TV Review: ‘Son of Zorn’

'Son of Zorn' Review: Fox Show
Courtesy Fox

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.

Crew

Executive producers, Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, Seth Cohen, Reed Agnew, Eli Jorné, Sally Bradford McKenna, Eric Appel

Cast

Jason Sudeikis, Cheryl Hines, Tim Meadows, Johnny Pemberton, Artemis Pebdani

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  1. A shilling’s worth of shilling? Is this a cheerleader-only rag, meaning critical reviews wouldn’t get published? A noob to Variety is tempted to wonder, heh.

    Son of Zorn sucks, and it appears to this observer they’re spending more on advertising it than they’ll ever make back from it. The same clip has been repeating in my game ads for weeks, and it’s not funny at all. TOTALLY makes me want to MISS the show, not want to watch it, if that’s the best they can put forth to tempt me.

    I did try to watch the first episode, but it just didn’t work for me. It seems like so much wasted potential, I guess. Kind of like a great idea taken over by saleschimps who’ve somehow forgotten why buyers like bananas.

    Curiously, there’s another new-ish show called People of Earth, slow-paced but cast full of good comic actors, that also doesn’t deliver many great jokes, but I still somehow find it amusing enough to look forward to new episodes.

  2. Tom Noir says:

    Being a fan of the Sunday night ‘toons on Fox, well, most of them, and growing up with He-Man, I wanted to like ‘Zorn’ – That didn’t happen. The sporadic airing of ‘Bob’s Burgers’ and the departure of ‘American Dad’ have left Fox scrambling to recover and I fear it is an exercise in futility.
    The enormous talents behind ‘Son of Zorn’ are not being fully utilized and that is such a shame. There is so much potential in this show and it could be a powerhouse. I hope they find the formula to make that happen before it’s too late.

  3. Jacques Strappe says:

    “I’m not bad. I’m just drawn and written badly” -Zorn

  4. Will R Wills says:

    I tried…not funny. Not clever. I dunno.

  5. homosezwut says:

    Too bad it’s not funny at all.

    This one of those ideas where all of the individual elements sound good on their own, but just don’t work when mixed together.

    I wanted to like it and I like all of the players in the project, but it fell flat for me. #wut

  6. Jacques Strappe says:

    Cracked a few smiles but as the novel “fun” of watching a badly drawn animated dolt trying to fit in among a live action world grew sparser, Son of Zorn began to feel like a badly executed gimmick for a weekly series struggling for humor. Son of Zorn might connect with FOX’ animation audience but the 100% animated Bob’s Burgers is a thousand times funnier, insightful and creative. .

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