2016 seems perhaps a little untimely to unveil a ‘He-Man and the Masters of the Universe’ spoof on primetime network TV, but Fox’s live-action/animation hybrid ‘Son of Zorn’ looked like one of the more promising new sitcoms on the schedule. Although the pilot episode is fairly funny, I kind of wish it were funnier.
Aside from a niche segment of adult toy collectors, He-Man hasn’t exactly been culturally relevant in about three decades. On the other hand, 1980s nostalgia is huge right now, and the show fits in well with Fox’s regular animation lineup, which frequently pokes fun at the childhood obsessions of today’s middle-agers.
‘Son of Zorn’ was created by Reed Agnew and Eli Jorne, a pair of producers from the FX network’s very weird and very uneven ‘Wilfred’. Chris Miller and Phil Lord (’21 Jump Street’, ‘The Lego Movie’) also serve as Executive Producers, though how much direct involvement they may have is unclear. The show starts in fully-animated form on the (fictional, obviously) Pacific island of Zephyria, where we’re introduced to Zorn, a half-naked barbarian prince who gleefully spends his days slaughtering the faceless hordes of his evil wizard nemesis. While in the midst of battle one day, Zorn’s cell phone (yes, he has one) suddenly rings, and he’s reminded that he promised his estranged son that he’d visit for the boy’s birthday.
The next thing you know, Zorn breaks off from combat and catches the first flight to Los Angeles. The rest of the premiere episode sees the cartoon warrior engage in fish-out-of-water antics in the live-action world. He tries to reunite with his ex, Edie (Cheryl Hines), only to learn that she has a very meek new fiancé (Tim Meadows). When his attempts to bond with his nerdy teenage son, named Alangulon (Johnny Pemberton from ‘Superstore’), result in him continually embarrassing the boy, Edie hen-pecks Zorn into extending his planned weekend visit into a more permanent stay. That will require him to find a new job (he winds up as a soap dispenser salesman) and learn some important life lessons about respecting others’ feelings.
The show has some pretty spot-on parodies of He-Man tropes, including the neutered violence (outrageously bloody here) and the inherent homoeroticism of the premise. Back on Zephyria, Zorn’s brothers-in-arms are a colorful band of magical characters with names like Skunk Man and Headbutt Man. Although it doesn’t appear to have any creative talent in common, the series’ tone seems to be aiming for something along the lines of FX’s ‘Archer’. The episode is mostly a lot of improv riffing and characters bickering with each other while engaged in ridiculous circumstances.
The pilot has some good jokes, but nothing really hit me hard with laughter. Unfortunately, one aspect that I think really doesn’t work is pretty critical to the series. Jason Sudeikis does the voice of Zorn and plays him like every other sketch comedy character Sudeikis has ever played. I get the joke, which is that Zorn doesn’t sound at all like a barbarian warrior and talks just like everyone else in the modern world (including making pop culture references he probably shouldn’t know), but it doesn’t feel right and wears thin quickly.
‘Son of Zorn’ is amusing enough that I’ll watch again, but frankly, I expected it to be a little more clever than it is.