Thursday, September 22, 2016

Pilot Season '16: Son of Zorn

Fox, Sundays @8:30

again with the "awkward family photo"
style poster. Perhaps the best use of it in
a while, but this trend has got to die.
Hell, if people can stop using the
vocorder/digital tuning then surely this
style of promo poster can cease too...
If there's one show I want to love this season, it's Son of Zorn.  It's produced by Phil Lord and Chris Miller  (whom astute readers of this blog [haha, astute readers of this that's a thing] will recognize from reviews of The Lego Movie, the Jump Street movies and even Last Man on Earth) purveyors of askew storytelling and whose every involvement seems to be worth my attention.  (The show's creators, Reed Agnew and Eli Jorné, I'm not familiar with, nor showrunner Sally McKenna). 

The show's premise seems like it was extruded from my own brain... Zorn is an animated a He-Man analogue (voiced by Jason Sudekis) who has been estranged from his son for nearly a decade fighting battles in the island of Zephyria.  He's returning to Orange County (a real, non-animated environment, populated with real, non-animated people) for his son's birthday.  There he reunites with his ex-wife Edie (Cheryl Hines) and meets her new husband, an on-line college professor, Craig (Tim Meadows!), but can't seem to connect with his son, Alan (short for Alanguilan, naturally... played by a seriously aged-down Johnny Pemberton).  Zorn is a warrior, a barbarian, and Alan is scrawny, and a vegan no less, there's not much in the way of common ground.

It's a classic sit-com fish-out-of-water trope, but with added levels.  Having an animated character invade a real-world setting has inherently comedic value, making it a homage to a beloved 80's cartoon (there's some deep-seeded Masters of the Universe references in there that only fans would catch) just steps it up a notch.  But the show doesn't just rest upon its weirdness.  It's attempting to have some substance to its characters while also having more than just (many, many) clever visual gags up its sleeve.  There's dimensions to the comedy, thankfully.

And yet, it's not a success right out the gate.  There's definite potential, but, if anything, it's too reserved in using its conceit, where it should be using it took hook especially in the pilot.  There's not enough foundation to Zorn.  Intrinsically we're supposed to assume the aggressive alpha male, but if he's a He-Man analogue (particularly one satirizing 1980's kid-shows), he should be moralistic and almost gratingly compassionate.  Instead, the show's going more head-on with the violent barbarian angle, like a refugee from Axe Cop.  We should spend more time with Zorn in Zephyria, getting a sense of what his regular life has been like (we get the sense that it's been full-on war, and he loves it, but that seems too obvious).  Hopefully the show will subvert expectations of who Zorn is, as well as who Alan is.  I already love the way the show's subverted the usual "new husband" dynamic with Craig.

Some of the jokes fall flat in the pilot.  I'm not sure if it's the timing, excessive tinkering (as happens with pilots), or just too obvious, but, still, it does end on a strong note, with Zorn presenting Alan with a giant riding-hawk for his birthday, since a boy his age needs transportation.  Edie of course says "no", and naturally Zorn deals with it as a Barbarian would, much to the horror of everyone.  Also, Ellen Wong (Knives Chau from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) is here playing a teenager yet again (she's 30), but she's great, and I hope she's a series regular.

Definite promise, but it could fall spectacularly flat.