The original Karate Kid offered kids of the 80s an escapist fantasy of overcoming bullies. Cobra Kai, the TV sequel adaption, does the same thing for newer generations, but now it includes LGBTQ+ fans. Reflecting on the ways in which the franchise has evolved over its thirty-year history, Sean Kanan, the latest addition to the cast, spoke to Out about the new season.
Kanan played main bully Mike Barnes in The Karate Kid Part III. Now, after three decades, he is reprising his role in Season 5 of Netflix’s Cobra Kai.
“I am truly humbled,” he said. “I never would have anticipated that would be a role I would reprise. To have a role that I did that long ago that still has relevance, it has a place in the fan’s hearts, is incredible. Cobra Kai season five is sick. This might be the best season yet.”
Season 5 finds Barnes all grown up and seeming to have put his lurid past behind him. This is quickly dispelled, as a recent teaser shows Barnes threatening to cut off someone’s legs with a buzzsaw.
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“Mike Barnes is in fact a legitimate businessman. He’s successful. He’s turned his life around after being blackballed from tournament karate, which was all he knew,” Kanan said, adding, “Then, we see old Mike come out.
“I got to really play the best of both worlds. I got to bring a lot of different aspects to it. It was great to put my martial arts to use, which was a lot of fun at 55 years old. I had a blast.”
Being the newest returning cast member after such a long hiatus, Kanan is looking at familiar territory with fresh eyes. “It’s interesting to watch all of these characters now 35 years down the road as more fully evolved human beings. But sometimes when you’re fully evolved, it doesn’t mean that you’ve always figured everything out.”
One particular way that the franchise has evolved: Season Two included a lesbian storyline. When one Cobra Kai apprentice Hawk becomes a star student, he finds sudden popularity in high school. This quickly goes to his head, leading him to adopt macho, bullying behaviors. His girlfriend Moon promptly dumps him. When he crashes a party to try to win her back, he does so in the douchiest way possible: by hitting on another girl (Piper) in front of her. Moon then surprises him by embracing Piper and kissing her, revealing that they are now girlfriends.
“I think it’s great,” said Kanan. “It’s reflective of our society, as it should be. [The younger] generation has grown up in a very different way than even mine has with regard to how it deals with all the myriad of other types of relationships and sexualities that there are.”
The younger generation can catch Season 5 of Cobra Kai currently streaming on Netflix.