I don’t do nostalgia. I tend to think that looking back is a trap, a quicksand that will pull you down into a belief that your culture and your era was somehow superior to what kids are into now. I hate (hate) the endless recycling of older properties. If you’re going to revisit a show or a book, give it a new angle or a twist or a quirk. The new She-Ra, for instance, queers an already pretty queer show, and the new Rocko introduces a trans character—they’re telling stories that weren’t really tellable in the ’80s and ’90s. They justify their existence.
Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus doesn’t quite give us a new twist, but by ignoring all the obvious nostalgia opportunities and focusing on a solid, ridiculous story, Jhonen Vasquez has given us a return to form that turns out to be incredibly fun.
Invader Zim was the frenetic Gothy bridge between Spongebob and Rocko and Venture Bros and Rick and Morty. For those who don’t know the show: Zim is a short alien from the Irken Empire. The Irken have created a caste system based on height, so when Zim gets the Earth assignment, and is told that its their most important invasion, he takes it as a huge honor and a chance to prove himself. (Of course, the Tallest just want to get rid of him.) Zim infiltrates an elementary school, build robot parents, and disguises his extremely wonky Standard Issue Information Retrieval, GIR, as a misshapen dog. The only two people who can see through his terrible disguise are Dib and his sister, Gaz. Dib is essentially a note-perfect parody of the early-’oos Fox Mulder, when the paranoia stopped being hot and the show went off the rails. He is obsessed with Zim and utterly utterly ineffectual. And Gaz? could not give less of a shit. The show’s satire mostly focuses on the regular people who are just too clueless to notice the obvious alien. They love tech and empty platitudes. They are ripe for invasion and wouldn’t even notice if it happened. But Zim is incompetent, Dib occasionally stops him, and the Irkens are never coming anyway, because Earth isn’t important enough. It was a fun child-size commentary on American excess, perfect for baby Goths and their elder siblings.
Where the original half-hour episodes tended to focus on erratic humor and Zim’s absurd attempts at world domination, this 71-minute special mines slightly more personal territory with a subplot about the relationship between Dib and his father, world famous scientist Professor Membrane. Dib is frustrated that his dad refuses to accept the evidence, and repeatedly tries to get his dad’s attention while the Professor simply insists this preoccupation with aliens is just a phase, on a par with the boy still believing in ghosts. Dib feels like he must be a disappointment to his father. Meanwhile Gaz also knows that Zim is an alien, doesn’t care, and doesn’t care whether her dad believes or not. She just wants to be left alone to play video games.
I found myself thinking about Rick and Morty a lot while I watched this. The Florpus is, as one might expect, a terrifying rip in reality that will force Earth (or, as Zim calls it, Urth) to crash into countless alternate realities. This is the kind of thing Rick and Morty does all the time, and yet I found myself enjoying the conceit more here. Where R&M tends to turn and turn and turn until Rick Sanchez’ most cynical statements are proven irrefutable, and I’m left shaking my head at the doomed state of humanity, Invader Zim remains, well, fun. It’s silly and goofy, and even though it’s making essentially the same point—humans do everything they possibly can to avoid thinking, and will deaden themselves with tech and blindly follow any leader they can find—for some reason in Zim’s take I didn’t come away feeling my usual post-R&M gloom. Instead I giggled every time Mini-Moose did something. I applauded Gir’s “Peace Song.” I craved nachos. I yipped excitedly as the show shuffled through dozens of animation styles.
I…enjoyed watching the show?
Is it me? Am I just burned out? Or has the barrage of brilliant-yet-pitch-dark comedies finally gotten to me? Between R&M and Barry and Fleabag and Russian Doll and, you know, the dark comedy that is the current news cycle, I’m kind of exhausted by thinking about the state of humanity. So it was shockingly joyous to just watch pure chaotic fun, where sure, the world might be destroyed, and an Alien Armada might colonize Earth (Urth), and Dib might be part chair for the rest of his life, but there’s a certain amount of sheer glee here that I’ve missed. Rather than banking on nostalgia references, series creator Jhonen Vasquez limited himself to two fleeting glimpses of Bloaty the Pizza Hog, and added some new facets to the awesome power of Mini-Moose. Other than that the focus was on a new story, gorgeous animation, and slightly more complex relationships within the Membrane family—but never complex enough to get sappy, or anything. That’d be gross. The plot starts like a typical Zim episode, but gets twisty enough that I actually wondered how it was going to work out. The Florpus allows the animators to stretch. Gaz gets a couple of set pieces. The Tallest make their best appearances yet, and there’s some fantastic subtle social commentary tucked away among all the silliness, and just enough of an emotional tug that smol Goths watching the show might begrudgingly feel things.