Something about Cobra Kai never fails to make me feel giddy. More than any other 1980s revival out there, this The Karate Kid followup series manages to both harness nostalgia and carry endless appeal to the younger generation. A prime example of this balance occurs very late in the fifth season (coming to Netflix on September 9), in which a character declares, “Youth is not a liability. It is the greatest power.” From there, the show cuts to a perfect scene set to a 1980s anthem, Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger,” which obviously carries special significance in and of itself. Yes, I want to talk about this scene after you watch it. For now, I will only tell you that this scene will make you feel chills and laughter while thanking the streaming gods that this show still exists.
Also, this season has so much Chozen. Chozen is a hoot! Yet mostly, this installment follows up on the heels of the Season 4 finale, in which Evil triumphed over Good. Granted, this happened because Evil cheated, but that’s the brilliant thing about Cobra Kai: it keeps us invested in hoping that the baddies suffer, whether they’re cartoonish or nuanced. And let’s just say that cartoonish is more fun when it comes to Evil, and this show knows it. After John Kreese showed a softer side, creators Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz, and Hayden Schlossberg knew that we still needed the overarching dichotomy to exist. So, they had Stingray help Terry Silver frame Kreese, and he’s clearly not doing so great these days. He’s in prison, where his greatest joy is trading Jell-O as a commodity. And the Miyagi-do is in disarray while Daniel LaRusso really needs to learn to stop fretting over karate and enjoy a damn mai tai, if only for a moment.
Back in the Valley, we see the stakes and appreciate them for what they are. Human cartoon man Terry Silver’s days as King of the Karate Valley could be numbered, or not. Terry Silver is straight-up villain, so that’s how Season 5 sets up a slightly different tone because with Kreese and Johnny and Chozen, there were always shades within their antagonism. With Silver, there are no redeeming qualities to be seen, so it is on with former foes teaming up for the common cause. Fortunately, the show still excels at keeping things light (and not stressing us) even while occasionally treading into some heavier themes (those somehow almost always involve poor Miguel). Amid the drama, the show has taught us both teens and adults should randomly break out in karate fights (on beaches, in malls, on balconies, and wherever) for our entertainment.
That is to say: Cobra Kai Season 5 is more of the same for this franchise (but with some extra Evil), and that never gets old. Bullied kids will periodically rise up/fall and become bullies before realizing the errors of their ways. Johnny Lawrence remains the most lovable idiot while beefing with the past. Daniel LaRusso’s still completely mucking things up in his quest to save the karate youths from themselves, and from Terry Silver, and speaking of which, this franchise’s greatest villain really pulls out the stops. He’s got a sh*t-ton of new senseis working underneath him, and he’s rolling in dough and brainwashing followers. I’m really surprised that he doesn’t have a pet tiger. He must be stopped — the very soul of karate evidently depends upon it.
The underdogs never, ever give up here, which is a heartening constant in this universe, but there’s also this inevitabily: Watching senseis behaving badly never ceases to be funny. And it’s not as though this show goes overboard in that regard, it hits just right while poking fun at how the adults on this show consider karate to be the most important thing in the world. It’s more important than work and school, and those grownups consistently receive their comeuppance. Yet there are tweaks, because training montages are now less frequent, and the fight scenes are a little more epic, which is a nice change-up, and even though there’s a vast ensemble cast, everyone moves as if in unison and the amount of time devoted to each character actually feels authentic. Even the show’s worst character receives screentime that feels earned this year. That actually might be the show’s finest accomplishment.
Do we have a crane kick this season? Yes, we do. And there’s a profound few moments in which the character whose life was arguably ruined by that kick (the show’s totally speaking to that crane-kick oral history) reflects on how it transformed everything for him, decades ago. I love how this show never forgets about those touches, and those unspoken moments that shaped how the franchise’s O.G. characters got pasted into destinies, which they’re changing (for better and worse) during this show.
Here’s where I have one quibble with this season. I’ve already talked about how all of the Chozen scenes are delightful. He’s a sprinkle of comic relief, and the show also digs into his psyche to show us (more) about how a fateful “honk!” transformed his own path in life. All of the time spent on him (and boy, he gets an intense fight scene) is well-invested stuff, but there’s a stumble in how this show drew from the past this season. Bringing The Karate Kid III‘s Mike Barnes went a step too far. He’s a weak character and a distraction and we really could have used more of Elizabeth Shue’s Ali instead. Yet that slip-up only adds up to about 2% of the entire season. And the rest of it feels like a genuine pleasure to watch, without any guilt about enjoying everyone getting so hyped up about karate. “Miyagi-do forever!” as even Andrew Garfield once exclaimed. And if you don’t like it? No mercy.
Cobra Kai returns to Netflix on September 5.