Crossing the streams with its sequels, the fifth season of “Cobra Kai” features heavy dollops of the second and third “The Karate Kid” movies while continuing to carve out its own next-generation melodrama, all in extraordinarily nimble fashion. While it’s not the best series on TV (OK, Netflix), there should be some kind of prize for the best revival culled from limited source material.
The inevitable battle of dueling dojos in Season 4, which saw seemingly every kid in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley taking up karate, has left the region under the thumb of the oily Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith), who, like Martin Kove’s Kreese, has found a dazzling encore in getting to reprise this villainous role.
Still, in order to battle the bad guy from “Karate Kid III,” Daniel (Ralph Macchio) has enlisted the heavy from “II,” Chozen (Yuji Okumoto), in an unlikely but utterly hysterical alliance. (A little fuzzy on his English, when Daniel suggests they need to cut off the head of the snake, the literal-minded Chozen pulls out a knife and is ready to go.)
Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that, with the frequently down-on-his-luck Johnny (William Zabka) trying to navigate his romance with Carmen (Vanessa Rubio), and the rift between his son (Tanner Buchanan) and hers (Xolo Maridueña).
The kids, in fact, have as many shifting allegiances as the elder generation, whose AARP-eligible karate masters continue to prove remarkably spry. The producers have also remained quite resourceful not only in weaving old clips into the show where appropriate but sprinkling in familiar faces – which, again, shouldn’t be spoiled and earnestly treat the original “Karate Kid” trilogy as if it were some mythic franchise, an earthbound cross between “Star Wars” and “Star Trek.”
Like any show with this many high-school-age characters in the mix, “Cobra Kai” appears to be running out of real estate, at least in terms of how much more plausible mileage can be milked from the younger crowd. The seasons have also begun to exhibit a familiar pattern, starting and finishing strong while dragging a bit in the middle.
Even so, the show’s remarkable resilience thus far – having started out on YouTube before migrating to Netflix, where it blossomed into an Emmy-nominated success – suggests it would be premature to count it out.
Besides, “Cobra Kai” has again demonstrated that all you really need is one good leg on which to keep fighting. Five seasons in, the show has already surpassed any reasonable expectations, developing a life of its own that proves it wasn’t just “Karate Kid”-ing around.
“Cobra Kai” begins its fifth season September 9 on Netflix.