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- American actor and comedian
- American actress and director
Welcome back to the O.C., bitch!
Back in 2003, troubled loner from the wrong side of the tracks Ryan Atwood moved to the aforementioned affluent Southern California county, where he failed to fit in, got in his fair share of fights, fell for a girl who was out of his league, and built a family, all in the name of a brighter future. This fall, Fox will once again invite viewers to the land of concrete, cars, and coastal communities to tell another just as heartfelt (not really!), dramatic (nope!), and soapy (impossible!) fish-out-of-water tale. Zorn, like Ryan, just wants to get the girl, connect with his family, find a job, and be liked. And just like that pimply protagonist, Zorn will face many foes, frenemies, and obstacles along the way, will likely get in a brawl or two, or 10, and will surely learn important lessons about life along the way.
“You nailed it! We were inspired every day by The O.C., a truly important show,” Son of Zorn executive producer Phil Lord (The Last Man on Earth) joked to Yahoo TV at a June open house event on the set at the Fox lot in Los Angeles. “They are basically the same, with the exception that our hero is a weird Saturday-morning-cartoon-barbarian type who has been away fighting bloody battles and defending his island nation of Zephyria, and he has come back to Orange County to get his nonanimated ex-wife back and reconnect with the son he left behind. Our guy carries a big sword, flies on a giant bird, has fivesomes with trolls, wears a loincloth.”
Lord’s longtime collaborator, executive producer Christopher Miller, continued the bit. “So, yeah, same basic show. We only hope ours will go on to become as game-changing a series as that one.”
The ironic thing about this phony comparison is that the producers, and in turn the actors involved on the show, kind of wish they really could use that trademark teen soap as a starting point when describing the animated live-action hybrid.
“First, it was pitched to me over the phone, and I was thinking, ‘That sounds weird and crazy, and I’m not sure this is my kind of show,” Cheryl Hines (who plays Edie, the ex) recalls. “Then they sent me the script, and it really made me laugh. The writing is so sharp, really smart, and very silly. But it was still really hard to picture what it would look like, and it is really hard for me to describe what the show is about to people. It’s such a visual spectacle [that] no one’s seen before on TV. It’s hard to imagine one animated character and the rest of the people are normal until you see it.”
As bizarre as the premise is, Hines promises it’s “oddly relatable,” since the show covers issues most people have dealt with, like high school bullying, marriage, divorce, stepparents, workplace dilemmas, first dates, and more. At its heart, Zorn (voiced by Jason Sudeikis) is a deadbeat dad trying to earn his way back into the life of his mopey, awkward teen son Alangulon/Alan (Johnny Pemberton) and win back the heart of Edie. To show he means it, he gets an apartment and a job at Sanitation Solutions as a “diversity hire.” (He’s the only unreal employee.) Hines continues, “The reality is heightened. For example, there’s an episode where Alan is getting picked on at school. That’s relatable; a lot of people go through that. But as his dad is a barbarian warrior, he wants to go murder the kid. He suggests we pull his skull out and pop his eyeballs. And we all have to talk him down. Alan has these three sort-of-oddball parents giving him advice. And anybody who’s ever been a teenager has probably gotten weird advice from parents they think are idiots. The fun is that Zorn gets to act out all the things that we feel sometimes. You say that you want to kill your neighbor. He will actually kill your neighbor for you, so you have to beg him not to.”
Tim Meadows had a similar experience when being wooed to play Craig, a psychology teacher at an online university who’s Edie’s new fiancé and therefore Zorn’s newest adversary. “Now I can tell people to watch the YouTube trailer, but at the beginning, the concept and how it would work was confusing to me and then extra-confusing when I tried to tell other people about it,” Meadows says.
Fortunately Lord and Miller’s résumé was enough to color him intrigued. “The Lego Movie blew me away. I wasn’t expecting it to be as good as it was. I took my kids to see it. I figured I would eat popcorn and go to sleep. But I was digging it. And it surprised me. And Last Man on Earth also turned out to be this really weird, cool show. So I was an easy sell, because if anyone could make a weird partially animated comedy work, it would be those guys.”
Even with their impressive credentials — Lord and Miller also directed Clone High, the Jump Street movies, and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and are currently hard at work at the helm of the Han Solo Star Wars spinoff — there has been quite the learning curve on Zorn. “This is a really hard show to pull off from a technical standpoint, and we have been in production for a long time,” Lord says. “We have table reads that establish a baseline and what is and is not working. We shoot in L.A., sometimes with a very tall stand-in to get the eyeline right and to give the actors something to work off of. Sometimes we use a green screen or a green glove holding a real object or a green mannequin. We have sketches and animators on set to show everyone what it will look like after the animation is added in. We have to make props to get the weight right. There’s a lot of trial and error.”
According to Miller, it is a constantly evolving show. He continues, “All of our actors are good at improv, so there is a lot that comes up and changes on set. Jason records his stuff in New York. We have rewritten scenes in the booth with Jason, and then we go back and do pickup shots. It is superinefficient, but the good news is you get a lot of bites at the apple.”
Finding the perfect voice for Zorn was integral to making the conceit believable. Sudeikis was the first choice and not just because they had worked with him on Last Man’s last season. “I know it is a better story to say that we loved working with him so much that we hired him for this, but it’s not true,” Miller explains. “He is really talented, so he was the first name on the list. He has a deep, manly voice, but it is still comical and he can improv and do all the things that you need on a show like this.”
Lord concurs, “He is on the shortlist of everything we do. People were auditioning for the project without knowing it, because we are always listening to the voices of everyone we work with and everyone we like.”
Fine-tuning the tone has also been a process. “It can’t just be all weird all the time, because that gets boring. We have to ground it in reality. But being able to push the envelope on normal everyday feelings and experiences is the kernel of the show,” Lord says. “We have to take advantage of how weird it would be to have He-Man as a dad or a co-worker. Or we take something very pedestrian, like a parent trying to win over his kid by buying him a car, and reconceptualize it in a Zorn way. Zorn wouldn’t buy a car. He would buy a giant attack bird.”
Meadows adds, “Yeah, he does crazy things, like put his cream cheese on with a sword or drink out of a chalice at the water cooler. There’s another episode where he sets Mecha-Zorn — the robot he would send into battle for him occasionally when he didn’t feel like fighting — loose in our family, and we think we are talking to Zorn. He has a lot to learn if he wants to stay in our world and in Alan’s life.”
Son of Zorn airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on Fox. The network will run a sneak preview on Sept. 11 prior to the premiere on Sept. 25.