The Manufactured Drama Of ‘Cobra Kai’ — A Non-Spoiler Analysis

by Frank Martin

Cobra Kai. (L to R) Ralph Macchio as Daniel LaRusso, William Zabka as Johnny Lawrence in Cobra Kai. Cr. Curtis Bonds Baker/Netflix © 2021

Many people are stumped by Cobra Kai‘s success, and rightfully so. By all accounts the show was destined to fail. At best, it would be perceived as a gimmick. At worst: a cash grab. Yet somehow it’s neither. It pulls off what so many nostalgic properties have attempted to do but failed. It uses an old franchise to play at fan service while introducing characters for a new generation — all while telling compelling, poignant, relevant, and damn good stories.

What’s even more impressive are the stories themselves. Mainly, the fact that the stories are nearly 100% character driven without any outside plot at all. In the beginning this wasn’t as challenging of a feat; we were being reintroduced to these characters while also meeting wives, parents, kids, and others for the first time. There were plenty of new and fresh ways to tell these stories. But four seasons in is when shows often jump the proverbial shark and have trouble keeping things going.

Most shows use a plot device to accomplish this. Something happens that challenges the characters and forces them to react. Cobra Kai does the opposite. It turns inward, looking at its own characters to manufacture drama and keep the story going. Each character has such growth that they are considered their own little isolated story. All these tales interconnect to create its own drama that push the narrative forward completely on its own.

Yes. There are some outside forces that cause the characters to react. But for the most part, the fact that a show can go four seasons while barely introducing outside challenges and keep the tension heightened is something to be proud of. If any other show were to have the same characters fight over and over the audience would roll its eyes and say, “here we go again.” But Cobra Kai does such a great job with its buildup that these conflicts have been growing since the first episode and never feel stale or boring.

All four seasons of Cobra Kai are now streaming on Netflix.

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