3 out of 5
Created by: Reed Agnew and Eli Jorné
covers season 1
Here’s what I appreciate: when a show / movie with a “hook” premise (i.e. an animated lead character in this case) actually manages to be a solid show outside of its hook. It suggests that the ideas and writing and characters came first, and then some brainstorming came up with the hook as the best way to execute it. In other words: the elevator pitch isn’t all the sustains the show, and it turns out that it was the smartest way to enhance the project to make the concept actually a whole lot funnier. After all, how else would you cast / show an other-worldly (or, uh, “the South Pacific island of Zephyria”), 7″ tall, muscle-bound, loin-cloth wearing barbarian who moves to California to be with his teenage son? Sure, you could find some big ol’ muscle dude, and possibly luck out and find one with good comedic timing – though likely not at Jason Sudekis’ level, who provides Zorn’s voice – but I sense the oiled-up half-nude routine would get old quick, and by the very fact that the actor would be human, our brains would too easily slot him in as normal enough, and the scripts would eventually go that way too. Something about animating the character in a He-Man fashion registers with our memories of those cartoons, and automatically makes the same type of association as with the human actor, but with this variation, more favorable for the comedy: we’ve set Zorn into a completely different class. And his being animated makes a lot more physical comedy possible and not as budget / reality limited. To further animate anything associated with Zephyria just adds to that potential: anything you can imagine can be tossed in. Our writers then have one more trick which sets this apart from most oddball comedies: they do the Airplane! / Naked Gun approach of making the bizarre totally commonplace. In the Son of Zorn world, people know about Zephyria, so seeing these characters out and about isn’t a surprise. All of Zorn’s weird customs are given eyerolls of obnoxiousness instead of gasps of surprise. It’s the best version of this format.
And it results in a consistently entertaining comedy. The three stars shouldn’t be shrugged off: the show is solid for the whole season, with pitch-perfect casting – all of whom “get” the joke – and creative ways of playing off of the uncomfortable father / son routine in which Zorn has inserted himself. The rating is simply representative of the fact that, fun format aside, the show doesn’t dig very deep. It’s a popcorn comedy. It’s not especially subversive, or shocking. But it doesn’t want to be anything else. So I go back to that original praise: someone had a funny idea, and instead of getting bogged down in how to make it reasonable for live action TV – which only would have bogged down the quality as well – they thought outside of the box and delivered this half-animated, half live action format. Your brain adjusts to it magically quickly, and it’s no longer the first or main thing I would use to describe the show. I’d mention Sudekis’ dry humor stylings; I’d mention cringe comedies; I’d mention those ZAZ references. And, yeah, by the way, the dad is animated. But look: you’re going to laugh. Innit that the most important qualifier for a comedy?