Hollywood has finally cracked the formula for weaponizing nostalgia, and in recent years almost every property with any sort of name value or recognition that conjures up warm and fuzzy feelings of yesteryear has found itself the subject of a modern day reinvention. As one of the most beloved family classics of the 1980s, The Karate Kid has been subjected to similar treatment, and has turned into a huge success story as a result because Cobra Kai is a fantastic TV show.
Set 34 years after the first movie, Cobra Kai finds William Zabka’s Johnny Lawrence struggling with middle-age as he works a dead-end job and struggles to mend the broken relationships with his family. After losing his low-paying gig, a chance encounter with a group of teen thugs reignites Johnny’s passion for kicking people in the face, and he reopens the Cobra Kai dojo in an attempt to recapture his former glories.
Across town, successful and wealthy businessman and hero of the original trilogy Daniel LaRusso is happily married with two kids, but the news that his teenage arch-nemesis is back in the karate game captures his attention and the two eventually renew their decades-old rivalry.
Along with Zabka and Ralph Macchio playing the lead roles, Cobra Kai’s first two seasons also saw a number of original stars drop by for cameos including Tony O’Dell and the late Rob Garrison. The series treads a fine line between clinging onto the past and looking to the future, and is packed with callbacks and references to The Karate Kid without dwelling on nostalgia for too long.
The premiere was viewed over five million times in just 24 hours after it aired exclusively on YouTube Premium in May 2018, and even though a lot of that had to do with the first two episodes being available for free, Cobra Kai nonetheless became one of the most-streamed shows of the year on any platform.
Subscribers were convinced to shell out based on the strength of the opener, and the debut episode of Season 1 has since been watched over 90 million times, with Season 2’s first episode not far behind on 86 million views and counting. Those are hugely impressive numbers for any streaming exclusive, especially one that kept the majority of its content locked behind a YouTube paywall.
Creators Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg had initially turned down other bidders when they were shopping Cobra Kai around town, but in June of this year it was announced that the show would be heading to Netflix starting with the third season, and the world’s biggest streaming service would also handle the production side of things.
The first two seasons were swiftly made available on Netflix, rocketing to the top of the most-watched list as Cobra Kai became the single highest-viewed show on the platform in the first week it was added to the library.
The third batch of episodes isn’t dropping until January of next year, but it was announced that Netflix are so confident of Cobra Kai’s continuing success that a fourth season has already been ordered. Based on the early numbers, the company know they’ve got a major hit on their hands and now that the show is available to a much wider audience, it’s only going to get more popular from here.