Animated Fox sitcom of the mid-2010s.

The premise of the show is quite simple. In an alternate universe, the Earth as we know it has some kind of connection with another place - be it another country or another dimension. Be that as it may, the place is called Zephyria, and it is the literal embodiment of every Boris Vallejo/Heavy Metal sword and sorcery genre. Right down to the 1980s metal album hues of purples and reds with muscled barbarians fighting weird monsters. Zephyria is a cartoon world - literally. Using the same premise as Who Killed Roger Rabbit? and Cool World, humans and animated characters co-exist. 

Juxtaposing the mundane, suburban world of Earth on one side and the (very rarely seen) animated world of Zephyria allows for a lot of commentary about identity, which has become the real issue in the late 2010s - without offending any particular human culture. 

The pivot is Alangulon, a nerdy looking kid played by Jason Sudeikis. He's the son of Edie, who in her late 30s/early 40s has decided that her wild days are behind her and has moved on from her first marriage into a relationship with staid, Flanders-wholesome Craig. Her first marriage of course being to Zorn, a highly muscled red-haired barbarian straight out of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe complete with back-mounted sword sheathed into a shoulder-slung bandolier, and a hero of Zephyria.

Alangulon - who has renamed himself "Alan" and become vegetarian - is half-human and half-Zephyrian, the demarcaion point being at the waist (Alan has cartoon legs which he conceals under long pants at all times.) He's not very assertive and is just an ordinary, average kid - which doesn't sit well with Zorn. He's not really that interested in his old man's stories of violent conquest nor the accoutrements of Zephyria - most of which are lethal.

The reason why Zorn left everything behind is that he still wanted to be with his son even as his wife left him for Earth, a more comfortable suburban life, and so forth - tired of group sex with cave trolls and the wild nights of mayhem and party times Zephyria offered. In essence everyone has moved on from Zorn, even Zephyria itself - he sees a documentary on it in our world and finds out his enemy has rewritten history to make him the villain of the realm. At first Zorn is convinced that following Edie to Earth will get her back - now he's just struggling to fit in to a world he has no place in anymore.

Zorn now works as a telemarketing salesperson in a Dunder Mifflin style office, wearing a dress shirt and tie along with loincloth and sword - and is a marginal employee. He is genuinely trying, which is why his sympathetic female boss (whom Zorn thinks is a man, as he literally cannot understand the context of a woman in charge) has not fired him. Unfortunately, swinging swords and destroying things doesn't actually fix the problems in any aspect of his life, especially selling office janitorial supplies.

Craig is also helpful. Both men are middle aged: Craig is greying with salt and pepper hair, and Zorn has a noticeable bald spot on the back of his head - but he understands both the crisis of middle age and the crisis of masculinity that Zorn is facing, and often smooths things over.

Which makes the title of the show the key to understanding it. Though all Alan wants is to get the attention of any of a number of cute girls in his class and to avoid the class bully (note to casting director: Dawson casting doesn't work if the guy you choose is VISIBLY BALDING) he's still trying to develop and maintain a relationship with a heavily muscled Conan clone who wants him to participate in a culture he has no experience with. He's caught between two conflicting ideas about masculinity - one that involves violence, machismo and bravado, and one that's new-school, feminist and decidedly non-confrontational nurturing - both of which are being drawn to a middle. Zorn is realizing he can't fight his way out of every encounter, and Craig realizes that there's some times a good wicked right comes in handy and recognizes that his fiancee still has a thing for muscles.

Because the animation is very simple - think 1980s Masters of the Universe quality - it takes great voice acting and sparing use of animation to make the story work. But it includes enough "otherness" to allow the show to riff on being part of an ethnic family, being part of a macho family, being part of a hippie family, and/or the intersections of all cultures. It's been a sleeper hit for Fox, and hopefully will be renewed.

 

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