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‘Progressive Stupidity’ Amusing for the In-Crowd

Latest Invader Zim DVDs a Must-Have for Fans

By Philip Burrowes

staff writer

Invader Zim Volume 2: Progressive Stupidity

Created by Jhonen Vasquez

Directed by Steve Ressel

Released Aug. 31, 2004

A few years back, the creator of “Johnny the Homicidal Maniac” -- a comic about exactly what it sounds like -- was allowed to create a Nicktoon for reasons perhaps more amusing when left unknown. While there was some grumbling about the censorship employed by the network, the end result was still a deliciously absurd tale entitled Invader Zim, featuring the eponymous alien, his malfunctioning robot GIR disguised as a mongoose/dog, and Dib, the seemingly hydrocephalic boy out to stop them. The animation was fluid, voice acting hilarious, and the plots just meandering enough for 11-minute installments. So, of course, practically nobody watched it and those that did were largely the geeks at home on Friday nights that Nickelodeon didn’t particularly feel like catering to. During production of the show’s second season, it was canceled, a lot of geeks complained, and now the show is on DVD.

“Progressive Stupidity” is the middle child of three Invader Zim DVD sets, and it has many of the associated issues. The first pair (“Doom Doom Doom”) contained the unaired pilot and its mere existence was testimony to the growing interest in the property since its ignominious cancellation two years ago. October’s “Horrible Holiday Cheer” will herald the legal debut of the semi-scrapped second season, which up to this point stateside viewers could only find online. What’s the selling point for the most recent release, then? If you’re a fan of the show, they are the episodes you were most likely to have seen (except “Walk for Your Life,” which has only aired on Nicktoons TV). If you’ve never seen it, then you are better suited first getting acclimated through the initial shows. Nevertheless, those of you who possess and enjoy “Doom Doom Doom” should know you need this.

So the question really is, are the DVDs worth the price? The great thing about Invader Zim’s rabid, almost cultish fan base is that the show is readily available through P2P networks. Depending on which dorm you live in (or choose to live in, for you freshm... first-years), there’s a good chance one of your neighbors already has the entire run amassed. Assuming you get it on an Amazon-like discount, you’re paying a one dollar premium per 11 minutes over, well, gratis. What are the advantages?

First of all, the DVD looks better. Invader Zim is actually a pretty lush show at times, and 320 x 240 doesn’t quite do justice to gestalt babies or pig-powered mechas. This is especially true of the “epic” two part (i.e. 22 minute) episodes, “Halloween Spectacular of Spooky Doom” and “Battle of the Planets.” Dib’s gigantic head in the former holds a heavily detailed alternate dimension of grotesque creatures while the latter literally features a climax of warring celestial bodies. Not scenes best served by a small bit rate.

The real treat of the DVDs, however, is the creator commentary. If you like the humor of the writers/artists in the cartoon, then you’ll like it when they talk, pure and simple -- although they can appear equally amused by themselves. Composer Kevin Manthei is also a bit boring, and Richard Horvitz (Zim) will leave you wondering if he really talks like that all the time. Four episodes have two commentary tracks, but watching any episode three times (four if you count the animatics a.k.a. storyboards, but why would you ever watch those?) can be tiring. Unlike “Doom Doom Doom,” this DVD set does not feature pig commentary -- which would have been perfect for “Bloaty’s Pizza Hog,” -- but there is a mildly informative interview with the show’s head writers.

One final note: the second disc ends before the season finale. This actually serves the plot well, since that episode leads into the storyline in the aborted second season. What you have left on “Progressive Stupidity” is a jumble of stories with a slight arc of character development; many of these episodes were aired out of production order without the audience noticing. A few premises are repeated -- Zim meets other alien (“Plague of Babies,” “Abducted”), time travel (“Future Dib,” “Bloaty’s Pizza Hog”), conspiracy theories (“Mysterious Mysteries,” “The Sad, Sad Tale of Chickenfoot,” “Battle of the Planets”) and even shopping (“Game Slave 2,” “FBI Warning of Doom”) -- but the interpretations thereof are suitably different that you won’t notice. If you don’t buy it, borrow your neighbor’s copy.