’s mother Carmen (Vanessa Rubio), further exploration into the family situation of tough girl Tory (Peyton List), and strangely, the backstory of John Kreese’s training and time serving in the Vietnam war.
Cobra Kai has always run a balance of the new developing stories of its younger cast and the almost Star Wars: The Force Awakens levels of fan service to the fans of the original Karate Kid films, and Season 3 does not change this trend. From the previously teased trip back to Tomie Village on Okinawa for Daniel to the resolution of the cliffhanger from Season 2 (which I won’t spoil here), Season 3 also uses other characters from the previous films.
And much like Season 2, it drops a cliffhanger ending that hints at a possible major Karate Kid 3 reunion, but leaves it ambiguous enough that the cliffhanger can be played out in many ways, much like season 2’s cliffhanger was. But it’s in these fan service moments that the series can sometimes be too far ‘on the nose’ as to pull the audience out of the developing newer stories, in particular, the eye-rolling resolution of the Lauruso’s Doyoda problem (yes – that’s a play on Toyota).
The strength of the series has remained in the acting and chemistry between the leads as Macchio and Zabka still play off each other masterfully. This season sees the pair team up to find Robbie in the first episode and move them closer to what all the fans really want to see – the Karate Senseis teaming up and merging. Zabka especially gets to show off a bit this season as Johnny finally takes big strides towards becoming the man that Carmen and the audience desperately want to see.
There’s also strong work this season from Buchanan as Robbie’s isolation plays out. We see him struggle against bullies while incarcerated (who are VERY obviously going to be released and become allies of Robbie’s in season 4), push away every one trying to help only to embrace the help of the one person he should avoid altogether. The cast also sees the welcome re-addition of Season 1 bullies Kyler (Joe Seo) and Yasmine (Annalisa Cochrane) with new story paths, the always delightful Hannah Kepple as Moon, and the bickering Larusso salesmen Anoush (Dan Ahdoot) and Daniel’s cousin Louie (Bret Ernst).
The final episode plays out in an even more bonkers crazy and ludicrous final fight than season 2’s finale with the younger cast, which is honestly a little too over the top, but perhaps the most long-awaited fight of the entire series. In the end, the series sets up the 4th season’s return to the Karate Kid basics and the Hill Valley Under 17 Karate Championships. The series also heavily hints that it will tie together the events of Karate Kid 3 and Daniel’s defense of his win from the original tournament that occurs in that film. At this point, one has to wonder if Hilary Swank from the Next Karate Kid will somehow be merged into the story, and where’s Robin Lively while we’re at it?
With Netflix actually producing Season 4, the first season to be produced by them, we can only hope that this 30-35 minute format that Youtube made Cobra Kai conform too, many times to its detriment, will be a thing of the past and allow the filmmakers more time to breathe and explore their characters and universe. But whatever happens, expect more heavy doses of fan service nostalgia to be dashed in and it appears that Karate Kid 3 might become essential homework before season 4 lands, which is likely in late 2021 or early 2022. Thankfully we’ll still have the insane chemistry between lifelong frenemies Daniel and Johnny to steer us through.
- Release Date: 1/1/2021