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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Son Of Zorn’s exploration of Zephyrian culture isn’t deep but it is rewarding

Illustration for article titled Son Of Zorn’s exploration of Zephyrian culture isn’t deep but it is rewarding
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I have a question. How does Son Of Zorn want us to respond to someone like Zorn and his attempts to reconnect to his son? Should we be rooting for their re-connection? Should we be advocating for a full family reunion between Zorn, Alan, and Edie? Or should we be actively condemning Zorn’s behavior and laughing along when his arrogant and clueless ”toxic masculinity” blows up in his face? (Or should we just gleefully go along for the absurd ride, as if this was a lower-staked Adult Swim show?) Son Of Zorn could perhaps blend all of those aspects into something both hilarious and satirical, but at this point the show seems to be missing a clear narrative approach in figuring out how to do that. I don’t think even the writers know what they want to do. “War In The Workplace” worked because it managed to work with those final two points, which seems to be its strength. But because there’s a general confusion over how to approach the dynamic between Zorn and Alan (and Edie, although she’s definitely improving as a character), the first two points always fall flat.

“A Taste Of Zephyria” seems to be a clearer indication of the what the writers want to do–directly use that Adult Swim-esque absurdity, infuse it with a critique of toxic masculinity, and springboard off that into a more confident look at the dynamic among Zorn, Alan, Edie, and even Greg. It starts off when Todd shows Zorn a sitcom called “I’ll Have What He’s Stabbing,” which has a fake Zephyrian engaging in what seems to be Zephyrian stereotypes. This ticks Zorn off, and after learning his son isn’t as enthused about his Zephyrian heritage, he tricks Alan into going with him to an “authentic” Zephyrian restaurant (by pretending Edie got into an accident). In general, the fake-racism-of-fake-culture concept tends to make me roll my eyes, especially when the writers try to tie it to actual racial incidents. But “A Taste Of Zephyria” is so over the top and ridiculous that there’s no fear of that happening, and yet, there seems to be a slightly nuanced perspective that, despite the exaggerated warrior aspects of Zephyria, it is still a culture and a people that deserves respect. If there’s one thing that we know about Zorn, is that he truly believes in the honor of his homeland.

Dan Mintz’s script brings a healthy energy to the show, and he spreads it to all main characters in a way that’s been lacking so far. His strongest improvement? Alan. According to the production order, this one occurred after ”War In The Workplace,” so you could argue that after standing up to the bully, Alan has developed a confidence that surpasses the awkward, flighty kid we’ve seen before. I mean, he’s still awkward, but he’s no longer passive. Seeing him ask Layla out (instead of hemming and hawing all episode) is a much stronger approach to the character, as well as giving him more silly interactions with the Zephryian belt. I know it’s a low bar, but giving Alan something to do, like play down poisoning a teach with a dart, or accidentally attaching a grappling hook to Layla’s car, allows Johnny Pemberton to actually emote. Seeing Alan opening his eyes wide and speaking with even a tiny bit more energy makes him more of an engaging character.

This isn’t an episode that’s specifically about implicit racisms, but there’s definitely some fairly smart choices on how they do handle some of them. Gags that seem off the cuff and random–like when Zorn yells at Todd about “greasy elbows” and “fried hay”–are actually followed through and pay off later in the episode. The big set piece, where Zorn shows off a smattering of Zephyria cultural artifacts and dances, works because of the sheer commitment to it. Frank’s clothing that wasn’t only alive, but talked? A painting that also transfers souls? Layla, the character and the actor, was totally game, and despite being temporarily possessed, she managed to give Alan a semi-deserved dressing down. I say “semi” because, yeah, Alan’s casual dismissal of his father and the whole of Zephyria was dickish, but then again, Zorn is an ass. So I don’t exactly buy the sitcom-esque moments, like when Alan, Edie, and Greg have a sit down to discuss Zephryian heroism, or the clunky moment where both Alan and Zorn own up to their mistakes (which includes an embarrassing dance from Alan). The brief moment where Zorn, Alan, and Greg took photos of each other–that worked, mainly because it was rather nuanced, and it suggests that the show is moving past the pining and into the more interesting direction of opening up the outliers of the show, like Zephyria, the office, and the slightly askew world at large.

Stray observations

  • I REALLY love the random items scattered in the header image and in that big scene at the end. Zephyria is a goofy, fun mix of warrior fantasy and mystical sci-fi. I’m a BIG fan of mixing science (fiction) and magical stuff, so just seeing all that in action was a treat.
  • Putting Alan in a bathtub filled with stones to remove the Zephryian belt was a damn good idea.
  • The signing gardening gnome plot was a slight but Cheryl Hines committed one hundred percent to it. Edie is proving to be a conniving, clever character, suggesting how she managed to hold her own in Zephyria. I don’t know if the neighbors, or the fallout of her destroying the gnome, will be in future episodes, but it did showcase that Edie in no way needed to pretend to have a warrior fiance to make her presence known. She did that merely to save face, but blanket Zephryian-phobic statements is too far.
  • I don’t know how much sense it made, but I sort of like Todd apologizing for the “Hey, hey, hey” comment. In the moment, it comes off like Zorn is overreacting, as usual, but realizing later that Todd kind of did that on purpose gives him a bit more character than awkward co-worker. This is kind of approaching the Archer-esque level where everyone’s a dick in their own way, and we’re just sitting back and watching the antics unfold.
  • Linda makes a brief appearance and nails it, with her laughing over a gag from “I’ll Have What He’s Stabbing” that Zorn actually did in the pilot. You can tell Linda kind of does that on purpose, too, adding to my Archer-theory.