The hybrid live-action/animated Fox comedy Son of Zorn tells the story of Zorn (voiced by Jason Sudeikis), an animated warrior from a faraway island in the Pacific Ocean, where everything and everyone is animated, who returns to Orange County, Calif. to win back his live-action ex-wife (Cheryl Hines) and teenage son (Johnny Pemberton). As the Defender of Zephyria, Zorn has fought in countless epic battles throughout his life, but none of them compare to the challenge of reconnecting with his family.
On June 22nd, Collider was invited (along with a handful of other press outlets) to an Open House on the set of the crazy but hilarious new series, to learn about all things Zorn. While there, we got a few minutes to chat with executive producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who talked about finding the show’s tricky tone, that the small details are always funnier than the insane stuff, introducing more animated characters, doing such unique and unusual projects, and how no one has ever wanted to make their more normal stuff. They also talked about what people can expect from The LEGO Batman Movie, which eras of Batman they’ll explore, and how it’s a 90-minute Easter egg.
Collider: This show is so fun and such a crazy concept, and it seems like you can get away with so much more with the comedy because of that. Do you have to watch just how far you go with that?
PHIL LORD: There are some standards things.
CHRIS MILLER: It’s more of a tone thing. Things can go really broad, really easily, and things can be too wacky or too grounded and boring. You have to find a way to make it feel like it’s a grounded show, but it takes advantage of the crazy characters. At the same time, it’s silly and relatable. It’s always ping-ponging between those two aesthetics.
LORD: It’s very insane, but one of the things we notice is that the insane stuff isn’t actually what’s funny. It’s the small details. When you recontextualize a big, crazy bird like somebody’s new car, then it gets interesting.
How do you figure out the best time to show other animated characters, so that it doesn’t take the focus away from Zorn and get too insane too fast?
LORD: I think they have a pretty good intuition on what’s too much.
MILLER: The show is a family show, weirdly, so you’re trying to ground it in emotions and storylines that are part of what we normal flesh humans experience, but through this crazy lens. There are certainly plenty of other animated characters that show up throughout the season, but they all have a tie to something that you would experience yourself.
LORD: Didn’t we have a few table reads where every other word was some crazy thing, and your eyes would glaze over and you’d get bored? It’s not about that.
The career you guys have had has been so unusual, with projects that are so original and different and often quite odd. Did you intend to have that kind of career, or are you surprised that people have allowed you to have that kind of career?
MILLER: Both. When we started in television, we were like, “I don’t want to just do standard stuff.” There’s so much television, not just on TV currently, but the library catalog of all television that you can watch, at any time. So, we wanted to do something that, at least, felt like was pushing the envelope somehow and felt weird and different. It just so luckily happened that television was willing to go there, at that time.
LORD: I feel like we’ve been writing the same kind of stuff. Our pilots form 15 years ago are the same sort of thing.
MILLER: Just nobody wanted to make them, back then. Now, finally, TV has gotten desperate enough to go as weird as we like to go.
LORD: We got paid money to write a pilot about two guys that was kind of like It’s Garry Shandling’s Show meets the Jack Benny Show, where there was an announcer. We wrote Shadoe Stevens into it, just ‘cause. It had guest stars that you would talk about, and then incorporate them into the program. And it had animation in it. It was unproducable. But, now it’s our time.
Do you have to challenge yourself even more now to come up with something that much more out there?
MILLER: It does seem like we’re trying to make a dare to see what they’ll actually make, but I swear to god, it’s not that. It always comes from something that we think is a good idea and a cool thing that we’d want to see.
LORD: We developed some normal shows, they just didn’t happen. It’s only the weird ones. We developed some good scripts last year that just didn’t happen to make it. Otherwise, we’d be sitting here going, “So, what’s it like to make a normal show?”
MILLER: I’d much rather have our brand be doing weird stuff than doing normal stuff.
Will The LEGO Batman Movie cover all eras of Batman, or do you draw a line anywhere?
LORD: There is no favoritism, and there are no limits.
MILLER: Chris McKay, the director of the movie, is a real Batman aficionado and knows really arcane stuff that was only in one issue of the comic book in 1972, and that sort of thing.
LORD: And he has a very large Catwoman tattoo on his forearm.
MILLER: So, it is chock full of stuff for Batman aficionados. It is just a 90-minute Easter egg.
LORD: And it heavily honors the comics.
So, it covers all the way through to Batman v Superman?
MILLER: All the way through and to the future.
Son of Zorn premieres on Fox on September 25th.