When I was a teenager I fell in love with a cartoon, one that I still love to this day. Invader Zim is a bizarre, screwed up cartoon centring on an alien invader called Zim who is sent to Earth as punishment for almost blowing up his own planet. He’s paired up with an insane robot made from scrap parts called GIR, who is essentially Ralph from The Simpsons on crack. They poorly conceal their identities but the only person to notice is Dib, a young boy who is obsessed with the paranormal, and makes it his mission to save the world from Zim.
The show’s premise allows for a wide variety of storylines, but the main point of focus is Zim’s various attempts to take over the planet – or in some cases save it from other aliens who want to invade – but there are a great deal of different methods that he tries, keeping the show fresh. There are also quite a few episodes which focus heavily on Zim’s rival Dib as he investigates other paranormal occurrences or attempts to expose Zim. The show does have its low points however. ‘Mortos der Soulstealer’ is the worst episode they produced, being so dumb that even the show’s creator denounced it.
One of the best episodes ‘Game Slave 2’ takes a totally different approach, centring on a lesser character, Dib’s sister Gaz (in case you haven’t realised the character’s names are just bizarre) as she attempts to obtain the latest games console, which closely resembles a game boy. She fails to get one on the day of its release and has to compete with a irritating child who believes he is the best gamer ever. It really amps up the creepy, abrasive elements of the character to the point where she terrifies her opponent.
GIR is by far my favourite character of the show, most of his appearances see him spouting irreverent nonsense, eating obsessively or frantically dancing. Some of the best episodes of the show centre on the character. ‘GIR Goes Crazy and Stuff’ sees Zim attempt to reprogram GIR to make him loyal, but he just becomes a new kind of crazy, deciding that he should be the one to conquer Earth instead of Zim. ‘Invasion of the Idiot Dog Brain’ sees GIR’s mind accidentally uploaded into Zim’s home/base, taking control of it in a dog like form and heading off in search of tacos, destroying much of the town along the way.
I can’t stress too much how fucked up this show is. For a children’s show its humour is incredibly dark, putting even classic Tim Burton to shame. This is a show where a police officer having his brain switched with a squid’s can be one of the more normal elements of an episode. A recurring joke of the series is how stupid humanity is, we are shown worshipping a soft drink called Poop and even the school building is spelled Skool. They’re completely incapable of noticing all the unusual things that happen around them and just choose to believe Dib is crazy, although to be honest he does give off that impression.
The designs of aliens and creatures are as bizarre as the show itself, best exemplified in the Halloween episode where Dib keeps drifting into a nightmare world. The episode ‘Lice’ takes the concept of head lice and turns them into a species of giant monsters which are hunted by Nazi-esque delousers. The show doesn’t believe in recycling character designs, each individual having distinct characteristics to set them apart, which is rare in the world of cartoons. The various disguises that Zim and GIR employ are great in how completely ridiculous they are. Zim’s main disguise doesn’t even cover his green skin, which he describes as a skin condition. Whereas GIR’s main disguise is a green dog, that walks on his hind legs and speaks full English. The show uses a great colour palette favouring shades of purple for its alien ships and environments and earthy tones for the human settings.
Unfortunately Invader Zim was cancelled before its time and midway through the second season, with many running stories left unfinished. Since its cancellation it has become a cult phenomenon. You can still catch the show on Nickelodeon, though at random times, or on YouTube. I own the American DVDs, watching them fairly obsessively. No matter where you find this show you have to check it out, it’s by far the greatest cartoon Nickelodeon ever produced.