Cobra Kai star William Zabka reveals that he initially had some concerns about the show. Based on The Karate Kid movie franchise, Cobra Kai takes place three decades after the events of the original films. It has earned praise for its reexamination of the film’s central feud, focusing at first on Johnny Lawrence (played by Zabka) as he rekindles his old rivalry with Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio). The series has been a huge success, garnering early renewals from Netflix and receiving a Primetime Emmy nomination for Outstanding Comedy.
Cobra Kai has not only brought back Zabka and Macchio to portray the characters that they originated, but it also flipped the premise of The Karate Kid movies by turning Johnny into the protagonist and showing a more antagonistic side to Daniel. The show has since complicated that simple binary, stressing that both men have their strong attributes and glaring flaws. Cobra Kai has also extended that same treatment to most of the individuals that populate its world, frequently resisting the urge to paint its characters with a broad brush.
Speaking with Page Six to promote Cobra Kai season 4, which makes its Netflix premiere on December 31, Zabka said that he had some concerns about the series at first. As the actor explained it, one worry was about the tone the writers would strike given the fact that Karate Kid was a 1980s movie that was very much of its time. Another point of trepidation, however, related to how Johnny would be depicted and whether he’d be presented as a villain. Zabka’s quote is included below.
“My concern going in was what the tone of the show was going to be because ‘The Karate Kid’ was such a family movie from the 80s [so] how are going to achieve this today. Also I wanted to make sure that at the end of the show, Johnny doesn’t take the proverbial crane kick in the face and become cemented as the biggest villain of all time.”
The change that Cobra Kai makes, though ostensibly a simple one, has been to show Johnny’s life in all of its complicated fullness. That sort of measured approach, even as the rest of the series can be so gleefully outsized, has helped viewers to invest in the relationship between Daniel and Johnny as they’ve navigated the space from former rivals to tentative allies. And it is perhaps the biggest reason why Cobra Kai has not only accumulated popularity during its run, but also acclaim and praise from critics and casual viewers that might not have necessarily had a strong attachment to the Karate Kid franchise.
Cobra Kai also does what a lot of other television revivals have, in terms of bringing in a new cast to blend with the returning stars. But it goes beyond that setup and offers something different, while still honoring its origins. It’s helped to make the show one of Netflix’s most consistent successes, spawning talks of other spinoffs that would maintain the same spirit. It’s safe to say that, while Zabka’s concerns were well-founded, his return as Johnny has been quite rewarding.