The "manly man bumbling through a world he no longer understands" is a perennial character type in contemporary sitcoms. Last Man Standing is entirely built around the premise. This fall, new sitcoms Kevin Can Wait, Man With a Plan and The Great Indoors all play on the macho-fish-out-of-water variant. But none of the shows with "real men" do it as successfully as the one with the cartoon character.
Fox's Son of Zorn, which premieres Sunday, Sept. 11 in a special preview airing after football, is a funny sendup of traditional family sitcoms. It stars Jason Sudeikis as the voice of Zorn, a warrior from the kingdom of Zephyria who moves to staid Orange County, California to try to connect with with his teenage son, Alangulon (Johnny Pemberton) and win back his ex-wife Edie (Cheryl Hines). Zorn has been a deadbeat father, and his mild-mannered son wants little to do with him -- the boy goes by "Alan" and doesn't murder anyone. He's much closer to Craig (Tim Meadows), Edie's fiancé, whom Zorn resents.
The twist, of course, is that Zorn is a cartoon character while the rest of his family is live-action. He looks straight out of He-Man, with his bulging muscles, broadsword and red mane. And he behaves like a He-Man, with little to no regard for the feelings of others. He would much rather disembowel his problems than talk about them. In this, he's an even-more-exaggerated version of the typical sitcom dad. His closest comparison is American Dad's square-jawed CIA operative Stan Smith, who has a rigid, often violent conception of how things should be.
And like the now-trippy American Dad eventually did, Son of Zorn would do well to focus less on its premise and lean more into its talented ensemble. Pemberton and Meadows in particular can always be relied upon for understated, deadpan weirdness, and they seem to have much more potential for the quirks and specificities that make a great sitcom character than the somewhat one-note Zorn.
Not that Zorn is a bad character. He's a take on a sitcom dad we haven't quite seen before, and Sudeikis imbues him with a bonehead charisma. Son of Zorn has a lot of promise. The pilot feels a little bit unsure of itself, but there's a lot of potential to grow into a show with a uniquely eccentric point of view.