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Cobra Kai Is Still Nostalgic Fun, But Starts to Pull Its Punches in Season 4: Review

The surprise-hit '80s throwback returns for another season of kicks and callbacks, but is starting to show its age

Cobra Kai Season 4 (Netflix)
Cobra Kai Season 4 (Netflix)
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    The Pitch: At the end of Season 3, things were changing for the inexplicably-karate-obsessed denizens of Encino, California. Sensei John Kreese (Martin Kove) is now fully in command of Cobra Kai, with Johnny Lawrence’s (William Zabka) troubled son Robby (Taylor Buchanan) now his trusted sempai; the school’s firmly back on its ‘strike hard, strike fast, no mercy’ kick, especially in a softened Lawrence’s absence.

    But as a new year (and a new karate tournament) dawns, Lawrence has one way of getting Kreese out of town for good: if either he or his former-rival-turned-reluctant-ally Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) can get their dojos to win the All-Valley, Kreese is gone forever.

    It’s a tall order, considering that a) Johnny and Daniel-san’s decades-long rivalry still simmers below the surface of their brittle alliance, and b) Kreese has called upon an old friend for help: former Cobra Kai sponsor and Karate Kid Part III villain Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith, pushing 60 and still rocking that ponytail), who’s got the money and the lack of scruples to take them over the top. It’s the biggest competition yet for our washed-up underdogs, and who knows what fences it’ll mend, or rifts it’ll open, between their impressionable young students?

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    The Same Old Kicks: Much like its scrappy protagonists, Cobra Kai feels like the underdog battling its way to a hard-fought victory. Starting as a little-seen series for the abortive streaming service YouTube Red, Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz, and Hayden Schlossberg’s Karate Kid sequel show suddenly found itself a Netflix darling when its first two seasons were ported over to the populist streaming service; a third original season for Netflix cemented its status as the Little Show That Could.

    It was a sneakily genius premise, one primed to indulge in and deconstruct our current wave of ’80s nostalgia with one well-placed punch: Follow one of the quintessential ’80s movie bullies, Zabka’s Lawrence, into midlife to see how the events of those movies affected him. As its scope expanded, so has its cast of characters: Danny LaRusso was quickly elevated to co-lead in Season 2, their mutual dislike fueling much of the series’ momentum, while showing us how toxic nostalgia itself can become.

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