Full disclosure: the premise of Son of Zorn–in which a fully-animated character of the He-Man template attempts to reconnect with his live-action wife and son–didn’t really hook me. The involvement of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller didn’t excite me either: I deeply respect them for their work and commitment, but I’m fairly lukewarm with their output. Still, Erik Adams’ review intrigued me, particularly his comments on its potential (and potential weirdness). If the show can meld its animated world with its live-action world, while exploring and exploiting the comic absurdities and dramatic depth of both, then Son Of Zorn could truly be something special.

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As of right now, work needs to be done. Son Of Zorn’s pilot stumbles a bit as it works through the grounded nature of a typical sitcom plot and the more colorful–pun intended–characters that live within this world. There’s definitely elements in the pilot to like, and there is potential to really push the characters into a more defined role, but that balance isn’t quite there yet. The opening scene is a clear example: Zorn and his team of warriors battle a number of monsters in Zephyria, in a nice, fairly exciting sequence. Then his phone goes off, alerting him of his son Alangulon’s, birthday. The sequence then becomes a “casual conversation in midst of intense battle” scene, and it’s lightly amusing, but nothing any regular viewer of Adult Swim (or cartoons in general) hasn’t seen before.

Even Zorn’s trip back home feels rote: a lot of failed interactions with various people asleep or busy staring at their tablets. In the early going, a lot of the jokes mostly stem from Zorn’s outsized persona contrasting against everyone else’s indifference or shock. Again, this is fine, but it’s also an overdone trope, and making Zorn animated doesn’t exactly overcome it. Son Of Zorn comes alive when that trope really gets personal. Zorn’s interactions with Tim Meadows’ Craig, for example, are hilarious, mainly because Meadows and the writers give Craig a weird, slightly-askew aloofness that makes his reactions fit somewhere between disturbing and disorienting. His sad acceptance of his constant emasculation is great, as well as his off-putting metaphor of psychoanalyzing Alangulon’s brain with Zorn’s brain-gouger gift. More winning is Zorn’s boss, Linda, played by Artemis Pebdani. She brings a passive-aggressive charm to her character, being both exasperated and supportive of the hulking hire. She almost admires Zorn for breaking the table in rage as she also talks him into controlling his emotions through being considerate to others. It’s a tough role, and Pebdani nails it perfectly.

It’s unfortunate, then, to see that Meadows’ and Pebdani’s characters so nicely developed while Cheyl Hines’ and Johnny Pemberton’s characters languish. Hines is a great actress, but she struggles a bit as Edie, Zorn’s ex-wife. It feels like Hines is still trying to find a clear angle on her character and her relationship to Zorn; as it is, she mostly plays the “sweet but naggy” role. Pemberton’s Alangulon, known as Alan, feels even less developed. Early in the episode he seems somewhat eager to see Zorn again, but later he wants to avoid him completely. The two sentiments don’t quite gel, and the embarrassment he feels from when Zorn chases after the bus swinging a sword and yelling his name doesn’t have enough behind it to explain the change. Alan’s opaqueness is on purpose though; the end of the episode show’s his legs as being animated, a bizarre reveal that may lead to some more craziness down the line. As it stands though, all we know is he is a vegetarian, plays mediocre guitar, and likes a girl.

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Then there’s Zorn himself. Jason Sudeikis is suitably funny as the voice of the warrior from Zephyria, but as Erik noted, the writers mostly make him a type of the “high-status buffoon.” He’s not really a buffoon, though; he’s more of a fish-out-of-water type, the water being a creature-filled battlefield of magic, swords, and lasers. Back in Orange County, Zorn mostly finds himself adrift, unclear on his ex-wife’s new, boring life, unable to understand why his son “sucks so bad now,” and unfit in a normal world filled with normal people who care little for his epic tales.

Stray observations

  • I’ll be covering Son of Zorn this season! I’m eager to see how this show changes and develops over time.
  • The two montages that happen in this episode–Zorn leaving the airport, Zorn causally doing chores–are quietly well played, with lightly comic beats complimenting the quiet sadness hidden in Zorn’s character.
  • Edie suggests that she and Zorn did some crazy stuff while in Zephyria–while coked up no less! I doubt we’ll see more of that in action, or in flashbacks, due to a TV budget, but if it’s possible, it would be beneficial to her character.
  • Speaking of Zephyria, would it be possible to see more of Zorn’s teammates, either in Zephyria or in the real world? Headbuttman’s freak out over his son’s death was just darkly funny enough to suggest they would be great background characters, existing in their own world, in contrast to the real one.
  • The title screen splash? Amazing. The show needs more structural meta details like this.

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