Those inept, megalomaniac proclamations of doom, the manic shrill exclamations in the background, and one kid clearly cursed with a really big head not standing between them and global domination. Since it first premiered on Nickelodeon back in 2001, Invader Zim’s been an obsession bordering on practical religion for an endless hoard of GIR (Rikki Simons)-quoting fans. With the recent news that the network finally came to their senses and are bringing back the Irken Invader and company for a made-for-TV movie, it felt like a good time to look back at the episodes that made the show great.
But how to choose from the forty-six segments of Jhonen Vasquez’ cult classic when each is its own uniquely twisted, dark little snowflake? After some heated debate, threats of “blessings” from the Shadowhog, and an awkward mixed-signal lecturing from our roboparents, we settled on the following five episodes (in no particular order whatsoever).
ZIM EATS WAFFLES:
In 2002, Colin Farrell achieved the impossible and somehow convinced us to watch him argue with Kiefer Sutherland while standing in a phone booth for nearly an hour-and-a-half, but four years later Invader Zim did it even better with just monitoring device and some waffles. Yep, you heard me right: waffles. “Zim Eats Waffles” is one of the episodes that demonstrates just how ahead of his time Vasquez really was; the man was writing Grade-A Adult Swim-esque material months before the late-night block had even premiered.
For an episode that technically never leaves Dib’s (Andy Berman) bedroom, a lot happens. We learn that Zim (Richard Horvitz) is experimenting on a kid named Nick (voiced by Vasquez himself) to keep him continuously happy with a comically-sized brain implant, more names of Swollen Eyeball members than any other episode (although my favorite is still John de Lancie as Agent Darkbootie), and that GIR really, really, really likes making waffles. Seriously, the little guy should open his own Waffle House. We also get a giant flesh-eating squid and zombie-cyborgs programmed for sheer doom! Actually, the whole thing’s kind of making me feel sick… fetch me the bucket!
One by one the students of the fateful Skool have their organs stolen and replaced with random objects until only the giant-headed Dib and teen athlete heartthrob Torque Smackey (Jason Marsden) remain. Much like the OCD segment “Germs” it was paired with, “Dark Harvest” centers on the human condition. No, not “what it means to be human” in a philosophical kind of manner—more like… the squishy parts Zim becomes aware he lacks. How is an Invader to pass for being human when he doesn’t have the most basic of organs? Simple, just take them.
“Dark Harvest” is another Boy Who Cried Wolf-Dib episode (like “The Girl Who Cried Gnome”), but the most blatantly obvious of them all. One kid ends up with a radiator (Which is apparently the backup hall pass?) stuck inside him, Gaz has a handheld console put where we’re guessing her liver used to be, and Dib’s lungs are replaced with one of those plastic tubes that makes a cow’s moo when you flip it upside down.
One thing we should always appreciate about “Dark Harvest” is how it finally brought to the public’s eye the long unspoken Head-Pigeons epidemic in this country. For too long that cooing affliction lived in the shadows, but no longer! If you or someone you know has a noticeable increase in ventriloquistic cooing, an affinity for hanging around statues and old men sitting on benches in parks, or a general feathery demeanor, consult a doctor right away. While you’re there, you might as well have them check on your squeedly-spooch.
GAME SLAVE 2:
No Invader Zim Top 5 list would be complete without the Gaz (Melissa Fahn)-centric episode “Game Slave 2”, one of the only three episodes in the show’s two-season run that didn’t feature Zim whatsoever. The episode focuses on Gaz’s quest to obtain the new Game Slave 2 handheld system so she can play Vampire Piggy Hunter, a game that closely resembles aspects of the 1985 anime Vampire Hunter D. After ditching Dib with a fake chupacabra sighting in the mall parking garage (this is a Gaz episode—no Dibs or Zims allowed), Gaz comes face-to-face with her one-episode nemesis: Iggins (Paul Greenberg).
Iggins is that kid you all knew growing up who was so obsessed with video games that they just had to have the newest console, would break a disc or cartridge to tiny pieces with a hammer if they became frustrated enough by a level, and continuously bragged about their completionist skills as though it made them special. “Game Slave 2” answered the age-old question, “Can you have a standalone horror story in an episodic cartoon show?” Yes, yes you can (inquiring minds were dying to know). Here’s the elevator pitch: Iggins lies about who he is to get his hands on the last new Game Slave 2 console, and Gaz both psychologically and physically tortures him to the breaking point to “restore the rightful order”.
“Game Slave 2” borrowed horror film tropes from such classics as The Ring, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Friday the 13th to name but a few, and the fact that it was all over a handheld console made it even better. Fun fact: Iggins was supposed to die at the end of the episode but Nickelodeon vetoed that, leaving him to annoy us all another day.
TAK, THE HIDEOUS NEW GIRL:
Invader meets hideous new girl, Invader becomes intrigued by girl, girl tortures Invader at every opportunity and turns out to be a fellow Invader from his past hellbent on revenge—rinse (painfully) and repeat. For being such an episodic cartoon series that only occasionally moved the basic plot along in any significant way, you wouldn’t expect Invader Zim to give us an epic season finale, and yet they delivered with this one.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars voice-actress Olivia d’Abo portrayed Tak, an Irken who was in the midst of her Invader test only to have the whole thing be botched by Zim’s friendly-fire rampage during Operation Impending Doom I. Upon realizing Zim was given the “secret mission” to conquer Earth, she plans on hollowing out the planet’s core and filling it with snacks as an offering to the Almighty Tallest. “Tak, the Hideous New Girl” is notably one of the only full-length episodes in the first season, and worth every minute because it’s actually gripping as far as Invader Zim’s concerned. Plus, it’s the only time Gaz and GIR are paired together (he makes her dance in exchange for his help sabotaging Tak’s SIR unit) and oh how we wish Nickelodeon hadn’t canceled the series so we could’ve had more of that!
A ROOM WITH A MOOSE:
There’s an old Klingon proverb that says, “Revenge is a dish best served cold,”—they neglected to add, “with a side of walnuts crushed thoroughly in the mouth of a terrifyingly stoic moose.” After reminiscing over how awful the children at school have treated him since his arrival, Zim hatches a plan to eliminate them in one fell swoop: A fake field trip to send them into a wormhole in a spaceship disguised as a school bus. At the other end? A room with a moose (it’s even more terrifying than it sounds)! “A Room With a Moose” highlighted the show’s obsession with the one-ton deer creatures, second only of course to piggies, the single-greatest of all animals in the Invader Zim universe.
The episode is honestly just about how terrifying that moose is; Vasquez had an innate ability to take benign things from everyday life, chew them up in his dark, twisted mind (much like the walnuts), and regurgitate them for our consumption like so many macabre mama birds. There’s probably also something in there about how oblivious human beings can be about their own surroundings when presented with things like an adorable fake dog they keep “driving by” when in actuality they’re hurtling towards their moosey fate, but really it’s just the moose. Think Tim Burton’s 1990s masterpiece Edward Scissorhands, but funnier and way darker in that Hot Topic sort of way.
So, after that dark and winding trip down memory lane, what are you gonna do? You gonna make biscuits? You gonna make biscuits?! You gonna make biscuits?! No, not only will you never mention biscuits again, but instead you’re going to go out and binge-watch Invader Zim like any good, loyal cult member would. The show was unfortunately pulled from Netflix a few years back (although it is available on Hulu) but can easily be found to stream for free with just a quick Google search… not that I’m advocating you do that.
What are your favorite episodes of Invader Zim, and who do you think will be making an appearance in the made-for-TV film? Will Vasquez pull plot lines from the ongoing comic book series published by Oni Press, or present us with something entirely new and horrible to suck into our brain-faces?! Whatever the Invader Zim film ends up being, it will no doubt be everything we’ve waited nearly a decade for. New words of praise will have to be invented to-GIR, get off my head!