I mentioned in my last review that Son Of Zorn’s toughest aspect seems to be its direction. Making the animated warrior “fit” into the live-action world is proving to be extremely tricky. The shot/reverse-shots feel off because the live actors aren’t quite connecting with Zorn’s eyeline. Cheryl Hines still doesn’t seem comfortable in her role as estranged ex-wife (part of that has to do with the writing of her character). Pemberton has gotten slightly better at the estranged son role, but he feels a bit undercooked as a character, mostly being passive and reactive–the only thing interesting about him are his animated legs. Only the workplace scenes feel truly unique, primarily due to Pebdani’s game performance. So “War Of The Workplace” has the potential to showcase its strongest and most intriguing aspects.
And holy moly, did it ever.
There’s been a lot of news about the behind the scene changes of Son Of Zorn’s showrunners, so it’s difficult to tell whose reign produced this episode. But “War Of The Workplace” emphasizes all the right things that this show has been hinting at for a while: an eclectic, wildly game cast; further development with Alan’s “half-Zephyrian” legs; more interplay between Zorn’s warrior lifestyle and the normal world; and, most importantly, more creative content for Edie. Hines finally has been given some material to work with, and she feels more alive and engaged now than she has in the past two episodes. In fact, “War Of The Workplace” is running on all cylinders, exemplifying the kind of show Son Of Zorn should have always been.
Zorn himself is itching to get back to his roots as a conquering, blood-thirsty hero. He demolishes Greg’s tiny sand castle from atop his massive sand fortress, and even basks in the glory of destroying the work of two little girls. Zorn’s desire for glory is even further instigated when he notices an employee from across the hall stealing hot sauce from the company fridge. Writer Monica Padrick shines here, allowing Zorn’s cartoonish, outlandish behavior to take over as he declares war with all the pomp and circumstances as any over-wrought He-Man mantra. The episode surges with intensity–even literally, as lightning hits his sword, causing an office wide blackout–allowing Zorn’s drive for war to get out of control over a nonsensical issue. It’s hilarious in almost every way, and kudos to Padrick’s script to allowing the culprit to be just as petty as Zorn. Bryce Johnson could have been just a confused, innocent thief, but he is just as willing to go toe-to-toe with the Zephyrian, in one of the more interesting directing choices in an episode full of them. The two circle each other, brandishing sword and coat rack alike, and it’s a perfect visual caper for the episode as a whole.
Meanwhile, Alan has to deal with a bully, a large kid who ridicules Alan for wearing sweatpants during basketball and a whole swimsuit for swim class. Unlike last week’s interactions with Rachel, which went nowhere, here things feel way more substantial because they tie more directly to the “battle thy enemies” theme. It also allows Edie to finally showcase her past knowledge, showcasing her own Zephyrian-taught abilities as she almost kills her son while teaching him a defensive move (it’s funnier and cooler than it sounds). Hines is finally displaying some life behind her lines: even her phone call to Zorn (while he’s scouting his enemy via the air ducts) feels vibrant and fun instead of a slog. She throws away the observation that Zorn could not leave a mark while torturing someone with a casualness that’s just hilarious.
Son Of Zorn is no longer just about a bunch of regular people looking at Zorn funny (at least in this episode). It’s about three slightly-off characters trying to come to terms with their past and their legacies (of sorts) in a slightly-askew-but-mostly-normal world. The bully’s terrible putdowns and the idiotic coach who desperately shouldn’t be around children; Bobby Lee’s IT guy whose fear masks a weird warrior spirit; everything Linda does, including standing up to discrimination lawsuits: “War Of The Workplace” feels like the Adult Swim (but for Fox) show that it always meant to be.
- Alan uses both Greg’s very sad turtle technique and his Zorn-gifted Zephyrian legs to kick the crap out his bully tormentor. There’s something to the show allowing both Zorn and Greg to influence Alan’s life, which is more palpable than “Zorn is strong, Greg is a wimp” type gags.
- I love the scene when Linda tries to grab the hot sauce and triggers a series of death traps. It’s the kind of thing that allows Son Of Zorn to embrace its more cartoonish nature, instead of using a fake sitcom setup to push against it.
- Another great gag? When crawling back through the air vent, Zorn’s sword is shown ripping through the ceiling below. That’s an attention to detail that you have to appreciate.
- Eric Appel directed the last three episodes, so I’m assuming that the high-energy script is what compelled the improved direction of the show. The unique zoom-ins, the lightening scene, even the little part where Zorn grabbed Bobby Lee’s head–it all just gelled well. I especially loved the operatic, dramatic music cues, and the operatic, dramatic end tag over the credits.
- I’m not sure how much the show will utilize Zorn’s desire to fight again as running theme (it wasn’t quite resolved by the end of the episode). I’m okay with it being a thing for at least the first season, since it allowed for the best, weirdly saddest jokes: Zorn’s begging for Derek not “to take the high road” and apologize, and the self-serving song he sings at the end.