Karate has been a part of U.S. culture since the conclusion of the Second World War, obtaining widespread recognition in the ’70s and ’80s. The Karate Kid (1984) was instrumental in further promoting martial arts in the American public sphere, a cinematic venture that blossomed into a thriving franchise over the past few decades.
The sequel TV show, Cobra Kai, follows the misadventures of an entirely new generation of karate enthusiasts, led by Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence. The series has been well-received by critics and audiences alike, particularly for the performances delivered by its vibrant cast. At the same time, there are a few actors who failed to satisfy their character arcs’ demands.
10 Nailed Their Role: Gianni Decenzo’s Demetri Effortlessly Endears Himself To Viewers
Like several of Cobra Kai’s smartest characters, Demetri starts out in nerd territory. He plays the sassy, klutzy, wise guy who prefers to wield words and not fists. Gianni Decenzo’s lovable character is shoved into the deep end of the karate pool and has to learn how to adapt to his new environment.
As expected, Demetri struggles to stay afloat for a considerable time, at least until Daniel’s philosophy finally makes its way into his brain. Decenzo’s performance might not be award-winning, but he certainly endears himself to the audience.
9 Fell Short: Courtney Henggeler’s Amanda Doesn’t Get Half The Recognition She Deserves
Daniel and Amanda LaRusso’s marriage is an underrated thematic element in Cobra Kai. It reflects the bond they share with their children, their extended family, and even their colleagues.
Although Courtney Henggeler’s portrayal is effective in theory, the show glides over several aspects of her personality while focusing the bulk of the limelight on Daniel. Amanda’s relationships with Lucille, Sam, and Anthony aren’t as fleshed out as they could have been.
8 Nailed Their Role: Dallas Dupree Young Display’s Kenny Emotional Arc With Incredible Versatility
Dallas Dupree is a fresh addition to Cobra Kai‘s expanding roster of prospective karate champions. He plays Kenny Payne, an initially timid boy who takes a bit too much inspiration from Kreese’s teachings.
Robby desperately tries to protect Kenny from following an obviously self-destructive path but fails miserably. Dupree displays his character’s emotional devolution with impressive skill and versatility. The Kenny subplot was left wide open at the end of the Season 4 finale, so fans expect closure in the show’s final season.
7 Fell Short: Joe Seo Doesn’t Get The Opportunity To Unravel Kyler’s Inner World
Joe Seo knows how to bring out the worst in his character, a vicious bully whose entire life revolves around popularity and narcissism. Kyler Park is instantly hateable because his character doesn’t seem to possess a single redeeming factor.
He merely throws his weight around high school and expects others to bend to his will. Cobra Kai hints that Kyler’s behavior is an echo of his father’s verbal abuse. Unfortunately, Seo doesn’t get the opportunity to unravel this particular thread.
6 Nailed Their Role: Xolo Maridueña Breaks Miguel Down And Builds Him Back Up
Xolo Maridueña’s Miguel Diaz is among the delightful characters on the show. He never fails to elicit smiles from people, be it his loved ones or his real-world fans.
Miguel mentors Johnny as much as Johnny guides him. He helps his ’80s-bound Sensei adjust to the 2010s and eventually starts offering Johnny emotional advice. Maridueña breaks Miguel down and builds him back up, transforming a mild-mannered individual into one of the story’s strongest characters
5 Fell Short: Griffin Santopietro’s Anthony Embarks On An Overly Simplistic Journey
Anthony LaRusso is a completely different character in Season 4 than in the previous three seasons. Griffin Santopietro’s earlier version of this character was a veritable handful, but he is only able to access Anthony’s fascinating psyche in more recent episodes.
Amanda and Daniel unwittingly spoil their son, explaining away the fact that their kid bullies anyone he doesn’t like. However, Anthony’s simplistic journey prevents him from becoming anything more than a forgettable side-character.
4 Nailed Their Role: Jacob Bertrand’s Eli Is Stunningly Relatable From Start To Finish
Eli’s character arc is a roller-coaster, and that’s putting it mildly. Despite all the narrative turbulence Eli experiences, Jacob Bertrand’s portrayal is stunningly relatable from beginning to end. Eli overhauls his hitherto feeble demeanor into something significantly more aggressive: the cocky karate warrior, Hawk.
Armed with a brand new personality, a mohawk, and an enormous back tattoo, Hawk rains fire and brimstone down on anyone who dares challenge him. Season 4 shows him temporarily revert to his Eli persona, but Bertrand brings Hawk back in time for the tournament.
3 Fell Short: Mary Mouser’s Sam Is Believable But Suffers From A Lack Of Nuance
Daniel hoped that Samantha would accept her destiny as his karate heir and carry the Miyagi-do tradition into the 21st century. Unsurprisingly, she has her own hopes and dreams that clash with the expectations her parents have for her.
Mary Mouser’s performance is believable and honest, but it suffers from a lack of nuance. In other words, Sam’s character is frequently reduced to her temperament, which blows either hot or cold at any given time.
2 Nailed Their Role: Peyton List’s Tory Is A Masterclass In Visual Storytelling
Fortune supposedly favors the bold, but Tory’s undaunted grit doesn’t seem to help her much. She wants to establish a stable family environment at all costs, which explains why she accepts Kreese’s so-called help.
Tory is unable to see past her own gloomy backstory, although this is exactly what makes her such a refreshing character. Peyton List has mastered the art of visual storytelling. Her portrayal of Tory communicates her state of mind with nothing more than a minor change in expression throughout the series.
1 Fell Short: Tanner Buchanan’s Robby Often Finds Himself At The Uncomfortable Nexus Between Cause And Effect
Robby is Cobra Kai‘s resident antihero. He is forced to navigate the complexities of adolescent life without help from either parent, a process that leaves him on the wrong side of the law. Played by Tanner Buchanan, Robby manages to carve a name for himself on the karate field but inevitably surrenders to his anger.
Buchanan puts a lot of effort into his role and most of it pays off. The problem, however, is that Robby’s history often conflicts with his actions, muddling the line between narrative cause and effect.