Thursday, May 21, 2020

Western History | Zorro and Son (1983)

Who's in it?: Henry Darrow (Filmation's The New Adventures of Zorro, the '90s Zorro TV series), Paul Regina (Frank Nitti on the '90s Untouchables TV series), and Gregory Sierra (Sanford and Son, Barney Miller).

What's it about?: Disney makes a half-hour Zorro sitcom while still including some swashbuckling adventure elements.

How is it?: I wasn't going to include Zorro and Son in this project, frankly because Zorro as a sitcom sounded ridiculous. But after talking about the Filmation cartoon and The Family Channel's version, it seemed a shame not to at least check out Henry Darrow's other stab at Zorro. I did, and I'm surprised that I actually liked it.

It wasn't a big hit and only lasted five episodes before being cancelled by CBS. All five episodes are currently available on YouTube though, complete with the announcer asking you to stay tuned for Square Pegs and Magnum pi over the closing credits. I get why it didn't catch on. It's a weird combination of the adventure of the classic Disney series from the '50s and a situation comedy complete with laugh track.

But the jokes are only forgettable at worst, and often either not half bad (a friar is arrested for "selling wine before its time" and Zorro's nickname as "the Curse of Capistrano" is mistaken for a digestive condition) or actually made me laugh out loud (often involving a recurring gag around people being strung up in chains, but not too upset about it, or even just the way Darrow and Sierra deliver lines). 

The premise is that when Zorro misses a jump from a balcony to a chandelier, his faithful servant Bernardo (played by Bill Dana as neither deaf nor mute) is concerned that Zorro is getting too old to continue fighting for justice. So Bernardo sends for Diego's son Carlos (Paul Regina) to come home from college and take over the family business. Carlos agrees, but Diego isn't ready to give up his job, so unlike other versions that make Zorro into a legacy hero, this series now has two Zorros running around. 

Gregory Sierra plays the villainous Commandante Paco Pico who controls the village. And Richard Beauchamp (who played a recurring character on the TV show Hunter) is Pico's sergeant. Sgt Sepulveda is different from the traditional Gonzalezes and Garcias in that he's not overweight or even especially bumbling, but he's still very funny as a foil for the commandante. 

Probably my favorite gag in the whole show is when Commandante Pico orders Sepulveda to play Good Cop to Pico's Bad Cop with a prisoner. Sepulveda doesn't understand, so Pico explains that his job is to cozy up to the prisoner and make him think that Sepulveda is his friend. Sepulveda of course takes it too far and begins insulting the commandante as a way to ingratiate himself to the prisoner. 

The weekly adventures aren't meant to be that funny. The plots could have fit into a straightforward Zorro series pretty easily. For example, in "A Fistful of Pesos," someone else commits crimes while dressed as Zorro, undermining the community's trust in their hero. That's something that's been done in pretty much every TV version I've watched. Other episodes deal with a character's potentially learning one of the Zorros' secret identities. And since Disney produced Zorro and Son, they were even able to reuse the theme song from the '50s, modified slightly so that it refers to two Zorros instead of one (eg "The foxes so cunning and free; they make the sign of the Z.") 

So while I think that the combination of humor and adventure works, Zorro and Son is neither hilarious enough nor thrilling enough to be compelling or memorable as anything other than a weird experiment that I'm glad I got to watch.

Rating: Three out of five dad jokes.

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