Invader Zim is what happens when Nickelodeon doesn’t fully investigate who they’re giving money to. It’s similar to how WNBC got Howard Stern. They heard something was popular, decided to get the person responsible, then immediately realized that it conflicted with their image.
Showrunner Jhonen Vasquez is a messed-up human being, and the creator of such works as Johnny the Homicidal Maniac. He is also a darkly comic genius of the highest order. Invader Zim was a show that ran on the logic that whatever would confuse, amuse, or disturb the audience the most should be the next image on screen or line of dialogue. Sometimes this was frightening or irksome, but, usually, the juxtaposition was hilarious.
The show’s style is incredibly distinct, to the point that I have seen other shows adapting some elements of it more since the show was cancelled. It is very dark, but punctuated by extreme bright colors. The backgrounds are best described as a mix of Blade Runner, Lisa Frank, and LSD. The characters are typically insane, but all in their own distinct ways that allow everyone else to call them crazy while still themselves being off-kilter.
One of the strongest parts of the show was the interaction between Zim (Richard Steven Horvitz), a megalomaniacal alien who is often incapable of even the most basic tasks (he was sent to Earth because his leaders thought it would kill him), GIR (Rosearik Rikki Simmons), Zim’s defective robot who is perhaps the greatest comic relief ever on screen, and Dib (Andy Berman), a human dedicated to exposing Zim despite the fact that every person on Earth thinks he’s crazy (as they should, the kid’s nuts except in this one case). Dib’s sister Gaz (Melissa Fahn), is probably my favorite character, because she’s basically the personification of anti-social behavior. She has no ability to care what anyone thinks, and won’t pretend otherwise.
This episode, like most of Invader Zim, was made of 2 separate 12 minute shorts. The first, “Parent Teacher Night,” is pretty funny. Since Zim is pretending to be a student while working out how to conquer the Earth, he doesn’t have any actual parents. To be fair, his species also breed from gene packs, so he didn’t have any to begin with. In order to keep his cover, he tries to program his two parent decoy robots to be normal parental figures, but GIR accidentally exposes them to modern pop-culture media, leading them to become violent and erratic. Keep in mind, this was before the Jersey Shore became a hit, so this was slightly prescient.
However, it’s the second short in this episode that gets it on the list. Walk of Doom is genius from start to finish. The worst part about it is that I cannot adequately describe why I love it, because its secret is in its absurd dialogue that is delivered perfectly. It’s the culmination of people going “what would be the funniest thing for a robot to do with its rocket legs’ fuel?” and answering with “replace it with tuna, because he misses his cupcake.” It’s a kind of absurd “logic” that was unique to this show. It also contains one of the few times where Zim actually displays a modicum of intelligence beyond just being from a scientifically, although not culturally, advanced species. He manages to create an amazing piece of technology that forms the impetus for the episode, but then, in typical Zim fashion, manages to screw everything up. It also has my favorite background gag: There’s a homeless man screaming that has a sign that says “Will Stop Screaming for Food.”
Really, this episode is basically all the fun of LSD without the brainworms.
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I couldn’t find the whole thing on YouTube, but here it is on Vimeo. I own nothing. Enjoy 12 minutes of pure madness.