Ralph Macchio as Daniel LaRusso as Cobra Kai (2019)

Netflix’s Cobra Kai has become one of the biggest TV surprises of the last decade. The Karate Kid franchise has plenty of fans, but many were probably skeptical when it was first announced that the iconic film franchise would be receiving a small-screen sequel series. And as you can imagine, the show also would have been a hard sell for franchise veterans Ralph Macchio and William Zabka. Despite this, Macchio says the producers were pretty “careful” in the way they pitched the series.

Aside from the fourth film installment, the Karate Kid series also focused squarely on Daniel LaRusso of Miyagi-Do Karate and depicted him as the protagonist. So the idea of a show centered on Johnny Lawrence and Cobra Kai may have been a tough concept for the stars to grasp. But according to Ralph Macchio, the producers started their pitch with a few other ideas before revealing the show’s title:

[Creators Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg] were very careful. They led with talking about bullying, spoke about all the themes and then they said, ‘And we’re gonna call it Cobra Kai!’ And there was this little pause. Because they knew, ‘We have to say the title, but we don’t wanna lead with the title, ‘cause we might lose him.’ We laugh about it now, because I was spinning it in my head, ‘What are the fans gonna think? What’s my mom gonna say?’

You really have to give it to the producers of Cobra Kai for finding a way to sell the show without turning off Ralph Macchio and William Zabka. On paper, the idea may have seemed weird but, as we’ve seen, it was just what the Karate Kid legacy needed. It is still funny, however, that Macchio admitted to Empire that his head was still spinning after hearing that initial pitch.

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As a fan of Cobra Kai, I can honestly admit that the show shouldn’t work nearly as well as it does. We’re living in an era of reboots and remakes, and they’ve proven to be hit or miss. But the minds behind Cobra Kai had true affection for the world of The Karate Kid and managed to formulate interesting ideas as to where Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence would be 30 years after their famous fight.

The show earned a cult following while it aired its first two seasons on YouTube, but it wasn’t until Netflix acquired the rights to Cobra Kai that the karate dramedy gained mainstream popularity. At present, the recently released third season has received praise from both fans and critics alike. This can be attributed to the fact that the show manages to honor Karate Kid lore while expanding on what’s come before in compelling ways. This includes bringing in classic characters - like Elisabeth Shue’s Allie and Yuji Okumoto’s Chozen - along the way.

Cobra Kai is riding high right now and, with a fourth season and more being mapped out, there’s still plenty the show can do to delight fans and expand the mythos. With any luck, we’ll be seeing more of Ralph Macchio, William Zabka and the rest of the show’s stars for, at least, a few more years.

All three seasons of Cobra Kai are now available to stream on Netflix.

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