Zorn of Zephyria fancies himself roguish and vigorous, but also the strong, not-so-silent type. In his mind, his ex-wife’s boyfriend Craig is weak. In “Defender Of Teen Love,” Zorn scoffs at how Craig enjoys couples bike rides and reiterates several times that he and Edie did not engage in such activities when they were married. Instead, they had tantric sex on top of a mountain. Despite his inability to complete the simplest of tasks, Zorn thinks his swagger is hard evidence of his dominance over Craig. Nevermind the fact that he can’t complete the simplest of tasks, Zorn still fancies himself brash and brave. Too bad he exists on a show that’s playing it entirely too safe.
Son of Zorn has straightforward conceit that is both powerful and simple: Zorn represents toxic masculinity in all its clanking glory. But Reed Agnew and Eli Jorné still haven’t been able to use that clarity of vision to transcend their gimmicky production. The showrunners have inflated the loudmouth dad caricature TV loves to cartoonish proportions, but they haven’t reconsidered what that means.
Merely making a parody of a hypermasculine dude does not go far enough. Like the premiere, “Defender of Teen Love” follows an expected family sitcom structure with predictable plots that are slightly more colorful after being filtered through the show’s premise. The conventional becomes slightly unconventional: Zorn attempts to give his son advice on women by consulting a magical artifact known as the Stone of Sight. Thankfully, the show doesn’t try to obscure the fact that Zorn’s actions amount to creepy stalking. Still, it seems like the audience is supposed to laugh at how terrible Zorn’s plan is when, really, it’s more disturbing than funny. Son of Zorn doesn’t seem genuinely interested in exploring just how disturbing Zorn’s behavior can be.
Edie rightfully condemns Zorn for his gross and invasive use of the Stone of Sight, which he literally uses to spy on her in the shower. He keeps reminding her it’s dangerous in the hands of evil, and she keeps reminding him that it is in the hands of evil — his. He pretends to have learned a lesson and destroys the stone, only to later reconstruct it. Son of Zorn remains committed to its portrayal of Zorn as a stubborn and unchanging asshole, which is too dismissive of Zorn’s awfulness. The writers don’t necessarily need to turn Zorn into someone we can root for, but they need to go darker if they really want to reckon with the attitudes Zorn embodies. Just laughing at macho bullshit is a half measure.
Comedy protagonists don’t have to be good people or even bad people on their way to goodness. Comedies can explore darkness as adeptly as drama. FX’s Archer is built around a self-centered asshole, but Archer is not nearly as exhausting as Zorn, even as he remains mostly resistant to real change and self improvement (even his recent foray into fatherhood hasn’t exactly led to a full transformation). Archer’s mommy issues and abandonment anxieties aren’t exactly novel, but they’re at least a compelling part of the show’s emotional framework. Son of Zorn, so far, amounts to a sketch that has been stretched into a series.
Instead of milking its premise for threadbare jokes, Son of Zorn needs to focus more on its characters — especially the ones who aren’t Zorn. Zorn’s life unfortunately feels as two-dimensional as his physical composition. Keeping in line with the premiere, Tim Meadows is still one of the best parts of the show, the only actor of the bunch so far who seems comfortable acting against a stand-in. And Craig yet again has some of the funniest lines of the episode (his grading system, in particular, is far funnier than some of the more over-the-top jokes centered on Zorn). But, for the most part, the secondary characters on Son of Zorn are underdeveloped players in the show’s very safe, very tiring game. Zorn has some fun, but it needs to take more risks.