Thursday, May 27, 2010

Netflix Friday #7: INVADER ZIM

Yes, I bloody know it's Thursday. But Mike does Guitar Fridays. I could change this to Netflix Thursdays, but I'd much rather just post on Thursdays, and chalk it up to whimsy.

Invader Zim is streaming instantly. Oh, you lucky bastards.

"But John," I hear you say. "I can tell from the cover art -- quirky kid's cartoon. I already watch (and am amused by) Adventure Time with Finn & Jake and The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack. I do not need more quirky kiddie time-waster."

You are adorable. Adventure Time and its ilk are genially surreal, the kind of cartoons engineered to appeal to a moderately stoned audience. Invader Zim is E.T. written by David Cronenberg and directed by Takashi fucking Miike. *

Do me a favor, just try the first episode, "The Nightmare Begins". The relentless alien Irkens are setting off on their next galactic invasion plan. To prevent any more of his legendary screw-ups, they exile pint-sized sociopathic Invader Zim to ... well, nowhere. To die alone in space.

This was presented as a children's cartoon.

Zim stumbles upon Earth and decides to conquer it. He wears a backpack that allows him to scuttle around like a spider on spindly nightmare legs; his sidekick is a retarded killing machine/robot disguised as an adorable dog with undead eyes; he passes himself off as a green-skinned bug-eyed middle schooler, which often allows him to experiment on the living bodies of his ten year old classmates. Their. Living. Bodies.

This was presented as a children's cartoon.

Take your pick of moments that will leave you slackjawed with joyous horror.** The surrealist nightmare world of the "Skool". Hamstergeddon, the class pet gone horribly wrong. (where my Lovely Wife and I first heard the phrase we still bellow: "Have some of THIS!") The policeman with the transplanted mind of a squid. The fast food joint known as McMeaty's. The time travel episode where Zim, through proper application of rubber piggies in the time stream, reduces a ten year old boy to a shuddering cybernetic cripple. "A Room with a Moose". The one-two punch of the Halloween and Christmas specials -- the Christmas special is the one where Zim enslaves the world with an army of robotic Santas, while wearing an organic Santa flesh-suit. Santa. Flesh-suit.

This was presented as a children's cartoon.

There are a few clunkers in there, episodes that are more concept piece than story. But creator Jhonen Vasquez was doing something truly original and uncompromising: there was nothing like Zim on TV before its arrival, and nothing like it since its departure. He Made a New Thing.

Allegedly, high DVD sales and rerun ratings mean Zim may be coming back for another run this year. If that's true, time to bone up. If not, revel in what exists.

Invader Zim, streaming instantly on Netflix, is your Memorial Day Weekend recommendation. I know we've got some fans out there, so tell you what -- in the Comments, lay out the "Watch these 10 episodes" list for new viewers who may not want to plow through all 46 episodes.

Oh, and what the hell, it's a sci fi theme. Toss in any sci fi book recommendations you may have.

*Actually it's written by the filthily talented and bent Jhonen Vasquez, creator of the comic Johnny the Homicidal Maniac. But you get the metaphor.

**And I mean "joyous". Zim is laugh-out-loud funny. Oh, it's a high-pitched, nervous laugh, but a laugh nonetheless.


Sean Fagan said...

his sidekick is a retarded killing machine/robot

As has been pointed out to me, GIR is a 2 year old.

"I was the turkey all along!"

Stephanie Kropp said...

Oh, Invader Zim is so very awesome! I hadn't realized it was on Instant and I am now very very excited.


Top 10 episodes: A Room with a Moose, The Girl Who Cried Gnome, Walk of Doom, Invasion of the Idiot Dog Brain, Bad Bad Rubber Piggy, Hamstergeddon, GIR Goes Crazy and Stuff, Tak: The Hideous New Girl, The Most Horrible Xmas Ever, Walk for Your Lives.

Anonymous said...

And I leave you all to your Moosey Fate. MUWAHAHAHAHAHHAHA!!!

Kara said...


How incredibly cool it is that Invader Zim is on Netflix Streaming!! I did not know this, so thank you for sharing. My weekend is now made!

I love the little tacos, I love them good.

Ovexiusanupai said...

I own the DVD set and have seen them many times, but you still added to my experience. Thank you.

I guess I never really analyzed why Zim existed... just rolled around in it like a dog in a dead animal. So inanely wonderful...

I always thought that Gir was a bit more like a 4 year old, Sean Fagan, but point accepted.

"I like destroying!"

Codger said...

Whatever you do, do not start the "Doom Song!"

Doctor Memory said...


Seriously, "Dark Harvest" may be the single most awesome thing aired on American television in the medium's entire history, and in that I include the entire runs of M*A*S*H, Hill Street Blues, The Wire and the first two seasons of Battlestar Galactica 2.0.

I would dearly have loved to be a fly on the wall of the moment at Viacom where some executive stumbled onto a copy of "Johnny the Homicidal Maniac" and realized just who they had allowed to create a "children's show" on their beloved property.

Doctor Memory said...

Also: if you are not following Mr. Vasquez's blog and tweets, you are missing some of the most purely distilled entertainment known to man.

(Sadly, I would bet any amount of money against Zim -- or at least any Zim produced by JV -- returning to Nickelodeon. There is, putting it mildly, no love lost there.)

Becky said...

I love Invader Zim. It's one of my all-time favorite tv shows. The Parent Teacher Night, Santa, & Germs episodes are fantastic. Even though I own the series on dvd, whenever Nick does a marathon, I always watch tune in to watch.

Bow down, bow down
Before the power of Santa
Or be crushed, be crushed
By his jolly boots of doom!
Bow down, bow down
Before the power of Santa
Or be crushed, be crushed
By his jolly boots of doom!

Jeremy said...

@ Sean Fagan: "I was the turkey all along" is one of my all time favorite quotes of anything ever.


GregM said...

I was introduced to Invader Zim some years back by an obsessed co-worker at the Barnes & Noble in NYC I used to work at.

BLAIR: Moosey-fate! Moosey-fate! Moosey-fate!
ME: Blair, why do you keep repeating that?
BLAIR: It's eating WALNUTS!
ME: Blair, you're acting even more insane than usual.

Of course, she eventually loaned me her DVDs, and I was hooked. Probably the angriest comedy ever to air on TV--and that's a good thing.

ZIM: Gir, why is there BACON in the soap?!?
GIR: I made it myself!

Calla said...

Sold! At least now I have a better excuse to stay in than "catching up on laundry." Thanks!

Also... if Eliot Spenser were to watch tv and if, say, Hardison froze the tv on the cartoon channel so Eliot couldn't watch sports - what cartoon would Eliot actually end up liking? This one? Venture Brothers? Pinkie and the Brain?

Jeff Petersen said...

Battle of the Planets is probably my favorite episode, mostly for the "Beep beep" moment.

But my most used quote is "Arms... Like... Noodles!" after many a workout.

Ian (no, a different Ian) said...

My personal favorite episode is "The Wettening". It's more of a concept piece than some of the other episodes, but I love it.

Nato said...

Has anyone mentioned the episode where the fanged, acid-drooling babies squishily merge into one giant rubbery flesh-monster with a projected emoticon for a face?

I love that stuff like this, and Adventure Time, and the '90s Batman cartoon -- seriously, has television ever showcased a more twisted, nuanced, deeply disturbing abusive relationship than the Joker and Harley Quinn? -- can sneak onto the air in the guise of children's television.

yuudai said...

God, I love Invader Zim. I always love it when "kid's" entertainment has the guts to push the boundaries. And Invader Zim obviously takes a sheer delight in blowing the boundaries to smithereens.

I suppose it would have done better on Adult Swim, but then again, I love to see the concept of children's entertainment challenged every now and then.

Hmmm, and a sci-fi book reccomendation, you say? I've got a feeling the people on here have already read everything that's on my sci-fi book shelf, but now that we're on the subject of appropriate children's entertainment: My favourite comic as a kid was always an Italian Disney sci-fi comic series called Paperinik New Adventures.

It's definitely not as dark as Invader Zim can be in tone, but it DOES feature some pretty dark elements:

Giger-inspired aliens are invading the Earth, for one thing. Also, one of the protagonist's allies is a woman whose sole motivation in life is to take revenge on and destroy her enemies. And our protagonist is more than once faced with major disasters that could kill millions (a fact that isn't sugar-coated at all). And as the series nears its end, some of the most sympathetic characters start dying off, and aren't brought back.

The main character: Donald Duck. In his own home-made superhero costume. Seriously.

The series never got an English translation, but there have been a couple of translation projects. Here's one:

And here's the WikiPedia article:

John said...

Shut your noise tube, taco human!

Oh, god, I love this show.

CLynnGo said...

Invader Zim is the best thing about growing up with Nicktoons. I have no idea why my parents let me watch this, but they laughed just as hard as I did...


Caitlin said...

Dark Harvest was by far the most F-ed up of the episodes. He goes around his middle school STEALING PEOPLES ORGANS and replacing them with things like clocks... I was so shocked to see a cartoon for kids take a plot line from the kidney thief legend. I was more shocked when it was really funny

Jay said...

After watching 3 or 4 episodes of Invader Zim, I tried to watch the Valentine's Day episode of 30 Rock with Jon Bon Jovi.

...what have you done to my brain?

Paul Wartenberg said...

"GIR! This isn't information retrieval! Are you INSANE?"

"I don't know."


Theliel said...

I have never understood how Nic thought it would be a good idea to have the man who penned JTHM do a kids cartoon.

but Nic seems to be commited to churning out the awesome, from time to time.

see the last airbender, Avatar.

Noumenon said...

Rogers, unrelated: I clicked the "Jane FRIGGIN' Espenson" link in your sidebar and found that she has just started blogging again. Whee!

Can you like trackback her or look up in her number and beg her to accept comments this time around? She used to make people mail in their questions. That just ain't right.

Sean Hansen said...

I don't have any favorite moments of the show but I'm alway smile at the bees being Alien Tech's Kryptonite.


ejaz14357 said...

Kung Fu Monkey,I was the turkey all along!"

Anonymous said...

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