Editor’s note: The Fourth Wall is a recurring feature that acts as a platform for creators, actors, and industry insiders to bring the readers behind the scenes of the production process. In our latest installment, we removed the curtain on the writers’ room for the debut season of FOX’S live-action/animated hybrid Son of Zorn.
This part of the walkthrough looks at episodes one and two from Son of Zorn’s first season.
In recent years, there’s been a healthy trend of more unconventional and experimental comedies on network TV. One of the more recent examples is Fox’s Son of Zorn. In a lot of ways, the show is a send-up and tribute to the traditional family sitcoms of yesteryear, but at the same time the series is using the Sword of Bloodshed to slice that paradigm in half. By a heavy injection of animation into this live-action sitcom, and an entire cartoon world that goes along with it, Zorn is a show that you’ve seen countless times before but is also truly one of a kind.
In lieu of this exciting new series, we touched base with the program’s co-creator, Reed Agnew (Wilfred), and co-showrunner, Sally Bradford McKenna (Don’t Trust the B—, The Grinder), about the larger machinations of this show and the behind the scenes details as we look at each episode of the season.
Son of Zorn Episode 1: “Return to Orange County”
“Zorn travels to California to reconnect with his son Alangulon (aka “Alan”) and discovers that his ex-wife Edie is engaged.”
Written by Reed Agnew and Eli Jorné; Directed by Eric Appel
DEN OF GEEK: This is certainly a very stylistic show, but it also harkens back to many traditional sitcom staples. What were some of your major influences when planning out this series?
REED AGNEW: People always say it’s this huge left-of-center concept. But really, it’s just a very basic family sitcom with a fish-outta-water character. Zorn is a Seaver with no shirt on.
I think this show hits a lot of familiar territory, yet in new ways. What were you hoping to say with Zorn?
REED AGNEW: Men can be pigs, American suburban banality blows, and if you have a kid you should make it your priority to teach that kid to be a good person. Those three things are completely unrelated, but I think we’re saying them. Oh, and it’s okay to whip dwarves when it’s “Tall Man’s Day.”
I’m infinitely intrigued by Zephyria and that it’s not in some fictional world, but in fact somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. Was it always on Earth or did Zephyria’s history change at all through production?
REED AGNEW: It’s a country like, say, Belgium. Or actually more like Japan because it’s an island nation in the Pacific with a very unique culture. Always has been.
How much do you know about Zephyria, the rest of Zorn’s team, and their adventures together? Is that backstory important to you, or do you prefer to keep it loose and address it when you need to?
REED AGNEW: Keep it loose. I don’t think we’d ever want to be handcuffed to some defined mythology or history that prohibits humor because of some dork-ass logic. Like, “that joke’s really funny, but glom beasts don’t eat cheese as stated in our Zephyria bible.” If the glom beast needs to eat cheese to create a funny moment, then he needs to eat the cheese. We make it up in the writers room as we go along.
The idea of doing an episode set entirely on Zephyria must have come up. Is that an ambition you’d like to try at some point?
REED AGNEW: Yeah, it comes up a lot. Who knows? But I think the stories need to be relatable to Americans in order for this thing to sustain itself. This is a show about Orange County. It’s a show about being a better father. It’s not a show for fantasy-lovers because our audience isn’t 11 years old.
Were there any other jobs that were considered for Zorn, or did an office setting always seem like the right move?
REED AGNEW: No, since I was a kid, like any kid growing up, I always wanted to write about industrial soap dispenser salesmen.
The show’s title is “SON of Zorn,” which is obviously significant. Is Alan or Zorn the main character here? Why is that distinction important?
REED AGNEW: Good question. I think there’s just something to the rhythm of the three-syllable title. I dunno. But, yeah, Zorn is definitely the main character. Oh “Zorn’s Back!” woulda been cool too.
Son of Zorn Episode 2: “Defender of Teen Love”
“Zorn uses the Stone of Sight to help Alan get close to his crush, while Edie tells Zorn to move his boxes to his apartment.”
Written by Eli Jorné; Directed by Eric Appel
Why did this sort of story seem like the right follow-up to the pilot?
REED AGNEW: It’s a small, relatable story about a father trying to engage in his son’s life. And while it has this hyper-real fantasy component, the human relationships remain grounded in real emotion and motive. Zorn uses the stone of sight to look his bald spot, to fret over it like a lot of middle-aged men do. It’s moments like this where the show seems to be working well. Using the stone of sight to read People magazine, to find out that Nancy loves Corn Nuts.
We continue to get references to and Zorn and Edie’s sordid time together. Do you think that we will ever be seeing any scenes from their relationship?
REED AGNEW: We chose not to do flashbacks. Family Guy kind of owns those “remember when” cutaway beats. But in the world of Orange County 2016, we have the luxury of things like #tbt or even old home movies. So we could see the past in that way. And it’s funny that Zorn is on FaceBook and Instagram. We could, for instance, see an old video of Zorn and Edie’s wedding. That would be cool. We should do that! Shit!
Zorn comes across as a very episodic comedy, but are you interested in digging into a more serialized story arc on the show, or is this property better suited for episodic stuff? Could it be both?
REED AGNEW: I think relationships can change, and people can evolve in small ways. But this isn’t Breaking Bad. I think you could watch any episode as a stand-alone because we live and die by character and laughs. Storytelling is the most important thing, the hardest part of this job. But building a good story is like building a stage so that a clown can come onto the stage and do a goofy dance. And you need the stage because without the stage, where will the clown do his goofy dance? but the audience is there to enjoy the clown’s goofy dance. It’s because of the clown’s odd hip-gyrations and the way he does that rhythmic windmill motion with his arms.
Having said that, there are a few twists. But they’re hopefully funny twists.
This episode closes on a very ominous note that could either be a random gag to end on or the start of something much bigger. Talk on that possible hint at serialization a little bit.
REED AGNEW: The baby-thing hatching? Maybe! But maybe it’s just a weird throw-away gag to put over credits. Gotta watch!
What’s Zorn’s favorite GameBoy game? Let’s make this canon!
REED AGNEW: Zorn’s favorite GameBoy game is Tetris. We made it Tetris because that’s every single human being’s favorite GameBoy game whether they want to admit it or not.
Our walkthrough on Son of Zorn’s first season will continue every two weeks! Fox also shared an exclusive clip looking ahead at episode three. Watch it below…