There is a memorable scene in Disney’s classic 1964 film Mary Poppins when Mary Poppins and Bert jump into the world of sidewalk chalk. In this partially animated, partially live-action world, they sing with farm animals, hang out with penguins in tuxedos, ride on the backs of turtles, and dance with butterflies. To put it simply, FOX’s new animated and live-action comedy, Son of Zorn, is everything and nothing like this. In Son of Zorn, a bird is more likely to be violently beheaded than sung to, a turtle would be stabbed in the back instead of ridden, and kids are more likely to end up cut in half than cheerfully enjoying ice cream or flying a kite.
Jason Sudeikis voices a cartoon barbarian named Zorn, who must leave his job of brutally and gorily defending his home village of Zephyriato to enter the real world and attempt to reconnect with his now-teenage son. After Zorn takes a flight from Zephyriato to Orange County, he tries to greet his son Alan (Johnny Pemberton) as he is getting off the bus. Alan, however, quickly becomes embarrassed by his dad’s loincloth, shouting, and swinging a sword, and never gets off the bus. That night, Zorn’s ex-wife, Edie (Cheryl Hines), convinces him that if he wants any chance at a meaningful relationship with his son, he can’t just stop by for a weekend every few years—he has to move back for good. Zorn decides to give it a shot, and commits to his new endeavor by getting an apartment and a job.
Once you look past the visual absurdity of the ’80s cartoon character juxtaposed onto the modern world, the show actually becomes surprisingly conventional. The plot boils down to a dad who missed his son growing up, and is now trying his best to reconnect in a world in which he could not be more out of place. The most successful jokes are not the violent cartoon deaths, but rather Zorn struggling to fit in in a place he neither belongs, nor understands. The laughs come at seeing him stuck in the middle seat of an airplane, where his fellow passengers are largely indifferent to his status as a legendary warrior, or having him crammed in a cubicle, reduced to selling industrial soap dispensers. The premiere episode ends on its best bit when Zorn learns the idea of being considerate, and gets his son his own a ride to school—it’s not a new car, but a giant cartoon hawk. When Edie puts her foot down on the idea, Zorn casually starts slashing the hawk to death.
One easily apparent flaw in the show is the difficulty of acting with a cartoon character that is going to be added in post-production. This skilled cast at times is reduced to awkward blandness without having a live body to work across from. You can almost feel the empty space between Zorn and the other characters. Despite this issue, however, the cast is able to achieve a lot. Two minor characters, Zorn’s boss Linda, and Edie’s new fiancé Craig (Tim Meadows), are both able to create comedic moments by acting small and allowing the literally larger-than-life Zorn to have the punchlines.
A major theme of the show revolves around what it means to be a man in today’s society. We meet three different male characters, each with a different definition of what being a man means. Zorn is the classic alpha male—a meatheaded, sword-wielding, table-breaking, misogynistic, generally-out-of-place-in-modern-society man. On the opposite side of the spectrum we have Craig, a Croc-wearing, online psychology teacher, who is prone to referring to himself as emasculated. Somewhere in between the two we have Alan, who is still trying to figure out where he fits on the spectrum. He is a modern teenager, a vegetarian who cares about the environment and is appalled at his dad’s blatant sexism. It will be intriguing to see how Alan develops with these two drastically different role models.
Despite the use of conventional tropes, Son of Zorn is still a bizarre show, especially for a major network like FOX. FOX has a history of greenlighting unique shows, but it still needs to earn ratings to stay on air. The first episode was highly uneven but ended on a strong note that should have been intriguing enough to keep audiences tuned in next week. The true measure of this show’s success will be if it is to keep a large enough audience to support a show on FOX.
Featured Image By 20th Television