The best defense is offense. It has been almost four decades since Mr. Miyagi famously taught Daniel LaRusso how to paint a fence and wash a car in The Karate Kid, but Cobra Kai’s rivaling dojos are still going strong.
Debuting in 2018, Cobra Kai expanded the Karate Kid franchise through the lens of a down-and-out Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), who was seeking redemption by reopening the infamous Cobra Kai dojo — and subsequently reigniting his rivalry with now successful car salesman Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio).
“It was like watching an old friend come back to life,” Zabka told Discussing Film in a September 2021 interview of his experience with returning to the role of Johnny after so many years. “It was a great feeling. … It was great because I got to dive deep into the humanity of the character. And, you know, in The Karate Kid, I played this very external fighter with an attitude, and now we’re getting into the soul of who the character was. So it’s very rewarding to play that, and very fun.”
While originally a YouTube Original, the mixed martial arts series slid over to Netflix in June 2020 and garnered huge success and critical acclaim, with season 3 even nabbing nominations for Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Stunt Work at the 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards.
“We love making this show, but we also know that it’s a comedy, a drama, and an action series. It’s a lot of things and we don’t necessarily fit into one category in the minds of some people,” cocreator Josh Herald told Deadline during a July 2021 interview. “The concept of our show is taking the villain from The Karate Kid, putting him front and center, and giving him the Better Call Saul treatment where you’re emotionally invested in his story. We’re really grateful to Netflix and Sony, as well as our cast and crew.”
While the action-comedy is undoubtedly a success, it was a gamble Zabka wasn’t sure he would take when the series was first pitched to him.
“My concern going in was what the tone of the show was going to be because The Karate Kid was such a family movie from the ’80s, [so] how are we going to achieve this today?” he told Page Six in December 2021. “Also, I wanted to make sure that at the end of the show, Johnny doesn’t take the proverbial crane kick in the face and become cemented as the biggest villain of all time.”
However, when the creators assured him Cobra Kai would take a different approach to his character, Zabka couldn’t say no. “I always felt like I wasn’t finished with Johnny Lawrence. He was always stirring in me, so I was prepared for a pitch,” the New York native explained.
Macchio, for his part, returned for Cobra Kai after what he considered a “repetitive” third installment with 1994’s The Karate Kid III upon realizing that a TV show could explore depths the film trilogy never could.
“The creators find ways to take that story and let it evolve and find backstories for characters who might have been thinly written. There is a larger-than-life element to Cobra Kai,” the actor told Collider in January 2022. “The perspective of Daniel as an adult, now we are adding other stakes and elements about his own kids and students. It is remarkable that what I would call the shortcomings of the original franchise are now bearing fruit 36 years later.”
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