So Son Of Zorn, which began as an semi-animated absurd take on the typical “man complains about man-stuff these days” concept, changed into a comic exploration of how members of a dysfunctional, atypical family deal with their individual pasts, in a world that barely can handle their present. Even though the first few episodes have been alienating to many, it has been a treat to watch the steady improvements and changes develop over time, a textbook case of a show improving its narrative confidence. Sally McKenna taking over showrunner duties from creators Reed Agnew and Eli Jorné was, in my opinion, a net good, infusing Alan and Edie with more material so their characters feel more integrated, more active than those first two episodes. I’m actually looking forward to this show now, even though it hasn’t reached my “recommended list” yet.

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Continuing the show’s “past/present” reconciliation, “Radioactive Ex-Girlfriend” is a funny, delightfully weird episode that continues the show’s foray into its cast taking stock of their current position in life through the various lenses of their past. The title and premise isn’t exactly subtle: Zorn’s current hookup is literally toxic. And to the episode’s credit, writer Amillie Gillette doesn’t try to hide the metaphor. In a desperate attempt to show that he doesn’t deserve Edie’s “pity” face, Zorn contacts a dangerous past girlfriend, Radiana (voiced by Olivia Wilde), to be his plus-one for Edie and Craig’s engagement party. Radiana is literally crazy, an emotional roller-coaster of a woman who reacts to every slight in over-dramatic fashion, and who also oozes literal toxic sludge. Zorn, in his need to always display his machismo to everyone, gleefully makes out with her and has sex with her in every possible room. This leads to Zorn gradually getting sicker and weaker, to the point that he’s physically wasting away as a human being. It’s a hilarious and an disturbing sight, and props to director Bill Benz and the show at large to showing a visual example of a toxic relationship destroying a person from the inside and out.

Sure, I could have done without another plot in which a woman comes into a man’s life and destroys it with her own, insane ways. Radiana never becomes a fully fledged character in her own right. But I think it works because the story is less about this crazy woman ruining a man’s life and more about how sad and lonely Zorn is as a person. Seeing his son (attempt to) date Layla and his ex-wife marry Craig brings about a fear in him that he may die alone. The irony, of course, is that he’s currently dying while dating someone. It’s telling (and smart) that Zorn only contacts Radiana in a drunken stupor–even he knows that this is a bad idea. Yet after all the puking toxic sludge, lost of muscle mass, and near-dying in a bathroom stall, Zorn comes to a rather mature revelation. He realizes that Edie and Craig are good for each other and, perhaps more significantly, he’s actually happy for them. And that in itself gives him hope that he (and Linda) can find someone out there. Personally, I’d like it if the episode found emotional value in living a single life, but that might be beyond the scope of TV narratives.

In a similar, but more subtle way, Edie comes to terms with the men in her life. Edie has become a much more aggressive, forward character, and her very honest statements about her son sucking at music is both hilarious and needed to show more engaging shades of her character. Cheryl Hines portrays Edie as a slightly-confused character who hasn’t quite embraced who her son is and/or who she’s about to marry. I mean, Craig wants to be a therapist, not because he’s good at therapy, because he can be a hero (that’s what the cape is for). But unlike Zorn, who’s so good at lying to himself and others that he’s basically willing to die for it, Alan and Craig exhibit a real emotional honesty to their characters. Edie barely can work her way through a engagement speech but she sees how Craig not only remembers where they met, but voices how much she means to him. And that allows her to love Craig all the more, failed dream of being a therapist be damned. It also allows her to finally accept Alan’s attempt to play the glass harp for Layla. Sure, he may suck, but he’s just professing his passion–which means more than anything these days.

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Stray observations

  • Gillette used to write for the A.V. Club! It’s good to see her still killing it out there.
  • Pebdani, as Linda, wasn’t given much to do, but the few roles she had, she killed it. Unlike Zorn, who clearly is broken in his singlehood, Linda seems way more confident, embracing the idea of having sex to whoever’s available. I love Linda.
  • Speaking of which–the club scene was a waste but I liked Zorn trying to hit on that black woman there. I don’t know, it was just cool to see.
  • Craig trying to be a therapist was pretty stupid but it was also hilarious in that kind of clueless, nonsensical way that only Tim Meadows could make work. I love Craig, too, even if the ending was pretty rushed.

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