With Cobra Kai stepping back into the ring for a much anticipated 5th season on Netflix, the karate wars are at an all time fever pitch. We’ve come so far along in the storytelling, that Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) isn’t even really worried about his lifelong rival Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), or his other lifelong rival, John Kreese (Martin Kove), who’s currently in the clink. No, he’s got much more pressing concerns: namely another one of his longtime rivals, slithery Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith), strong-arming his way into ownership and expansion of Cobra Kai, the world’s best dojo for kicking ass, but decidedly worst for teaching good ol' fashioned Miyagi-do karate values.
Upon the occasion of the series making its triumphant return to Netflix on Friday, Sept. 9, SYFY WIRE went a few rounds with creators/exec producers Jon Hurwitz, Josh Heald, and Hayden Schlossberg for a spoiler-free discussion of how they approached the new season.
Season 5... crazy right? Can you believe how far this series has come since flipping the perspective on the mostly black-and-white action of the original ‘80s pics, which clearly set up Daniel-san as the good guy and Johnny and Kreese as the bad guys. From Day One, the series has set aside previous assumptions and followed these characters in far more gray terrain. But as the series progresses, and the characters drift further and further into the new and unknown, it can become more and more difficult to stay true to the original intent of the series. According to Schlossberg, though, the creators remain very cognizant of why they started this journey in the first place.
“Every season, we remember the roots. We remember why we fell in love with this franchise… it’s the themes of the original movie, we always care about them. At the same time we raise the stakes. I always look at the Rocky franchise as something that stayed true to the character and felt bigger and told different stories, and you see Rocky dealing with different types of challenges. At a certain point, you could look at Rocky IV and be like, ‘This is ridiculous.’ But if you’ve been on that journey, it makes sense,” says Schlossberg.
“Some of the things that happen in Season 5, if we showed them in Season 1, you just wouldn’t accept. You’d think, ‘This couldn’t happen in the real world.’ But if you’ve been on this journey for 40 to 50 episodes, you accept it. We go into each season thinking, ‘How do we make this bigger? How do we build it? How do we top ourselves?’ And at the same time, just as important is, ‘How do we stay true to the roots and what we loved about this franchise in the first place?’ So the combination of those two things is the secret sauce.”
Well, that and Rocky IV.
“I would say that’s the secret sauce of the Rocky franchise,” Schlossberg continues. “It was just like… ‘Okay, alright, well, what do we now?’ Like in Rocky II, it’s like, ‘Let’s have Rocky win at the end.’ And then, 'Okay, well now that Rocky’s won, what do we do?' 'Let’s just have the strongest fighter of all time and make it where Rocky has gotten soft because he’s a winner now.’ And then it’s like, ‘Alright, now that we’ve done that, what do we do?’ ‘Well, let’s go international and have like the biggest strongest guy of all time.’ It worked for us growing up.”
Schlossberg compares that eager anticipation that ‘80s kids had for Rocky movies to the way folks feel today about a new Cobra Kai season.
“Each season can feel like, ‘Oh! It’s like another Rocky movie coming out!’ Like you know you’re gonna get those feels, those underdog vibes, the fights, and all that stuff… the montages, and the character… but with new, bigger challenges.”
Which is part of what makes writing the new seasons so much fun for the creators.
“The easy part is we have so much story that is in process. You have storylines that have cliffhangers, you have questions that demand an answer. So it’s not just a pure, white blank page in front of you,” Heald says.
That said, it’s still writing. And the higher the stakes, the more difficult the choices become.
“What becomes harder is making the choices in terms of how fast you answer those questions and how you answer them,” Heald continues. “Those questions become more difficult in later seasons as you’re planning the eventuality of how the series reaches its ultimate climax, in terms of what you want to withhold and what you need to give a ramp up to that… When we entered Season 4 and Season 5 writers' rooms, the ideas are flying. It’s less scratching your head and more making choices. And sometimes that’s easier and sometimes that’s harder.”
We shall see just what choices have been made when Cobra Kai Season 5 debuts Friday, Sept. 9 on Netflix.
Looking for more butt-kicking action? The Northman, Self/Less, Upgrade, The Mummy trilogy, Haywire and more are streaming now on Peacock.