Here’s a twist for the third season of “Cobra Kai,” premiering Friday on Netflix: Johnny Lawrence teams up with Daniel LaRusso and is on the outs with John Kreese.
My, how times have changed since the original “Karate Kid” movie was released in 1984.
But then, both Johnny and Daniel have reason to reevaluate their long-standing rivalry — at least somewhat — after the way season two of “Cobra Kai” ended: with a wild school brawl between their respective dojos (Cobra Kai and Miyagi-do) that left Johnny’s protégé, Miguel, in a coma at the hands of Robby, Johnny’s son and Daniel’s student.
In the new season of the “Karate Kid” spinoff, Johnny assists Miguel in the teen’s recovery while also joining forces with Daniel as Robby deals with the fallout from the fight.
“We see Johnny and Daniel come together with a common purpose because Daniel trained Robby and has a stake in Robby’s life,” William Zabka, who plays Johnny, explained in a Zoom interview with TODAY.
However, he pointed out, they do so reluctantly.
“It's not that they have a meeting of the minds so much as a meeting of the hearts on their intentions,” he said. “They both have their grievances with each other. There’s a lot of elbows sort of thrown throughout their journey.”
Johnny also has a grievance with his former sensei, John Kreese, who has snatched control of the Cobra Kai dojo and its students.
“He was betrayed by his father figure again, and now (Kreese has) stolen everything,” Zabka said. “There's a lot of love in Johnny's heart for all these kids. … He feels he has to kind of rescue these kids if he can, but he's got so much baggage that it gets in his way.”
Co-star Martin Kove, who returns as Kreese, also sees his character and Johnny as having a father-son-type relationship.
“The last thing (Kreese) wanted to do was take the dojo away,” he told TODAY in a separate interview. “You got to understand that Johnny Lawrence is his son that he never had and his best student ever. And he didn't return to remove Johnny Lawrence from Cobra Kai; he went there to share the glory with Johnny.”
At the same time, it was important to Kreese that Cobra Kai maintain its “integrity” and continue to preach its show-no-mercy style of karate that he felt was slipping away from its students, Kove said.
“I never think of Kreese as a villain. I really don't,” he said. “I think of him as a misunderstood character that has a massive amount of integrity and does not want to see the country get weaker and society get weaker. And that's just how he feels about life as well, and that's how he feels about the integrity of Cobra Kai.”
Which ‘Karate Kid’ characters return in season 3 of ‘Cobra Kai’?
A recent trailer for the third season of “Cobra Kai” included brief appearances by two key characters from “The Karate Kid Part II”: Daniel’s love interest in the film, Kumiko, and his nemesis, Chozen.
Though it wasn’t addressed in the trailer, there’s also anticipation that Ali — Daniel’s other “Karate Kid” love interest, played by Elisabeth Shue in the original film — may join the show after her return was teased in the season two finale.
Ali also has history with Johnny as his former girlfriend, and there’s no question that he’s interested in reconnecting with her.
“She's the best part of Johnny, and when Johnny was at the top of his game back in the day, that was the love of his life,” Zabka said. “Everything went south at the end of that crane kick and she ran up to Daniel and not to Johnny (at the end of the first ‘Karate Kid’ movie). She’s present and in one way or another — it's very similar to Miyagi’s presence on the show, the spirit of that. But I know Johnny craves some kind of restoration and healing with Ali.”
Kove hinted at another way in which season three might tie in to the “Karate Kid” film trilogy, saying Kreese finds himself in a “problematic situation” and “gets a little help” to combat the Johnny-Daniel alliance.
“He can’t handle it all by himself,” he said.
Could that “help” come in the form of Terry Silver, Kreese’s friend and fellow villain from “The Karate Kid Part III”? Kove was tight-lipped, but he did advise viewers to revisit the second and third “Karate Kid” movies.
“What you see in (season) three will be very clear for you if you just rewatch those movies,” he explained.
The impact of ‘Cobra Kai’ on Netflix
The new episodes will mark the first season of “Cobra Kai” on Netflix since the show moved to the streaming service from its original home, YouTube, earlier this year. Zabka said he’s received "amazing" feedback on the show from fans.
“I get all kinds of messages from moms saying, ‘My daughter loves the show’ or daughters saying, ‘My dad's a big fan of “Karate Kid” and I'm watching “Cobra Kai.”’ And the multigenerational factor of this is unbelievable. You have grandparents and parents and kids all together in the same room watching the show and happening in many languages. It's incredible.”
Kove promises even more excitement in the new season.
Kreese “starts off really hot taking over the dojo and then it changes completely by episode 10 in season three. And the transition he makes, the roller-coaster ride, is terrific,” he said.
And there’s more to come, with “Cobra Kai” having already been renewed for a fourth season.