This review was originally published on 9/6/22.
DISCLAIMER: The following contains zero spoilers for Season 5 of Netflix’s Cobra Kai. Proceed with ease.
What is it about nostalgia, especially by way of pop culture, that’s so damn appealing to us collectively? How do you inject new blood into a story that started almost 40 years ago? Needless to say, there were probably naysayers, loud in their dissent, that brushed off Cobra Kai as a product of a different era when it debuted in 2018. Who else would watch it besides those yearning for the “simplicity” of the ’80s?
Thankfully, Cobra Kai revived The Karate Kid franchise as no one could anticipate, becoming one of Netflix’s biggest flagship shows. It rakes in viewers across all demographics, uniting generations to enjoy the karate-fueled series.
Admittedly, I wondered how the show could top itself after four solid seasons. How could Cobra Kai possibly raise the stakes? How many times can we watch the same opposing factions duel it out for control of the Valley?
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Season 5 not only broadens the show’s scope, it simultaneously refines it through character development, relationship evolutions (and regressions) and, yes, more badass fight sequences. When you think the fighting couldn’t get more expansive, dramatic or intricately choreographed, Cobra Kai sweeps the leg to defy those preconceived notions.
Performance-wise, everyone gives it their all, but there are a few standouts. I’ve said this before, and it bears repeating: Xolo Maridueña is one to watch. I’m glad to see his star on the rise with Blue Beetle and hope it continues to soar beyond the atmosphere. Maridueña puts his tremendous depth of feeling to good use in Season 5, as Miguel embarks on quite the emotional journey. The young actor handles it with aplomb, never veering toward over-the-top territory.
I’m a well-known Johnny gal, and, season after season, William Zabka is always a highlight for me. At its heart, Cobra Kai feels like a redemption story for Johnny Lawrence, and Season 5 bears the fruit of Johnny’s redemptive arc. This season, Johnny comes into his own without losing his serrated-edge personality or sense of humor. Zabka injects his character with so much heart, tenderness and nuance. He leaves no stone unturned, mining for new and exciting discoveries about Johnny even five seasons in.
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Ralph Macchio, always the steadfast moral compass as Daniel LaRusso, plays with the different facets of his character’s emotional center. Daniel travels to places emotionally we wouldn’t expect in Seasons 1 through 4. We see him grapple with the aftermath of losing the All-Valley tournament and the consequences of that loss. The love Macchio has for Daniel shines through, much like Zabka’s portrayal of Johnny. He handles Daniel with the grace and respect the character deserves.
Yuji Okumoto is a delightful addition to Season 5, becoming an unexpected source of comedic relief. His scenes made me laugh harder than anyone else. Okumoto infuses Chozen with new layers we haven’t seen before, fleshing him out beyond the mere villain from The Karate Kid Part II. Also, Chozen puts his badass fighting technique on display, which is wondrous to watch.
I’d be remiss if I left out my acting MVP for this season — none other than Thomas Ian Griffith as Terry Silver. Terry Silver is a chameleon, showing people whatever side of him they want to see, and Griffith deftly conveys that onscreen. Griffith takes what could be an overblown, mustache-twirling villain, especially given Cobra Kai‘s penchant for endearing cheesiness, and grounds him.
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His performance is very Shakespearean, seamlessly melting into the high-octane drama while maintaining a natural, truthful approach. It would be easy to overact on a show like this, but Griffith is a pro. Silver is a sinister, slithering snake in Season 5, posing significantly more of a threat than John Kreese, and Griffith knocks it out of the park.
Where Season 5 falters, and perhaps Cobra Kai‘s overall blindspot, is with its adult female leads. While characters like Samantha (Mary Mouser), Tory (Peyton List) and Devon (Oona O’Brien) — the teens — undergo character development, and the show even introduces Alicia Hannah-Kim as a formidable, steely partner for Terry Silver, it feels unfairly skewed toward men most of the time.
Sure, there’s the always bitingly funny Courtney Henggeler as Amanda LaRusso and the bright light that is Vanessa Rubio as Carmen Diaz. Still, their development tends to revolve around the men in their lives. I’d love to see the adult women stand on their own.
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That said, Season 5, as a whole, is the show’s best yet. It’s bold, punchy, funny and thrilling. It retains the overdramatic cheesiness of the ’80s while adopting a 21st-century sensibility, embracing the nostalgia factor without succumbing to it entirely. At its core, that was always Cobra Kai‘s crux — learning from the past and forging ahead toward the future.
It never takes itself too seriously, which gives the show space to explore various themes without thwacking the audience over the head with them. Season 5 continues to play with said themes, such as toxic masculinity, forgiveness and carving your path in this world without outsider influence.
Brace yourself for some twists and turns in Season 5. Fasten your seatbelt for a few of the show’s most elaborate fight scenes. Lastly, hold onto your butt for all the laughs you can muster. You can send that to the internet.
Cobra Kai Season 5 premieres on Friday, September 9, 2022, only on Netflix.
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