Animated series are a hard enough sell. Semi-animated series in which the title character is drawn but he’s living in an otherwise normal sitcom existence… well, that’s something else entirely. Yet that’s the situation that the new Fox entry “Son of Zorn” has set up for its Sunday night “animation domination” audiences this fall.
Have you ever wondered what He-Man would look like if he left Eternia and settled into suburban life? That’s kind of the vibe Zorn (voiced by Jason Sudeikis) gives off in the pilot. When we meet the character, he’s departing his comic book world of slaying evil-doers and doing other “manly” things in order to be with his human son Alan (Johnny Pemberton) on his birthday. But when Zorn realizes that his ex, Edie (Cheryl Hines), is engaged to another man (Tim Meadows) and his son all but hates him, he decides to stick around for a while and make a go of things.
It’s as awkward and weird as you’d expect it to be, but there’s a hidden charm in Zorn’s complete ignorance about things outside of his world. Vegetarianism, for one. What it’s like to hold down an actual office gig without slashing your desk in a fit of rage. Or why it’s not kosher to whip out a sword during a pleasant restaurant meal with your son.
There’s some comedy to be mined from these moments, sure. If you dig a little deeper Zorn isn’t just a random comic book character; he’s the stereotypical man from another decade who has landed himself in a world full of millennials and doesn’t know how to cope. That setup leads to lots of hidden social commentary about where we’ve landed and how hard it would be for a guy like that to adjust. Of course this is comedy so everything is taken one step further with ridiculous scenarios that could and would never happen in real life.
Part of the gag is that the characters have to believe he’s real, and that they do, in spades. Hines is perfectly cast as the equally stereotypical single mother who pines for the more exciting times, but is tired of waiting for her man-child to grow up and has since settled for the more reliable, less passionate choice. Pemberton is reminiscent of Michael Cera‘s Michael Bluth character from “Arrested Development”–just as gentle and kind, albeit slightly more animated, if you will, in disposition. And Sudeikis provides the ultimate action figure voice to cap it all off.
The weak link here is Meadows, but not for lack of trying. While he’s fine and actually well cast as the pushover stepfather, it’s a role we’ve seen him play so many times before that there’s nothing fresh–not in the pilot at least. Here’s hoping the writers give him something new to do in the coming weeks and let him break out of that comfort zone.
Is “Son of Zorn” for everyone? Not really. Of the few comedic offerings out there this fall, this is one of the brighter entries thanks to its creativity and unique premise. There’s a strong contingent of quirky comedy lovers out there who will quickly band to this universe. But it does lack universal appeal, which means it will never be a ratings blockbuster or a water cooler-worthy offering. That may not be important though, as few comedies these days achieve either of those things.
Besides, if Zorn has anything to say about it, all the naysayers will be decapitated before they can really cause a fuss. And that type of humor may allow this series to quietly thrive with “The Simpsons,” “Bob’s Burgers” and “Family Guy” fans for quite some time yet.