Preliminary Review: Invader Zim

I am ZIM!!! Fear me…or rather, the diagnosis of a cult classic.

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The Lowdown:

Show: Invader Zim

Network/years aired: Nickelodeon, 2001-2006; movie pending

AniB’s thoughts: I was initially planning to sit on this show’s review until October, but with the recent surprise announcement of the series’ return via a movie, and the Fairly OddParents review that I recently wrote, here’s a week of Nicktoons, for better or worse.

Surprised is really the most apt descriptor I have for Invader Zim’s unlikely return. The first show I thought of that may have spurned the move by Nickelodeon to do so was Samurai Jack, which after 13 years of being “finished,” is now airing an absolutely brilliant 5th and final season on Adult Swim on Saturday nights at the time of this writing. Zim, while a completely different show in terms of substance, style and writing does share two things in common with Samurai Jack: a early to mid 2000’s original run, and an incomplete story. And while I’m fine seeing the adventures of Zim and GIR again in movie form, featuring  their ham-handed attempts to take over Earth and do battle with Dib, their archrival, it’d be nice to have a tightened narrative focus, a refresh on the visuals, and some cleaning up of certain “gross-out” elements that figured prominently into the otherwise dark fantasy and science fiction tones of the original series. I do think that a movie might not be enough to do whatever justice the series really wants for a conclusion…but then again, how many times do cult classics actually get new life?

Changing gears a little bit, the original series is rather overrated by its core adherents, but it is a very unique show in the Nickelodeon pantheon at least: its pervasive darkness and science fiction-heavy elements are mixed with a type of kid-friendly black humor that in turn, is also diluted with slapstick and the usual “idiot ball” trope of some really dumb adults (and kids, for that matter); in the case of Zim, it’s almost a prerequisite to make the entirely convoluted plot-lines work, and to that end, it’s really the characters of this show that give it an odd charm. The closest comparable show I can think of in terms of style, era, and substance (to an extent) is Courage the Cowardly Dog: If dark and weird is your cup of tea, or your store of choice at malls is a Spencer’s or Hot Topic, you probably loved both or either of these shows…

Zim may hold the distinction of “cult-classic,” but nobody will mistake it for a masterpiece, and in the case of this production, it’s probably best. Its originality, particularly when it came to characters, shone through- but in equal measure the animation style, with its dark palette favoring purples and greens, and the style of writing overall also had the potential to throw people off. It’s overall an original effort that does more right than wrong- enough so that I’d say it’s at least “above-average” but whether it’s “good” (or “great”) is terribly hard to pin down. At the very least, the movie will hopefully answer a good deal of questions…and give us all a few more laughs.


Animation Quality: Traditional 2-D cel animation. Using muted colors and lots of greens, purples, blues and blacks, Zim’s colors leaned towards its off-kilter version of Earth and the strange universe the show exists in. The character models are very cartoony, but they work well for the show, and there’s only a few models that are truly off-putting. 3.25/5 points.
Characterization: The heart of the show lies in its zany and memorable characters, which in turn catapulted the entire enterprise forward.

Zim serves as the overzealous titular anti-hero bent on proving his worth as an Irken Invader; despite his puny size, big mouth and impulsiveness, his will is stronger to succeed than anyone else in his race…except he’s a menace to them to through sheer bad luck.

GIR, Zim’s dim-witted robotic assistant with a flair for human food, TV and pigs, often makes nonsensical comments and interrupts Zim often, especially when he monologues. Despite being deemed a “defective model” by Irken standards, GIR is actually quite loyal (for the most part) to Zim and contains a powerful array of weapons and modes, though he rarely utilizes them.

Dib, a boy obsessed with the paranormal serves as Zim’s archenemy and is the only human who consistently views Zim as an alien and a threat; this is in contrast to his younger sister Gaz, a dark, gloomy little girl with seemingly terrifying powers and wrath who holds little concern for anything or anybody aside from pizza and video games.

The characters tend to follow a similar line of thinking in each episode they appear in; however, the series does change up the plot lines to keep them fresh, and there is some character development, though not complete. 3.5/5 points.

 
Story quality: Episodic, with loose continuity. Zim was beginning to build a mythos and backstory in its second season before it was cancelled, which means it was incomplete in the story the show wanted to tell. However, most of the show’s episodes could stand alone. Featuring a blend of trademark humor that blended black comedy, slapstick and some randomness, Zim’s storytelling tended to usually be entertaining and unique, but sometimes strayed into uncomfortable and unsettling. 3.5/5 points.

 
Themes: Surreal and futuristic, the show’s thematic elements tend to focus more on its trademark humor and Zim’s mission. Therefore, it excels at what it does… but lacks depth thematically otherwise. 2.5/5 points.

 
Don’t insult the viewer: Dark and creepy are two aspects that happen in Invader Zim. There’s a couple cringe-worthy moments, but it’s a decent watch at the end of the day. 4.25/5 points.

 
Total Score: 17/25 (68%). Truly the definition of a cult hit, Zim is a unique show with sci- fi and vaguely dystopian themes running through its run. It’s very different, but worth a look if you’re into the types of themes and humor the show peruses, it can be very entertaining. It’s a flawed show, but a good deal of that had to do with its cancellation and the inability to finish the narrative that was developing. Hopefully, these issues can and will be resolved in the movie.

Review: The Fairly OddParents

A longtime cartoon has both positive attributes and glaring weaknesses.

The Lowdown:

Show: The Fairly OddParents

Network/ Years aired: Nickelodeon/ 2001- now (though there were shorts as early as 1998)

AniB’s thoughts: After a lot of recent pieces on Japanese anime, my focus now swings back to the West with a well-known show to most- the long running Nicktoon that has been SpongeBob Squarepants’ running mate on the network for over a decade and a half.

Technically, this is a preliminary review, seeing as FOP is still going in a 10th season, but at this point, it’s a formality given that the general form and context of the show is well-worn and well known. Therefore, from my perspective at least, it’s a show that started with some really original comic creativity and humor while also doing parody of other major cultural touchstones quite well, and then age began to set in as far back as 2008, when the show was only 7 years old in its full-series format (11 if you go back to the first shorts on Oh Yeah! cartoons) I actually talked at length about the “seasonal rot and zombification” of The Fairly OddParents in another piece that was from St. Patrick’s Day, so rather than rehashing that entire conversation, I’ll do my best to just focus on the show actually starring in this article and less so the meta-commentary further out around it.

If Butch Hartman’s masterpiece was Danny Phantom, this show was and still is his baby. (Mind you, it’s an enormous cash-making baby whose soul might have gotten sucked out at least going back 5 years, but still something he clearly cares about, if nothing more than as a tool for what I’d presume is a very comfortable livelihood.) It’s got all the elements of later Hartman shows including the spontaneous humor, the sound effects in conjunction with action (and while this is a technique as old as time in animation, FOP has a distinct feel to this idea), and the fast-talking, slice of life episodic format with its trademark convoluted premises, all honed down to a “T.”

Overall, The Fairly OddParents is an enjoyable, if zany experience in its earlier seasons and a retread milquetoast disappointment as it continues to wind on into what very well could be eternity with the way Nickelodeon hangs onto old franchises. In favor of the franchise, its parodies still hold water even from early episodes, and are often quite well done (i.e. the character the Crimson Chin. Definitely a reference to comics and certain heroes.) On the other side, recent episodes have opted for dated references, retread plots, uninteresting characters thrown in simply to “keep things fresh” and some of the gross-out and downright strange humor endemic to many a Nicktoon over the past decade. Graded on its entire body of work, the show comes out as pretty average- a viewing experience you may or may not want to see, but if you do, the episodes from 2001 to around 2007 are pretty solid on the whole (and the TV movies are a lot of fun as well- Channel Chasers anyone?) but after that, you’re on your own. (And Sparky, the magical dog from season 9 can die in a fire. Thankfully the writers  canned him after severe backlash…only to introduce a literal Mary Sue in the form of Chloe season 10. Zombie show indeed.)


Animation Quality: 2-D animation, about as average as it comes. It was this way back in 2001, and still is this way in 2015, obvious improvements in computer shading non-withstanding. It’s generally bright and colorful; the color palette is pretty easy on the eyes, and is still eye-catching enough, and despite the simple style, it usually augments the frenetic comedic action of the show quite well. 3/5 points.

 
Characterization: Two words: genre stereotypes. Before I delve into this idea though, a quick rundown of the main trio:

Timmy Turner stars as the “fairy godchild,” the 10 year old who receives fairies in order to improve his lackluster life, as far as the basic premise goes. He’s got buck teeth, a “silly pink hat” and shirt, and is remarkably reckless about a variety of his actions, particularly when it comes to wishes, and so, while Timmy solves most of the show’s episodic problems, he’s often the cause of them too.

Cosmo and Wanda are his “Fairy Godparents,” the magical creatures sent from the whimsical Fairy World to serve at Timmy’s beck and call. Aside from their wands which can grant any wish that does not violate the in-universe “Da Rules” (supposedly), the pair can shape shift, disappear and teleport long distances, and fly (they have tiny wings.) Overall though, they are silly creatures. Wanda and Cosmo in particular are foils: a husband-wife team with opposite personalities- Cosmo is “an idiot” in Wanda’s words, but knows how to relax, while Wanda is the smart one of the pair, though very uptight…meaning their dualism is something that’s been done many times before in other places and shows….which in turn leads back to my initial point in this section.

 

Cosmo is the most unpredictable thing on the show; Timmy becomes more formulaic as the seasons roll on, especially after you watched more than 5 episodes at any point during the show’s run. The supporting cast is mainly static but certaintly still has some of its own charms, from the Timmy’s insane teacher Mr. Crocker, to the massive ruler of Fairy World, Jorgen von Strangle (who is a parody of Arnold Schwarzenegger); character development is not a major focal point in the show but a certain predictability is. Overall not anything special, but also not anything particularly displeasing. 2.75/5 points.

 
Story quality: There’s a story? The show is episodic, and there only seems to be a very loose canon, involving mainly Timmy, his fairies, and Da Rules. Everything else seems to contradict an earlier event at some point, so you learn to ignore too much continuity fast in this show. As for its format, the canon can be partially excused, but not wholly. Later seasons bring down the score of originality in plot choices on the show. 2.25/5 points.

 
Themes: Wishes, be careful what you wish for, magic should not be abused… fairly harmless stuff, but perhaps the greatest virtue this espouses is that one simply cannot wish their problems away in life. Other than that, it’s typical plot of the day fluff. 2/5 points.

 
Don’t insult the viewer: The Fairly OddParents is standard animated fare for the most part, but the general scattershot direction of the writing can be slightly irritating. Other than this, it’s not particularly demeaning in any way. 4/5 points.

Total Score: 14/25 (56%). A completely average show in most ways, The Fairly OddParents is still one of the longest running animated shows on TV. Perhaps it’s the comfortable familiarity with the source material at this point, because the show’s biggest shortcoming is the stench of seasonal rot. For its length alone it will likely get an annotation in the history of animated shows.


Like what you see? Love the Fairly OddParents? Leave a comment!

Review/Rant: Breadwinners

Duck soup: A terribly misguided knockoff of Regular Show.

The Lowdown:

Show: Breadwinners

Network/years aired:  Nickelodeon, 2014- 2016

AniB’s thoughts: Once again, some balance is being brought to the reviews with the perfectly awful Nicktoon Breadwinners. Like Fanboy and Chum Chum (which I blasted in a previous review), this show has very little going for it. In fact, the picture I chose for this article sums up how the entire endeavor felt: That our main characters, Sway-Sway and Buhduece (seriously, that’s their names) both smile through abject stupidity that they are often at the heart of while being oblivious to the disaster around them!

Nick seems to have a weird obsession with buddy-buddy shows in the past decade, with the common denominator that they’re terrible. Fanboy and Chum Chum was one; this show is another, and for good measure, I’ll throw Sanjay and Craig on that pile to give everyone a sense of the turgid overflow of awfulness coming from the general direction of whoever green-lit these endeavors. The story behind this one is almost just as bad as the Adventure Time pass that Fanboy beat out; Breadwinners was chosen to be developed into a full-time production from an online short animation that frankly was average at best (and that’s being generous), and highly obnoxious at worst:

(Even without watching it, that screen freeze right there sums it up better than anything I can say.) As an online short, it was not anywhere close to a sure bet to be developed into a full-time series , and frankly, there wasn’t enough substance there to do so. In my mind, the first mistake that led Breadwinners to be a poor series was the fact that it was chosen at all- something that should have never happened. Unfortunately, it did, and so every other valid criticism falls squarely on its misguided Nickelodeon run.

In a lot of ways, the same criticisms that applied to Fanboy apply here: Poor animation, underwhelming storytelling, non-existent themes, and in the case of this show, a very uncomfortable obsession with butts and flatulence. I get the whole dumb network trend of the past however many years that “young boys are our audience, they love this stuff, it’s so damn funny!…” but it’s really not. I don’t want anything related with the posterior to be vitally important in a plotline or a characterization, because it also tells me your show likely sucks ass (pun intended) and that the writers are pandering for cheap laughs from a narrow demographic who network executives might be surprised to learn, like shows that don’t play down to them. This sentiment makes all the more sense when you consider its direct competition over its run were shows like Gravity Falls and Phineas and Ferb from Disney XD, or Adventure Time and Steven Universe from Cartoon Network, using a few well-known examples. (And that’s just within the intended target demographic.) This show never had the potential to hook in a larger crowd with sophomoric humor, the usual sub-standard Flash animation, and writing that oftentimes left yours truly with his face in his hands. Fortunately, its misguided run came to a merciful end last year; both our TV sets and cartoon ducks everywhere are safe once again.


 

Animation Quality: 2-D Flash animation mixed with what can only be described as clip art. If the characters of the show didn’t outright tell you, you’d be hard-pressed to tell they were ducks; and frankly, the main cast looks (and feels) like a poor man’s version of Regular Show’s cast. Visually conflicting, and cheaply produced, it’s not eye-bleeding, but not close to good either. 1/5 points.

 
Characterization: For those who care, the show follows the titular “breadwinners,” a pair of ducks named Sway-Sway and Buhdeuce, who deliver bread to various citizens of their world, and are obvious knock-offs in many respects, of Mordecai and Rigby from the aforementioned Regular Show, lacking the same sort of charm, development and supporting cast, while attempting to fill the void with more toilet humor and butts than any one show ever needs…

Sway-Sway is the taller one. He’s technically the main protagonist, and while marginally more competent than his partner, he’s still relatively dim-witted and reckless at his job, passion non-withstanding. (It turns out that he actually inherited the family buisness- why anyone though this was a good idea is beyond me.)

Buhdeuce is the short one. Enthusiastic as all-get out, the kid has an obsession and reliance on using his “booty.” (There is no context to make that sound good.) Even more reckless and foolish than Sway-Sway, no one will ever mistake him for one of the great deutragonists of animation…

The supporting cast is unremarkable. Not the worst crew ever, but still fairly poor. 1/5 points.

 
Story quality: Episodic in nature, no continuity or canon to speak of. Where do I start? From unoriginal plot lines to crude solutions to some problems, the plots are uneven, and more serious characters are shoved aside quickly as cheap gags. The show’s attempts at humor tend to be pitiful; as mentioned, the toilet humor is off-the charts bad and distracting.  And the pop-culture references and slang are not going to keep aging well. The dialogue is cringe-worthy, even for this style of show. It still maintains a basic story structure though, so it saves the grade form utter annihilation. 0.5/5 points.

 
Themes: Power of friendship? Honestly, aside from weak offerings and a crash course in how much flatulence two ducks (?) can make, this show offers next to nothing, except constantly boring, low expectations. There’s no character growth, and nothing to write home about whatsoever. 0/5 points.

 
Don’t insult the viewer: Butts, farts, and burps. Not my idea of appointment television. The music is meant to capture some of the 8/16-bit video game era style, but in this show, it doesn’t always come off as charming. At least the colors are nice… which is code for “this is wasting my time.” 1.5/5 points.

 

 

Total Score: 4/25 (15%): Another awful Nicktoon from the decade following 2005, Breadwinners was chosen off of a very average web video, which frankly didn’t have the depth to be a full time series. Lacking coherence and originality in most facets, Breadwinners is a misnomer for “losing.” It you really wish to watch a plot-of the day show, there are far better choices.