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William Zabka deserves an Emmy: He made Johnny Lawrence the heart and soul of Cobra Kai

  • "The Emmys aren’t until September, but I’m kicking off the Nominate Cobra Kai Movement now," says Lorraine Ali. "Season 4 of Netflix’s martial arts series, and more pointedly its lead William Zabka, should be top contenders in the comedy categories. If I could end this paragraph with a low roundhouse kick and knee strike to drive my point home, I would." Cobra Kai, she notes, may have landed a comedy series Emmy nomination last year, "but the action may have distracted voters from Cobra Kai’s strength as an inventive, cohesive series that over four seasons has refined its comedic rhythm like its characters have perfected their fighting skills. At the forefront of the charge is series lead and co-executive producer William Zabka" in reprising his rich-kid bully Johnny Lawrence role with his and Ralph Macchio's Daniel LaRusso's Karate Kid fortunes reversed. "Johnny’s glacial self-improvement — two good deeds forward, three six-packs back — could have become a mere shtick in another performer’s hands," says Ali. "But Zabka has craftily pushed the stubborn character to grow without forfeiting Johnny’s dude-like essence. Though set in his ways, the All-Valley tournament champ is never the same from season to season, despite his penchant for Judas Priest cranked to 11 and Manwiches seasoned with beef jerky. He is the heart and soul of the show." Ali adds: "Thanks largely to Zabka, Cobra Kai is a comedy that needs to be taken seriously."


    • Cobra Kai really shouldn't be this good: "The Karate Kid has been elevating the underdogs for decades, and the franchise continues to reach absurd new heights with each season of Cobra Kai," says Kimberly Ricci. "This show really shouldn’t be so damn good, considering the central conceit: former champs of rival karate dojos simply cannot get along and expend all of their time, energy, money, and sanity attempting to outdo each other because nothing else matters. There’s so much posturing and virtual chest bumping going on, most of the adults are varying degrees of ridiculous, and the younger generation is simply trying to keep their sh*t together with real-life concerns while ducking the flotsam of the warring adults. The meaning of the word 'underdog' keeps shifting, too, with the plot growing bendier in Season 4 of this action-soap opera-comedy. Things do get ugly during moments, but don’t worry, this show isn’t going 'dark and gritty.' Instead, it’s all about keeping the developments believable. And right when you think the show might start wearing out its welcome, well, it proves you wrong. I gotta hand it to creators Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz, and Hayden Schlossberg for once again staying faithful to the spirit of The Karate Kid franchise. They’ve kept things authentic and real here while staying just serious enough about the characters’ struggles."
    • Ralph Macchio still dislikes The Karate Kid Part III, but is proud of its influence on Cobra Kai: "I was not a fan of how the Karate Kid III came out," he says. "I felt the story was only repeating itself and was not character forwarding for the end of LaRusso. And production-wise, it was being written one way and then changed another way. It was not a smooth ride. In the end, there were parts of the character that I didn’t embrace as well as I did with the original and the first sequel. I don’t put it on the top of my résumé. However, it informs Cobra Kai going forward, clearly with season four. It gives us so much story. And what is so wonderful about doing the Cobra Kai series, the creators find ways to take that story and let it evolve and find backstories for characters who might have been thinly written. There is a larger-than-life element to Cobra Kai. When you break it down, it is kind of ridiculous — but that is why it is so much fun! So, you take a character like Terry Silver for this show, with those larger-than-life elements and his relationship with Daniel, then add those layers of complexity to his evilness. And now it becomes a refined performance. On top of that, from the perspective of Daniel as an adult, now we are adding other stakes and elements about his own kids and students. It is remarkable that what I would call the shortcomings of the original franchise are now bearing fruit 36 years later."
    • Vanessa Rubio is glad to be part of a show without "entrenched stereotypical Latino story types": Rubio and her on-screen son Miguel, played by Xolo Maridueña, "understand our Latino representation and have fun building the Diaz dynamic through all these seasons," Rubio tells The Hollywood Reporter. "Representation is a big deal. When I read the statistics about how little Latinos are represented, like 3.5 percent on film and TV. And of that 3.5 figure, 5 percent are speaking roles. It can drive you nuts.” Noting that “heaviness on our shoulders,” Rubio says Carmen has also given her the gift of empowerment, which she has flexed as the character has become more integral to the story. “I feel a responsibility for this character because I know she means so much more in the great scheme of people seeing themselves on screen,” she says. “And I appreciate the character so much because she represents a very dignified, stable, unified force in this story. The producers and creators are very responsive to the ideas I have to offer because, as a Latina, I do have to say these things even more. So I feel more empowered to do that; I don’t mind repeating myself.”
    • Paul Walter Hauser was happy to be invited back to Cobra Kai after turning down Season 3 because of his busy schedule: "Josh, Jon and Hayden offered me season three in early August 2019, but I had already committed to doing Cruella for Disney," he says. "So, I had to pass and hope they might let me come back in the future. I was grateful they did. The show understands its tone and characters intimately. Cobra Kai has smart people doing silly things — which I can’t get enough of." Hauser adds: "When I stroll through an airport at 6 a.m., (fans) don’t shout, 'Yo, we LOVE that racist you played in BlacKkKlansman!' They shout, or loudly whisper, 'Stingraaaaay' with a mischievous smile. I love the show and hope that I can someday be shooting scenes for season seven while doing a Jane Campion film on the side."
    • Cobra Kai co-creators Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg and Josh Heald answer burning Season 4 questions
    • Hurwitz and Heald discuss the Season 4 finale
    • Dallas Dupree Young recalls winning the crucial Kenny role: "I found the movie because my parents and my sensei encouraged me to analyze the techniques of all the students in the movie"
    • How Cobra Kai resurrected Thomas Ian Griffith's The Karate Kid Part III villain Terry Silver
    • Cobra Kai has only one major villain left to reintroduce: Sean Kanan's Mike Barnes
    • Macchio says the “door is open” for Cobra Kai fan Andrew Garfield to guest-star
    • The concoction Macchio had to drink "was like baby food in real life"
    • Jacob Bertrand says cutting off Hawk's mohawk had been discussed since Season 1
    • How Carrie Underwood landed on Cobra Kai
    • Cobra Kai creators dream of having the music budget "to have nonstop AC/DC and Bon Jovi and Guns N' Roses": "We had 'Thunderstruck' written into the script," Jon Hurwitz tells EW. "We've written 'Thunderstruck' into the script several times over the years, and we've never been able to afford it in that moment or to make that choice (to spend the money on it) right now." Initially, Hurwitz adds, he and his fellow creators thought there was no way they could set the training montage to any other song, but then Cobra Kai's music supervisor, Michelle Johnson, stepped in with different options that had the same macho-metal feel. The winner: "Breakin' Outta Hell" by the Australian rock band Airbourne. "Michelle Johnson has done an amazing job, she's been phenomenal in understanding the tone of the show," says Hurwitz. "She'll pitch us many, many songs or send music to our editors and we'll narrow it down. There's nothing we love more than finding the right song for a montage."

    TOPICS: William Zabka, Netflix, Carrie Underwood, Cobra Kai, Dallas Dupree Young, Hayden Schlossberg, Jacob Bertrand, Jon Hurwitz, Josh Heald, Michelle Johnson, Paul Walter Hauser, Ralph Macchio, Sean Kanan, Thomas Ian Griffith, Vanessa Rubio, Latinx TV, Music and TV