At Comic-Con, Fox previewed some early clips from the upcoming Son of Zorn, a hybrid live-action/animated family comedy. The show follows an animated warrior (Zorn, voiced by Jason Sudeikis) from an island in the Pacific Ocean who returns to Orange County to win back his live-action ex-wife Edie (Cheryl Hines) and teenage son, Alangulon aka Alan (Johnny Pemberton).
Joining Hines and Pemberton was Tim Meadows (who plays the live-action Craig, Edie’s fiancé), executive producer Sally McKenna and executive producer/director Eric Appel.
The show is probably the most unusual thing you will see on TV. Zorn is a warrior who has an affinity for hot pockets and drinking the blood of his fallen enemies out of their children’s skulls. He gets a job at a company called Sanitation Solutions to assimilate into the live-action world and reconnect with his family. The actors all have backgrounds in improv, which has to be helpful when dealing with a 2D animated co-star.
First Reactions When They Read the Script
Hines: “It was weird. It was really weird. It was hard to imagine what it would look like, but at the same time, it was very funny. I laughed out loud when I read it.
Meadows: “I’m a whore, so I’ll work for anything. If you have a camera, I’ll act in front of it.”
Pemberton: “I read it and was like, ‘It’s cool. It’s not going to be made.’ ”
Humor in the Show
Appel says at its core, the show is about a fish out of water, divorce, and families trying to get along after a divorce. And other regular life things, only seen through the lens of a seven-foot tall cartoon barbarian. The stories are relatable and grounded, but there’s a crazy element attached.
Hines says the show mirrors family dynamics that most people have – divorce, step-parents, and complicated relationships. And the writers have done an amazing job at taking these issues and giving everyone a chance to laugh at them.
Appel mentions the addition of the bird in the first episode (an animated giant, flying falcon-like bird that Zorn gives Alan as a gift). All the episodes are taking tropes and relatable family issues and bringing in a “bird,” or at least that episode’s version of a bird.
Filming Two Different Shows
The crew essentially makes two shows. The film the live action pieces and then adds the animation later. This gives them the flexibility to go back and tweak additional animated elements.Meadow quips that they’re “always picking up fake things.” Sudeikis also improvises when he records his part. The animated portion is always evolving, and Appel and McKenna say they’re never really done
Hardest Scenes to Create
McKenna says any episode with more than animated character is challenging. Appel says some of the most simplest things are hard to pull off. For example, a scene with a coffee pour took a long time because the animated character moves at a different frame rate than the live action character. Pemberton, Hines, and Meadows say it’s hard to act with someone who isn’t there, and you have to remember where Zorn moves throughout the scene. Pemberton admits, “I just give up and look down.” Meadows jokes, “We’ll all go crazy if this show goes on for five years.”
Alan resents his dad because he has been gone but is constantly reminded he is half his father because — spoiler — he has animated legs. All the father/son moments are awkward because everything they do is Zephyria style, and Zorn is a lunatic. Pemberton compares getting used to Zorn like approaching a farm animal: Let them do what they do and take it slow. Low and slow.
Hines says Zorn drives Edie crazy because he’s a barbarian. He kills things and uses violence to solve most of his problems. She wants to encourage the relationship between Zorn and Alan because she wants Alan to know his father. And at the same time, Zorn is useful because he’s big and dumb. “And sometimes you need a big dumb man.” Also, he’s handsome and sexy, but of course, Edie has a new fiancé.
Meadows explains that the relationship between Craig and Zorn changes as the show moves on. In the beginning, he understands and is sympathetic to Zorn because he’s a psychologist. But after awhile, he realizes he has to compete with Zorn for Edie and Alan’s love. Zorn is the outsider coming into their family.
Other Voice Talent
Nick Offerman will voice one of Zorn’s friends, Corbin, a cave doctor. Olivia Wilde will voice one of Zorn’s ex-girlfriends. Keegan-Michael Key will be one of Zorn’s old warrior buddies. Serial podcast host, Sarah Koenig will be a narrator for a Zephyria documentary in the show.
Appel cites his love of Who Framed Roger Rabbit as an inspiration and that he wanted to do something truly different on television. Roger Rabbit was such a breakthrough concept, and he is happy to have the opportunity to combine live action and animation on a TV show. McKenna has a done a lot of network TV and is excited to do it in a different way.
Zorn’s look is a nod to an entire genre of old animated action shows aimed at young boys in the late ’70s and early ’80s — Conan the Barbarian, Thundercats, and obviously, He-Man. But even though those cartoons defined his look, Zorn’s personality is completely unique.
In the beginning, the concept of Zephyria was wide open. It’s a mystical place and an island that exists on Earth out in the Pacific OCcean surrounded by real water. It has ice caves, lava pits, and weird mythical cartoon things. It’s constantly changing and a fantasy grab bag. It’s also always at war. McKenna says we may see some flashbacks of the island in the first season, but it isn’t a huge focus.
The Moment The Cast Decided They Were Onboard
Hines: When she read the scene where Edie is talking to Zorn and he says, “Remember the fivesome with the trolls under the bridge?” Hines says we’ve all done stuff in our past that we’re trying to move past, and there’s always that one person who brings it up again. That was the first moment that made her laugh out loud.
Meadows : He finds it funny that Craig is an online professor and he holds his lectures on his phone.
Pemberton: When he read Alan had animated legs. He realized anything in the show that seems mundane, there’s always a weird element even if you don’t see it.
Son of Zorn premieres on Fox this fall.