The Barbarian In The ’Burbs

Fox's hybrid animated/live-action comedy Son of Zorn makes Jason Sudeikis a sword-swinging soccer dad

The phrase “sick bod” was coined for guys like Zorn, paleo dieters with probably zero percent body fat who might beat up a troop of gorillas as a warm-up exercise. Save for the sunset-hued Ziggy Stardust mullet, he’s a dead-ringer for He-Man, or maybe Arnold Schwarzenegger in the ’80s. But it’s not his abs or pecs or tiny fur loincloth that attract the eye, but the crow’s feet around his crudely drawn eyes. So haunted is Zorn by frustration and disappointment that not even his favorite drink — “the blood of my enemies from the skulls of their children” — is liable to cheer him up.

Voiced by Jason Sudeikis, Zorn is great at his job: killing monsters in his cartoon universe. But in our world, he’s a divorced, deadbeat dad in middle age, homeless and unemployed. Premiering on Sunday, September 11, in Fox’s animation block, Son of Zorn finds the self-described defender, conqueror, and decapitator trying to reconnect with his only offspring, 17-year-old Alangulon (Johnny Pemberton). A chubby everydude who goes by “Alan,” the (mostly) live-action teen finds his dad’s whole deal, like showing up to the school bus stop nearly naked and waving a sword, so embarrassing.

If you’re picturing Ron Burgundy built like a wall of muscles, you’re more or less there. A cartoon/live-action hybrid, Son of Zorn is the family sitcom of our current masculinity crisis, in which an aging knuckle-dragger has to adapt to a feminizing world he doesn’t like or understand if he wants to be there for the people he loves. As with Will Ferrell’s anchorman, we laugh at him while laughing with him. He’s a dodo for getting Alan a brain-gouger for his birthday, but we can’t help nodding along when the father asks of his son (out of earshot), “Why do you suck so bad now?” (Seriously, Alan, a brain-gouger sounds awesome.) Zorn’s ex-wife, Edie (Cheryl Hines), a formerly wild OC suburbanite, has moved on to a new fiancé (Tim Meadows). And Zorn literally can’t comprehend that his supervisor (Artemis Pebdani) at his new office job is a woman, because who’s ever heard of a female boss before?

The question for Son of Zorn is how many times the show can quip about its protagonist’s hypermasculinity — his ass-backward expectations, his over-the-top violence, his befuddlement that a severed hand encrusted with jewelry won’t fit into an ATM machine — without the conceit getting old. I got tired of the joke about halfway into the pilot (the only episode available for review). It’s unfair to judge a series based on just one episode, but I already have a few reservations: the casting of the snarky/douchey Sudeikis as a destroyer of worlds, the herky-jerkiness of the animation during the live-action scenes (more unintended than deliberate, I think), and the extremely basic roles for comedy vets Hines and Pebdani. (A show deconstructing problematic masculinity would only be halfway doing its job if it kept its female roles uninteresting.) With his fake boasts about Alan playing soccer with his bus driver’s head, Zorn is, well, too two-dimensional to take seriously. But Alan’s anxieties about how much he takes after his dummy father gives Son of Zorn an unexpected emotional heft — and us something to wonder about.