'Son of Zorn' suffers from the 'Coneheads' curse
Posted October 14
Back in the early days of "Saturday Night Live," sketches with the Coneheads were fan favorites. Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtin and Lorraine Newman were a family of aliens that spoke in a weird monotone and, yes, had pointy, circular scalps that apparently inspired their surname. They told everyone they were from France, and they drank a lot of beer. The end.
Over the years, variations of that sketch were performed about a dozen times, and each Conehead appearance lasted three minutes or so. That was about the right length of time, although even then, they were often stretching the material pretty thin. There’s only so much mileage you can get out of a one-joke premise.
So when someone inexplicably decided the world needed a “Coneheads” movie back in 1993, I wasn’t particularly impressed. Neither was the late, great critic Roger Ebert, who described the film as “dismal, dreary and fairly desperate” and concluded his review by noting that the movie had “essentially taken nine minutes of material and multiplied the running time by 10 while adding nothing to the inspiration.”
I offer this background to help provide context to my reaction to the first three episodes of the new animation/live action hybrid comedy “Son of Zorn,” which airs on Fox after “The Simpsons.” The premise is that the animated hero of a cheesy old action hero cartoon — think “He-Man” or “The Herculoids” — moves from his cartoony fantasy land to real-life Orange County, California, to reconnect with his live-action ex-wife and teenage son. The whole show is built on the fish-out-of-water hijinks that ensue when a cartoon guy in a loincloth carrying a massive sword wanders through suburbia and works as a telemarketer.
Now, granted, that’s a funny idea. No doubt, it’s a great premise for a killer SNL sketch. But after three 22-minute episodes, which each felt much longer than that, I’m ready to call it a day.
The problem is that the show has nowhere to go. Zorn is such a ridiculous, over-the-top character that you can’t believe that anyone would take him seriously. His behavior at work would get him fired on the first day, and his family relationships don’t make a lick of sense.
Nobody really calls attention to the fact that he’s not a flesh-and-blood person or that he goes out in public practically naked as he brandishes a deadly weapon. The whole thing tries to stake out some shaky middle ground between pretending Zorn is within the parameters of normalcy while also acknowledging that he’s unspeakably bizarre.
There is no plausible explanation for how Zorn and his ex-wife could have even met each other, let alone gotten married and had a child. What are the rules for how this toon-person universe works? And if the producers don’t really understand them, how is the audience supposed to get it?
These are the kinds of questions that nobody asks in a four-minute sketch. But a television series is a long-term commitment. There has to be something more than just the novelty of a goofy cartoon strongman interacting with real people. That’s definitely funny the first time you see it. Maybe it’s still funny the first two or three times, but it gets tired pretty quickly. Over the course of a television season, they need to follow Ebert’s advice and add something to the inspiration.
And who knows? Maybe they will. But after three episodes, I haven’t seen any sign of it, so I’m checking out. Who knows? Maybe I’ll watch “Coneheads” instead.
Jim Bennett is a recovering actor, theater producer and politico, and he writes about pop culture and politics at his blog, stallioncornell.com.