Written by Christopher Diggins
Son of Zorn Plot Summary:
Zorn (Jason Sudeikis), a mighty warrior from the island of Zephyria in the South Pacific, moves back to Orange County, California to try to reconnect with his ex-wife Edie (Cheryl Hines) and his son Alangulon (Johnny Pemberton).
Ever since the dawn of the sitcom, we’ve loved the cartoonish oaf of a husband and father. Across the many decades of TV, it’s one of the most reliable archetypes you see come up again and again and again. They started out lovable and well-meaning, while in recent years they tend to be more caustic and callous, but the same basic structure is always there. The idea gets so much play because it’s reliable comedic fodder, of course, but at this point if you want to stand out you have to try to do something new with it.
Enter Son of Zorn. This show, executive produced by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller of Lego Movie and 21 Jump Street fame, seeks to once more explore the concept of an oafish estranged father trying to build a relationship with his son, with the added wrinkle that the father is an animated He-Man parody while his family is live-action. As attempts to stand out go, it’s certainly unique, and there’s plenty of interesting material you could get into out of this set-up. And while the somewhat unfocused pilot doesn’t quite live up to that potential, you can at least see that it’s there.
Nearly every pilot episode, burdened with the responsibility of explaining the premise of the show and setting up the plot, can come off a little sloppy and ill-defined. But it’s an especially bad problem for Son of Zorn, as the resultant table-setting often forces the show to lean into the stereotypical trappings of its genre rather than embrace the things that make it different. Zorn himself shifts between obnoxious behavior that is specific to him (paying for things with severed hands covered in jewelry, getting his son a death hawk) and something you might see in any show about a bad father (embarrassing his son in front of a girl, absurd misogyny). His ex-wife Edie suffers the most from this, however. Her character isn’t given any space to transcend her archetype, instead just going through the motions of everything you’d expect: she reminisces about old times while firmly stating that she’s moved on and is happy with her new fiance and tries to get both Zorn and Alangulon to reconcile. You end the episode with no sense of her character whatsoever beyond what you could say of any character of this type, and that makes it hard to really understand or care about her.
But there are flashes of a show that could embrace the ridiculousness of its premise and become something special. In contrast to Edie, her new fiance Craig (Tim Meadows) leans into the stereotypes of his archetype to the point of absurdity, freely announcing whenever Zorn emasculates him and engaging in weirdly specific references to the brain’s limbic system. The jokes about and depictions of Zorn’s behavior may be inconsistent, but there are still plenty that fully draw on his cartoon origins, all of which land much better than the more generic jokes. And one moment in particular really demonstrates the weird, dark places this show could go if it gets a little time to find itself. While video chatting with a friend from Zephyria about his troubles, Zorn witnesses the sudden bisection of his friend’s son and his friend’s immediate dissolution into tears and anguished cries about how he should have spent more time with him. It’s quick and brutal and shockingly dark, and also the biggest laugh of the episode. If the show can more consistently find that place of strange, specific humor in coming episodes, it could be something great.
A mildly unfocused, not-quite-there pilot is pretty much par for the course for any show (great pilots exist, but they’re the exception, not the rule), so it’s hard to draw too many conclusions about Son of Zorn from what we’ve seen so far. The premise is interesting, but whether they’ll draw on it rather than falling back on the lazy jokes of the genre, and whether that premise can sustain a whole show to begin with, are open questions. Still, while this episode isn’t going to blow anyone away, it does contain enough elements that work to maintain interest. Only time will tell if this ends up a work of weird genius or another typical sitcom with an animated coat of paint.
Rating: 6 out of 10