“Son of Zorn” may seem at first glance to have an unusual premise: Its lead character, the muscle-bound Zorn of the title, is animated, as are a few other elements sprinkled throughout the show. However, the majority of the new comedy takes place in live-action settings populated with flesh-and-blood humans. Though a little strange, the mixture is never unsettling, in large part because this efficient and reasonably amusing sitcom is safely encased in several other familiar TV formats.
At its heart, “Son of Zorn” is a classic fish-out-of-water tale; Zorn is a heroic, but not terribly smart warrior from the kind of cartoon kingdom familiar to viewers of “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” or its spinoff, “She-Ra: Princess of Power.” Feeling the pull of family and a need to reconnect with his teenage son, Zorn leaves a blood-spattered life in the mythical kingdom of Zephyria and heads to the real world, where he essentially is the star of a conventional sitcom about an old-school dad flummoxed by the modern world and its kale-ginger smoothies.
Zorn is not thrilled to find out his son Alangulon — now known as Alan — is a vegetarian, nor is he happy about the fact that his ex-wife, Edie (Cheryl Hines), has taken up with a new man, Craig (Tim Meadows). A lot has changed, and even if Zorn was a slightly more adaptable guy, he might never have truly fit in; an amusing sequence at the beginning of the pilot reinforces the idea that no one he meets is impressed by Zorn’s tales of the defense of Zephyria, much to his frustration. Attempts to re-ignite the spark he once had with Edie also don’t pan out: She has to explain more than once that she’s not just over their romance, she’s well past the wild stage in her life in which group sex with trolls was even a remote possibility.
Jason Sudeikis, who voices Zorn, injects the right amounts of gravity, heedlessness, and befuddlement into the character, whose inability to remember or respect social norms — like, say, wearing pants — inspires many of the show’s jokes (Note to self: Don’t destroy the conference table with a sword on tough days at the office). Given that Zorn is a Filmation-style animated hero whose range of facial expressions is somewhat limited, the rest of the cast must often supply both comedic nuance and a layer of emotional depth, and they all rise to the challenge quite ably. Zorn is prone to extreme behavior and is also an enormously tall animated character, and the experienced cast wisely does not try to compete with his flamboyance. Instead, they find the dry and droll moments in every scene, and underplay their reactions to the combination of ignorance, petulance, and energetic optimism Zorn brings to most situations.
Johnny Pemberton, who plays Alan, does a fine job of giving believable dimensions to a son who is continually embarrassed by his father but also curious to see whether his dad will be able to make up for his decade-long absence. Cheryl Hines and Tim Meadows are mainly asked to be exasperated and emasculated, respectively, but both are skilled at making absurd situations both funny and emotionally grounded. The question of what makes for a real man — versus an inconsiderate he-man — drives a lot of “Son of Zorn’s” domestic comedy, but these jokes feel a little more derivative than the rest of the show. Somehow the sight of Zorn crammed into an office cubicle is more amusing than hearing him take pot-shots at Craig’s choice of footwear (Crocs, as it happens).
The cubicle is part of yet another familiar premise that makes its way into the “Zorn” pilot. Slaying monsters doesn’t exactly pay the bills, so Zorn gets a job in an office, where Artemis Pebdani, who brought such warmth and razor-sharp timing to her run on “Scandal,” plays his quietly bemused boss. Like much of the rest of the show, the office scenes are quite conventional, but generally well-crafted; as is the case with so many comedies, it’s not necessarily the premise, but the execution that seals the deal.
Zorn is, on some level, a hybrid of several different kinds of live-action and animated shows that have worked well for Fox in the past couple of decades. But thanks to the generally solid splicing and blending on display, there’s no reason to think that this combination package won’t, like its hero, find a way to fit into its surroundings.
TV Review: 'Son of Zorn'
Comedy. 13 episodes (1 reviewed): Fox, 8:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 25 (sneak preview Sept. 11). 30 min.
Jason Sudeikis, Cheryl Hines, Tim Meadows, Johnny Pemberton, Artemis Pebdani