Like many, I too was excited for yet another new season of the hit series Cobra Kai. But even with some returning familiar faces, the show unfortunately feels more tiresome and strained than ever before this time around.
It starts off promising, albeit predictable enough; John Kreese (Martin Kove) recruits his former partner and Cobra Kai co-founder Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith, who returns to the franchise for the first time since The Karate Kid Part III) to compete with Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) and Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio), who have now splintered off back to their own respective dojos.
It’s painfully obvious this season is solely a Netflix production; not only is it dumbed-down to the most low-brow levels possible every chance it gets here, the characters show such little signs of any actual human development. The adults still exude constant unrealistic immaturity, while the teens continue to answer any conflicts with as much whining and/or ridiculously reckless behavior as possible.
It takes until the eighth entry for things to finally start picking up a little, eventually peaking by the tenth and final episode. And of course the door is yet again left ajar for a fifth season, with Silver (hopefully) hinting at the return of Mike Barnes (Sean Kanan) from K.K.III. But even still, the show has sadly become far too self-aware, and not much more than just a parody of itself; I truly hope it can somehow find its way back on track to being “the best around” by the time the next season drops.
There’s no doubt been a resurgence of interest in The Karate Kid franchise ever since the characters were brought back to the screen in 2018 for the hit sequel series, Cobra Kai. Actor Sean Kanan is no stranger to the Karate Kid universe, portraying Cobra Kai member Mike Barnes, who to date remains the final member of the revered dojo to officially take on Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) in a match in 1989’s The Karate Kid Part III. Today, Kanan is not only still acting, he’s also an accomplished writer, having recently published his latest book, Way of the COBRA, last month. In a recent phone conversation, I was able to speak to him regarding highlights from earlier in his career, up to his latest published work.
But before he ever donned the famous Cobra Kai Gi outfit, Kanan had already trained in martial arts, and was one of only a handful of actors to have actually studied karate before being cast in one of the films. So one of the first things I wanted to ask him was what it was like to get into karate around the young age of thirteen. He explained; “You know, it really had a profound effect on me. I was kind of this undisciplined kid, and I definitely needed some discipline. Martial arts gave me confidence, and taught me humility and respect, and how to deal with people empathetically. It really had a significant impact on my life.”
He continued; “My martial arts school was eventually transformed into a larger organization, and at the head of that was a man named Master Fumio Demura, and he was actually Pat Morita’s stunt double. And when I came back later to finish my degree at UCLA and pursue acting, he told me they were going to be hiring the new ‘bad guy’ for the latest Karate Kid movie, and that I should try to audition. Long story short, I went to an open call with about two thousand people, and John Avildsen – who had directed the first two films as well – plucked me out of the line. I eventually went in and did a screen test with Ralph Macchio, and got the role. And that significantly changed the trajectory of my life.”
I also had to ask whether or not he had been a fan of the first two films prior to landing the role of Barnes in The Karate Kid Part III. He informed me; “Oh, yeah! I was the guy who paid for his ticket and sat in the theater like everybody else. And to suddenly be on the lot at Columbia Pictures staring in the third one was surreal, and just an incredible experience!”
Few may recall, but Kanan’s first film role had actually been in a low budget horror film the year prior to appearing in The Karate Kid Part III. I asked how he felt looking back on that experience, and he told me; “I did a horrendous horror movie called Hide and Go Shriek! Every actor’s got a couple of those in the wood pile, I suppose. But you know, I got to cut my teeth a little bit.”
Going back to his time filming TheKarate Kid Part III, I wanted to know what it was like working with the previously mentioned, legendary late actor Pat Morita. He informed me; “Before I ever learned about The Karate Kid films, he was Arnold who ran the diner in Happy Days to me. He was great…very kind, very funny. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a chance to see the documentary about him, but he also had a lot of adversity in his life. For example, he had a crippling disability when he was young, and he also struggled with alcoholism, too. So he was kind of a complex guy.”
Kanan is also not oblivious to the fact that the third Karate Kid film will no doubt remain the least favorite entry of the original series to some. He stated; “Well, first of all, I think a lot of people feel the third one should have been the second one, and vice versa. You know, there’s a lot of issues with the third one. For one, Martin Kove I believe was supposed to be the only main bad guy in it, but he ended up doing a TV series, which minimized the days I guess he was able to shoot. And if I’m not mistaken, that’s when they decided they needed to bring in another bad guy, and created the role of Terry Silver (played by Thomas Ian Griffith). And then for some reason, the female lead played by Robyn Lively, didn’t have a romantic relationship between her character Jessica and Daniel. And then Jessica just kind of leaves like halfway through the film, which was kind of weird. So there were some issues for sure.”
After The Karate Kid Part III, Kanan kicked off the following year with some notable TV work, including a brief stint on the short-lived series The Outsiders, as well as an appearance on the hit show Who’s the Boss? I was curious what each experience was like for him, and he informed me; “As far as The Outsiders, there was a lot of bad behavior that went on on that set (and I’m proud to say I wasn’t involved in any of it), and the network just pulled the plug on it. In retrospect, the show seemed to really be cursed; two of the actors committed suicide, then another one died tragically early. But I grew up on the book by S.E. Hinton, so to be able to portray a character from something like that was incredible for me. And then you know, Ralph Macchio ironically had starred in the earlier film, so him and I have really had some weird intersections in our careers (laughs). And as far as Who’s the Boss? goes, it was a huge show when I did it. It was great working with Tony Danza, he’s a great guy. I’ve had the fortune of seeing him over the years, and I’m such a huge fan of his. It was a great experience.”
Kanan then went on to star in numerous soap operas over the years, including such popular hits as General Hospital, TheYoung and the Restless, and The Bold and the Beautiful. I asked him which one was his personal favorite to appear on, and he explained; “I would say The Bold and the Beautiful, because I was able to originate a character that no one else had played. Then I was able to crossover and play the same character on The Young and the Restless. At one point I think the show was syndicated in almost one hundred countries, so it gave me sort of an international presence, which opened up a lot of opportunities for me.”
Regarding his new book, Way of the COBRA, he said; “Way of the COBRA is set up with the structure that you are a student of my dojo – the dojo of cobra life – and I’m the sensei. And ‘cobra’ is an acronym formed from the words character, optimization, balance, respect, and abundance. And a ‘cobra’ is really somebody who is living their best, most authentic life. Somebody that has unleashed their inner bad ass, which everybody has inside; it might have gotten lost, or yet to be discovered, but everybody has one. And in the book I say, I’ve got good news, and I’ve got bad news, and let’s do the bad news first; I don’t have this magic silver bullet that’s going to turn you into this incredibly successful individual. But here’s the good news – it was already there. Everything you need to achieve that is already within you, you just have to learn to get in touch with it and let it out.”
He continued; “The genesis of the book was about three years ago. I found myself at a place where I had some pretty significant success, and some epic failures. And I was looking in the mirror and thinking to myself, ‘Okay, what’s next?’ I was thirty-five pounds overweight, I didn’t have any prospects for acting work, and I realized I needed to do some things very differently, very fast. And I decided rather than wait for my ship to come in, I was going to build the damn ship, but I just had to figure out how I was going to do that. And I started doing things very differently, and in that year, I co-authored my second book, Success Factor X, which became an Amazon books bestseller. And I created a show called Studio City, which is on Amazon Prime and was nominated for eight Emmy’s, and one won (and was recently just nominated for two more). And I say this not as a way of impressing people, but impressing upon them, what can be done when you follow some of the strategies that I discuss in Wayofthe COBRA.”
As far as his thoughts go on the Cobra Kai series, he states; “Oh, I think it’s terrific. I think these guys really did a bang-up job, and I think it’s great they’re introducing it to a completely new generation of kids, a lot of whom have gone back and watched the original films after seeing the show. I’m completely humbled that all these years later this role I played so long ago seems to still have some relevance for so many people, and it’s great.” And when it comes to whether or not we’ll see Kanan reprise his role of Mike Barnes on the next season of Cobra Kai? He simply replied; “Ah-ha, I can neither confirm nor deny, my friend!”
However, Kanan definitely could confirm that he had just completed shooting two different films with Bruce Willis, produced by Emmet Furla and directed by James Cullen Bressacks, that you will be able to catch him in in the very near future!
For several weeks, actress Khrystyne Haje and I had been playing a game of back-and-forth before our schedules finally aligned right for a phone conversation. And as soon as I got her on the phone, I knew it was worth the wait. Almost instantly, it felt as though I had been transported back to being that same 9-year-old kid who would tune in every week to watch her play Simone Foster on Head of theClass (one of my personal favorite TV shows at the time, which originally aired from 1986 to 1991) and developed one of my very first, and very real (albeit innocent) celebrity crushes. Since the show, Haje has gone on to do numerous acting, voiceover, and various humanitarian work. But with Head of theClass about to turn thirty-five this year, I focused heavily on the show that originally put her on the map.
Early on in our conversation, Haje gave me some insight into just what it was like growing up and simultaneously going to high school in real life, while also doing so on the small screen. She explained; “It was such a life-changer when I got the role! I had been working as an actress prior, and was an emancipated minor, so I was one of the only people on the show going to ‘real’ high school (at North Hollywood High), and what I called ‘fantasy school’ (laughs). It has just created so many opportunities for me since though, and what I consider some life-long friendships.”
Although I may have never been part of an honors class like the students on the show, I always admired the sense of camaraderie that the characters seemed to share together, something Haje informed me still exists with many of her former cast mates to this day; “Kimberly Russell (Sarah on the show) is still one of my best friends in the world. I was also super close with Dan Schneider (Dennis) – we actually met at a call back, and became friends instantly. Dan Frischman (Arvid) and I are forever friends; I lived in New York for a couple of years, and he moved there not long after I first did, so that was really fun having him there. Lara Piper (who joined the cast later as Viki) and I are still close as well. And Tony O’Dell (Alan)…I used to stop doing my homework to watch him on the show Otherworld, so when I saw him at the very first table read, I just couldn’t believe it! (laughs). But I still probably talk to him and Kimberly the most, a couple of times a month, if not more.”
Knowing that previously-mentioned former co-star O’Dell had recently appeared on the hit Netflix series Cobra Kai, I was curious to hear Haje’s thoughts on The Karate Kid revival show. She reveled; “Even though it was ‘super secret’ at the time, I was SO excited when he went to film Cobra Kai! And because of Tony, I actually got to meet the Cobra Kai guys back in the day! It was so fun randomly getting to hang out with William Zapka or Martin Kove back then, and I’m so happy for all of them right now!”
Of course I had to ask what it was like working with such a legend as Howard Hesseman as well; “I was a BIG fan of WKRP in Cincinnati! And at one of my final call backs, I actually got to read with Howard, and was just so starstruck! But I thought, ‘well, even if I don’t get the role, at least I got to read with Dr. Johnny Fever!’ (laughs). I always admired Howard’s work though, and he became just such a mentor to us all. He’s not only a gifted actor, but he’s also a great comedic actor, and was a great example to me as well. He was really invested in the character he played, and it was an honor to get to work with him.”
Towards the end of the show’s run, Hesseman left to be replaced by Scottish comedian Billy Connolly. I asked Haje what it was like still being on the show after such a drastic change, and she told me; “Billy just showed up with a huge heart, ready for the adventure. It was different, because his approach was different. And there were definitely some shifts as far as the writing went – at the time, it seemed like the writers were leaning on his stand up comedy skills, as they should have. I was personally grateful to get the opportunity to work with Billy and see what that was like. He was just so kind, and already had had such huge life experiences, with so many stories to tell about all of his U.K. adventures that were so different from anything else to any of us at the time!”
Aside from Head of the Class, Haje has also made appearances on such other iconic shows as the ’80s juggernaut Growing Pains, and the quirky, oft-forgotten Parker Lewis Can’t Lose. I asked Haje how these experiences were in comparison to working on Head of theClass, and she explained; “When your job is to make somebody laugh, you only have good days! Growing Pains was a similar style to Head of the Class, in that it was a five camera sitcom. And I knew the kids, we kind of all grew up together at Warner Bros., so the environment was very familiar, and very family-esque. Parker Lewis on the other hand was a single-camera show, so it was shot very differently, and the approach was different and ahead of it’s time. But I was already a big fan of the show, so it just felt surreal to drop in and get to be on it, and to be able to maneuver those different techniques and skills, too.”
There’s also been some talk of a Head of the Class reboot, which of course I had to inquire about. Haje informed me; “I have heard about a reboot! It looks like HBO Max, who’s airing the original series, is also working on a reboot, and they want to flip the script a little bit. So I think they want to have a young, female teacher, with possibly younger, middle school-aged students – though I’m not entirely sure. But they definitely have – let’s call it a re-imagination – of Head of the Class brewing, and it would be fun if they had us guest star in some way! I think that fans of the original always love to see what the original cast is doing, but we really have no idea right now what they’re looking to do exactly at this point. We all loved that show so much though, so it’d be fun to revisit that world officially. It’s going to be great no matter what though!”
When The Karate Kid sequel series Cobra Kai first emerged in 2018, the world wasn’t quite prepared for the awesomeness that was so unexpectedly unleashed upon it. It instantly united pop culture nerds across multiple medians, bringing back ’80s nostalgia in full force for the young and old alike.
In season one, we were re-introduced to the characters Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), who are thrusted back into each other’s lives more than three decades later. Daniel has since gone on to become the owner of a successful car dealership, while Lawrence stayed the same beer-chugging, metal-loving loose cannon he always was. Things shake up when Johnny decides to take a leap of faith and re-open Cobra Kai, which in turn re-opens some old wounds in the process.
Season two focused more on the two old enemies each operating their own respective dojos, with new conflicts arising from their new students (and old mentors). Unlike the first season, more emphasis was put on the rivalries between newcomers Miguel (Xolo Mariduena) and Robby (Tanner Buchanan), as well as Sam (Mary Mouser) and Tory (Peyton List). It also brought back John Kreese (Martin Kove) in a more extended and sinister role, and included a bittersweet, albeit brief tear-jerking reunion with some of the other original members of Cobra Kai (which would unfortunately prove to be Rob Garrison’s final portrayal of Tommy before his passing in 2019).
Naturally, season three takes over directly where the second one left off, with everyone dealing with the repercussions of the final battle that saw Miguel seriously injured and put into a coma. There’s still plenty of unresolved wars between multiple factions, as each character grapples with what happened and tries to return to some sense of normalcy.
And of course, there’s plenty of surprises along the way as well; Elizabeth Shue finally returns as Ali (now actually Dr. Ali Mills Schwarber) after Johnny’s attempt to reconnect with her via social media in the previous season. And even familiar Okinawan faces from The Karate Kid Part II, including Kumiko (Tamlyn Tomito), and Chozen (Yuji Okumoto) return, leading to some tense moments between Daniel and the latter before ultimately bringing some closure. Even former Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider manages to squeeze in a brief cameo, too.
But what makes us invest so much time into shows like Cobra Kai has got to be the reflections of ourselves we’re able to see from these characters and their struggles. They’re far from invincible, and whether you were more of a Daniel or Johnny type growing up, there’s something truly there for everyone.