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Invader Zim

Entry updated 6 April 2020. Tagged: TV.

US animated tv series (2001-2002, 2006). Nickelodeon/Nicktoons Network. Created by Jhonen Vasquez, also executive producer. Writers include Frank Conniff, Rob Hummel, Eric Trueheart and Jhonen Vasquez. Directors: Jordan Reichek and Steve Ressel. Voice cast includes Andy Berman, Lucille Bliss, Melissa Fahn, Richard Steven Horvitz and Rikki Simons. 27 22-minute episodes, most with two stories. Colour.

After Zim (Horvitz), a member of the planet-conquering Irken race, accidentally invades the Irken homeworld, he is sent as far away as possible, which is to Earth. He is accompanied by GIR (Simons), a defective Robot. Once on Earth he tries to blend in, gathering intelligence – though on occasion he also tries to conquer or destroy the planet. To gain information he goes to school (or Skool, as it says on the building), where one of his classmates – an ardent conspiracy theorist called Dib (Berman) – realizes Zim is an Alien. Most of the stories feature Dib trying to expose or defeat Zim.

Zim has immense self-belief, very advanced Technology and a fondness for loud declamations ("Prepare your bladder for imminent release!"), but a low success rate. Dib fares better at foiling Zim's plans, but not at exposing him as an alien; only his sister Gaz (Fahn) is aware, but she doesn't care, preferring to play Videogames – though when she sets her mind to it, she easily defeats Zim.

Only one episode of the second season was shown before it was cancelled due to low ratings in the target demographic (9-12 years); the remaining six (completed) episodes were initially only released on DVD, though they were eventually shown on Nicktoons four years later. Possibly said target audience did not enjoy the show's somewhat bleak world-view: the Earth is a grubby place, with a poisonous Media Landscape, while virtually all the humans (and aliens) are selfish and/or stupid, and frequently malicious. For example, Zim's teacher Ms Bitters (Bliss) remarks: "Children, your performance was miserable. Your parents will all receive phone calls instructing them to love you less". The stories themselves can be fairly gruesome: in one, to avoid being detected as an alien by the school nurse and believing that the more human organs he has, the more convincing a human he will be, Zim steals organs from his classmates, replacing them with whatever objects are to hand. This naturally causes them some distress.

Though Invader Zim has flaws – an overly angular, hectic style; background music that fails to stay in the background; and, not unconnected with the previous point, occasionally unintelligible dialogue (a drawback in a show whose strengths include verbal humour) – the cancellation was a sad loss. By then the series had become a cult and would be influential – for example on Steven Universe (2013-2020), most notably its character Peridot, who when angry is clearly channelling Zim. However, this was not the end: Vasquez began to produce Invader Zim Comics from 2015, and in April 2017 Nickelodeon announced a television movie version that was released as Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus (2019). [SP]


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