Art for The Mad-Chill Mewzlies of Morp.
Carmen Petaccio,  January 15, 2021

The Mad-Chill Mewzlies of Morp

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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 

The Mad-Chill Mewzlies of Morp was an American children’s science-fiction series created by Zakari Foster for the Disney Channel. Produced by Pixar Studios and Foster’s own MorpCorp Media, the animated show follows the adventures of a brother-sister team of problem-solving aliens called Mewzlies—hairless bat-winged ferret-creatures with the power to change color like chameleons. The main characters, Ziz and Fiz, are the last surviving inhabitants of the Mewzlies’ cuboid home planet of Morp, which was destroyed just moments before the main characters’ births. The series was based on Foster’s viral short Last of the Mewzlies and ran for one season before its abrupt cancellation in the wake of the international controversy known as MorpGate. The show premiered on November 10, 2016, and permanently ceased production on October 11, 2018. A second season was produced in its entirety but has yet to screen in any public format.

1. Premise

The Mad-Chill Mewzlies of Morp chronicles Ziz and Fiz’s search for a new home world after Morp is liquefied by a race of robotic hive-minded resource extractors known as EL VISS. Zakari Foster, the series’s creator, initially pitched the show as a blend of “Ren & Stimpy, Star Trek: DS9, Earthworm Jim, and everything Ralph Bakshi ever drew.” Aside from the pilot, every twenty-three-minute episode begins with Ziz and Fiz’s terrarium-like spaceship crash-landing on a different planet, where they help the terrestrial population solve their civilization’s most pressing societal issue (conscientious consumption, procreative sterility, cannibalism of the young, etc.).

These investigations are complicated by the two main characters’ contrasting emotional states, which are MAD and CHILL, respectively. For the majority of each episode, Ziz is angry, frustrated, and/or combative, while Fiz is compassionate, easygoing, and/or relaxed. In every case, the solution to the prevailing issue—and the resolution of that week’s storyline—lies in Ziz and Fiz fusing their semisolid bodies to form a “Mad-Chill Ziz-Fiz,” a composite character described by Rolling Stone as “a giant reptilian philosopher-king that’s the color of a pulsing, radioactive rainbow.”

With the exception of the first season finale, every episode of Mewzlies ends with the Mad-Chill Ziz-Fiz solving that episode’s salient issue, then finding a minor quirk that makes the planet uninhabitable. The duo split into their separate bodies, recommencing their search for a suitable home. Foster, in multiple interviews, stated that the show’s central dramatic and emotional tensions were originally based on his parents’ “untraditional” marriage.

2. Development

2.1 Conception & Creation 

According to Foster, the idea for the series came to him during an in-patient hospitalization for Bipolar-Manic-Depressive Disorder at the age of thirteen. In a panel discussion at the 2017 SXSW Film Festival, Foster said he sought treatment despite his parents’ ideological opposition to psychotherapy, adding there was a “smoggy black acid raincloud inside my head that just wouldn’t go away. And it still hasn’t completely gone away.” After weekly rounds of Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT), Foster would “become a happy vegetable” in the papasan chairs and hammocks of the psychiatric ward, staring at the ceiling and letting his imagination “get freaky.”

During one of these “free associative zone-outs,” Foster imagined there was “an inter-dimensional bagel stuck to the drop ceiling, with a little screaming shark mouth instead of bagel hole.” The bagel began spinning “like a Price Is Right wheel,” opening a widening portal the color of Pepto Bismol. A pillowed terrarium floated out of the portal, releasing two “rudimentary, one-hundred-legged” versions of Ziz and Fiz. The creatures “fixed all the earth’s problems in about twenty minutes,” before deciding that humans would “inevitably mess everything up again and flying away.” Foster reported feeling “like absolute shit overall but incredibly inspired about this one thing.”

The general narrative concept would stick with Foster, who began storyboarding and animating Last of the Mewzlies as an undergraduate in the Schultz School of Children’s Film & Media at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Though a reported self-harm incident forced Foster to drop out of school before his junior year, he was able to continue animating in his hometown of Pinckneyville, Illinois. Estranged from his parents, Foster stayed at the home of his aunt, uncle, and his cousin and future collaborator, Zoey Gass, until finishing work on the short. On September 9th 2015, Last of the Mewzlies was uploaded to YouTube and Vimeo, where it began to build a following.

Notebooks and sketches from this fertile period in Foster’s life have been collected at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Plans for a ceremony to award Foster an honorary degree from UIUC were announced in September 2018, but were put on indefinite hiatus following a days-long online exchange between Foster and several tenured faculty members from the Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at UIUC. The exchange resulted in Foster’s temporary suspension from the social media platform Twitter.

2.2 Influences & Characters

Foster has gone on record stating that Ziz and Fiz started as “idealized versions” of his parents, though the characters’ design and personalities exhibit influence from dozens of other popular culture properties, including Quasi at the Quackadero and Space Ghost: Coast to Coast. Foster, who has been quoted as saying his “aesthetic parents” were his cousin Zoey’s N64 game console and comic book collection, saw Ziz and Fiz as “literal shapeshifters, entities who could fill whatever hole the viewer was trying to fill by watching a cartoon that might induce seizures.” Ziz is primarily identifiable by their cerulean pageboy hat, while Fiz wears alternating brands of ’80s-era high-top sneakers.

Visually, the characters reflect this wide array of inputs and references, albeit with Foster’s unique spin. Ziz and Fiz are not only genderless (they can attach genitals when necessary), but their physiognomies and behaviors defy any projection of traditional gender dynamics. At turns, their relative size discrepancies recall Popeye and Olive Oyl, Dexter and Dee Dee from Dexter’s Laboratory, as well as Barney and Baby Bop. The coloring of the Mad-Chill Ziz-Fiz is a direct reference to Rainbow Road, Foster’s and Zoey Gass’s favorite racing course in the video game Mario Kart 64.

By all accounts, Foster’s parents provided full-throated support for his artistic endeavors. Both of his parents studied philosophy as undergraduates at DePaul University and co-authored a senior thesis on Nietzsche, before switching to other fields as professionals. His father, Marcel Foster, was a prison guard at the Pinckneyville Correctional Center, where his mother, Allison “Allie” Foster-Gass, also worked as a counselor and part-time janitor. Foster’s parents were outspoken communists, prison abolitionists, polyamorists, and, as name change records obtained by Buzzfeed News would prove, siblings by blood. Their biological relation made Foster a product of incest, which he once joked was “better than having boring, normal parents. Think how my art would have suffered!” Fans have drawn parallels between Fosters’ parents’ marriage and the examinations of consent, taboo, and sibling intercourse on Morp.

Speaking to Derek Faraci of Birth. Movies. Death., Foster explained how he “turned out a little off” by being raised by “two weirdos with polar opposite personalities,” and he saw the “Mad-Chill” essence of Ziz-Fiz as a “yearning for a balance and stability that [his] traumatic childhood never provided.” (Foster legally emancipated himself from his parents at age sixteen, though he would retain on-and-off residence at their home until he became financially independent.) To quote the interview:

So here I have this Foucault-reading dad who hates prisons but works in one because he thinks systems have to be “dismantled from the inside out.” TV and movies are all propagandistic advertising, in his view, so I have to go over to my aunt and uncle’s every time I want to watch Howard the Duck. Meanwhile, there’s my mom, leaving lasagna in the oven for me so she can stay late at work and teach rapists how to mix watercolors. They’d been in this failed cult in Northern California before I was born. RERO: Racial Empathy, Radical Openness. But they never stopped preaching its maxims, giving the Phenomenology of RERO to our neighbors. We were that family on the block, the one all the other families whispered about. The local freaks.

But I wasn’t allowed to let it bother me. Probably because they were brother and sister, my parents thought shame was the most dangerous force in the universe. They said shame was like a cancer—either you eradicate it from your body, or you die a slow death. So nothing was off limits. I called them by their first names. I slept in their bed until I was a teenager. Some of my first memories are of them making love beside me, the sloshing of the waterbed as I squeezed my eyes shut and pretended to sleep. They drank, did drugs, would fight and hit each other and then congratulate themselves on not being ashamed about the desire to hit each other. I was homeschooled so, if it weren’t for my cousin Zoey, none of this would have seemed strange to me. None of it.

And on top of that, my parents were bringing home different people to sleep with every weekend. Academics from UChicago and Roosevelt. Hippies and homeless people from the Greyhound station. High school kids, retired couples. We’d eat a big dinner with these strangers on Friday, and they’d barely come out of the bedroom until my parents’ shifts on Monday. I spent those nights on the living room futon, playing the Game Boy I’d snuck into the house. I still have pretty bad insomnia because of it, or so my therapist thinks.

Allie and Marcel decided I was old enough to “attend their powwows” when I started getting boners—this was one of the few parts of my development they monitored. I remember them crying and holding hands as I lost my virginity on the waterbed; I was twelve. I don’t even remember the guy’s name. He was a drifter. He kind of looked like Mumm-Ra from Thundercats, except he wasn’t genie-blue. I hitchhiked to my cousin Zoey’s in the rain and we watched Fire and Ice, which always stopped my panic attacks from happening. That DVD menu was like ASMR for me.

I guess you could see the structure of the show coming from that format. A different vibe and problem every week, but also the same central spiritual aches bubbling underneath. Familial violence. Illicit desires. Is that too prescriptive? I want my audience to think for themselves.

3. Broadcast and Ratings

3.1 Release and Reception

The Mad-Chill Mewzlies of Morp premiered during the Disney Channel’s short-lived “Mature Mouses” programming block, which then-CEO Bob Iger conceived of as a “return to the more adult, experimental spirit of Disney classics like Fantasia (1940) and Dragonslayer (1981). The slate of shows is meant to be watched after the next generation of Mouseketeers has been put to bed.”

The show’s pilot, which aired between Foxy Gerald Fox and The Gluggos, drew a respectable .84 Neilson rating. Its eight-episode first season instantly attracted a small but rapid following on the internet, and a handful of rave reviews from critics. It currently holds a 94 percent on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Writing in Vulture, TV recapper Joy Chan-Rodgers called the show “a terrifically twisted mace spray of bittersweet button-pushing.” In a longer piece for the New York Times, A.O. Scott wrote that “While much of today’s content takes judicious, cynical aim at children and adults, ‘Morp traffics in a less orchestrated (and more delightful) universality. As such, its sheer inventiveness astounds but doesn’t alienate. You look at the screen and see your own dreams and nightmares reflected back.”

The show was renewed for a second season immediately following the airing of its first-season finale, whose premiere coincided with an episode about Foster on NPR’s This American Life. Appearances on The Bancroft Brothers Animation Podcast, The Bill Simmons Podcast, and Good Morning America followed. Foster, an “overweight outcast with a ginger unibrow” who considered himself an “begrudgingly outgoing introverted,” wrote about the pleasures and pressures of sudden fame in a frank, widely shared article in the Hollywood Reporter. To this day, his cousin Zoey thinks that article may be one of the best things Zak ever wrote. [Citation needed.]

3.2 Surge in Popularity

Following its release on Netflix in June 2017, Morp quickly became the single most streamed program on the service. Though Netflix doesn’t share internal figures, former employees have anonymously testified that Morp was the most rewatched show in the company’s history. The appeal was undiscriminating, socioeconomically and racially diverse, and a mystery to many industry insiders and analysts. It is widely believed that Morp is responsible for the implementation of the Netflix “Loop Series” feature, which returns viewers to a show’s first episode at the instant they finish the finale.

Building on the momentum of the Netflix Bump, the Morp trademark was subsequently used to produce stuffed animals, LEGO sets, a breakfast cereal, two mobile games, and a line of school supplies in partnership with Staples. Prominent celebrities shared pictures of Morp tattoos during this period, including the actor Daniel Radcliffe and the model Emily Ratajkowski. The term “MorpRun” became widely used on social media, where influencers and live streamers would, in a test of endurance, watch the show on an endless loop. The record for the longest consecutive no-movement MorpRun, held by the Twitch streamer ZizGawd and now listed by the Guinness Book of World Records, was seventy-one consecutive hours, or 193 sequential episodes.

Part of the show’s appeal, as observed by Deadline’s Nikki Finke, was Foster’s willingness to engage with his fans and followers despite his shy personality. Foster answered subscriber questions during ZizGawd’s record-breaking MorpRun, where he pledged to pay for anyone to receive a Morp tattoo. To date, it is estimated that Foster has covered the cost of more than one thousand fan tattoos, the price-tag surpassing an estimated $500,000. At an author event to commemorate the publication of Mad-Chill Stills, a collection of original Morp prints released by Phaidon, Foster refused to leave until he’d personally signed a copy for each of the two-thousand one-hundred fans in attendance. The event kept the Barnes & Noble in the Grove shopping mall in Los Angeles open to five AM. Foster paid the store’s employees triple their hourly rate and bought pizzas for everyone present, per sources.

Scott Rudin Productions acquired the film rights to The Morp Movie! for a reported fifteen million dollars, with Foster slated to direct based on a script co-written with Zoey Gass, who Foster named as an official collaborator. Gass was also tapped to develop and co-write the second season of Morp with Foster. The feature-length screenplay was never finished, but like the show’s second season, it remains a point of major fascination and contention within Morp fandom. Legal attempts to reclaim part or all of the advance paid to Foster for the film rights have so far been unsuccessful.

3.3 Zoey Gass Pushback & Community Misogyny Claims

The news that Foster intended to share creative control with Ms. Gass on the second season of Morp was divisive among fans. While many professed total faith in Foster, some labeled the choice as nepotistic, short-sighted, and self-defeating. Writing in Variety, Justin Chang cited Morp fandom’s intense identification with Foster and a staunch investment in the show’s status as an auteurist work, a rarity in the collaborative field of corporate animation. Foster had famously conceived, drawn, written, and directed the entire first season of Morp, in addition to recording the voices of over fifty characters. Fans worried that Gass, who had only worked in food service before, would hamper the show’s quality.

A modified photograph of Gass in a Hooters uniform briefly became a meme during this period. Using the program Photoshop, fans blew up Gass’s breasts and posterior to inhuman proportions, pairing the image with the caption “ME IZ HERE TO BECOME DA HEAD WRITER OF DORPWORLD.” On Reddit, commenters used code names for Gass like “The Former Hostess” and “Bimbo Betty Boop.” Feminist critics, including The New Yorker’s Jia Tolentino and The New Republic’s Sam-Neil Tackensniff, saw these acts as expressions of unacknowledged misogyny within the show’s fanbase. Multiple fans and outlets, including Jezebel and Teen Vogue, noted that the Morp audience was predominantly female or non-gender conforming.

Foster defended Gass’s involvement in traditional outlets and on social media. The home of his aunt and uncle, Gass’s parents, had been a refuge for him as a socially maladjusted boy. “Ziz and Fiz wouldn’t exist if me and Zoey didn’t spend eighteen hours a day creating storylines for her dolls and actions figures, or beating the co-op mode in Jet Force Gemini,” he wrote in a lengthy Medium post. “Zoey is a consummate artist and intellectual,” Foster wrote. “She is certain, as I am, that the brilliance of Morp’s second season will speak for itself.” Gass chose not to comment on the fan reaction, although a retweet on her personal Twitter did seem to make light of the situation:

girl escapes the misogyny and sexual harassment of the restaurant industry for greener pastures of the misogyny and sexual harassment of the entertainment industry smdh

3.4 GQ Profile & Controversy

In the September 2017 Issue of GQ, Foster was the subject of a profile by the writer Zach Baron. The twelve-page article and photo spread focused on the founding of Morp Land, the so-called “Imagination Incubator” that Foster and Gass were building along a stretch of Lake Michigan, outside of Chicago. Foster saw Morp Land as a “planned community for creatives,” where “animators, game developers, and practical effects specialists can come together, bounce ideas off of one another, and work without having to, you know, have a boss or worry about money.” Anyone who passed a “formality portfolio screening process,” Foster claimed, could live at Morp Land in perpetuity, free of charge. This claim has been disputed by previous residents of Morp Land.

Baron, who admitted to regarding Morp as “dementedly brilliant and beautifully done,” stated that he had remained objective throughout the research for and composition of his profile. Within circles of Morp fandom, however, the profile was seen as a “hit piece” on Baron’s part. Some passages appeared to suggest that Foster and Gass were themselves in an incestuous sexual relationship, with the whole Morp brand functioning as a form of “anti-shame agitprop” for the RERO ideology, which Foster had denounced publicly but embraced privately.

Many believed that Baron wrongfully cast Foster as a “cult leader,” when he was just trying to support cool and under-appreciated artists in insultingly underpaid fields. [Citation needed.] Baron received dozens of death threats in response to the profile, and was temporarily forced to relocate his family after being doxxed by the Morpies, a militant group of online Morp super-fans. Baron’s address, social security number, bank account information, and nude photographs of his genitals were posted to the internet. A Tumblr post by Foster, supposedly meant to subdue the reaction, was seen as “poorly executed in PR terms” and a “non-apology” by critics.

“Like me and Zoey, Zach is a fierce creative who is entitled to his privacy,” Foster wrote. “It’s already almost impossible to have any kind of platform and produce quality art. Why can’t we focus on what matters? (The work.)”

3.5 SlimeGate

At the March 2018 Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards, Morp and Foster tallied nine wins on fourteen nominations, including Orange Blimp statues for Best New Show, Best Animated Show, Grossest Gross Out Scene, Surf’s Up!, and Best On-Screen Bodily Function. Foster, who had written about his battles with General Anxiety Disorder, tweeted that he was a “flaming rubber band ball of nerves” before the event. Zoey Gass accompanied Foster to the green-carpet pre-show, where her chosen outfit, a sheer purple plastic jumpsuit, was itself a topic of consternation online. Andy Cohen named it his “Ensemble of the Eve.” Later, reporting on the scandalous event, Entertainment Tonight’s Mario Lopez described Gass’s jumpsuit as “the controversy before the real controversy.”

While accepting the award for Nerdiest Off-Screen Nerd, Foster suffered a panic attack and briefly lost consciousness, hitting his head against the corner of the awards podium and collapsing to the floor of the stage. Simultaneously, a malfunction of an overhead “slime cannon” caused Foster to be doused with “booger-green slime,” a trademark of the Nickelodeon brand. For nearly a minute, Foster lay unconscious as more than 150 gallons of slime were dumped onto his body. Having received training in CPR as a server at Hooters, Gass rushed from the crowd to help her cousin.

The general zaniness of the situation was perceived by many as a preplanned prank. Per Nielsen ratings, nearly six million children and young adults watched Gass perform what she claimed was mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on her cousin. The resulting footage was deconstructed widely across the internet, as thousands sought to prove or disprove that Gass and Foster were in fact deep kissing. Gass’s outfit choice also played into the suspicions when a commercial interstice, aired a few minutes later, depicted her laughing as Nickelodeon interns hosed the slime off her plastic jumpsuit, which was waterproof. Gass would tweet this was an “innocent coincidence.”

Foster regained consciousness on stage, received a standing ovation from the crowd, and gave an impassioned speech about raising awareness of mental health issues and emergency health procedures. He and Gass were seen in attendance at the Vanity Fair Kids’ Choice Awards After Party but were observed leaving early. Deemed SlimeGate, the incident would become a point of obsession for the FCC and conservative media watchdogs. On an episode of the Ben Shapiro Show, host Ben Shapiro claimed episodes of Morp posed “an existential threat” to children and the state of Israel.

4. Episodes

S01E01: “Pilot”

Ziz’s green glow-stick egg hatches in the terrarium spaceship. A golden boom box with elephant legs explains what Ziz is (a Mewzlie) and what Le Viss did to Morp (liquefied it, killing everyone). Ziz cries electric purple tears onto his jean shorts—not for Morp, but because he is alone. The boom box grows a vacuum arm, suctions off part of Ziz’s butt, and performs a kind of cotton candy-collecting procedure to generate a canary yellow glow-stick egg. Fiz hatches from it. Ziz’s butt regrows. Fiz and Ziz rub their butts together, making both butts radiate a gentle, calming blacklight.

The terrarium spaceship crashes on the planet of Testostratus Ultra, where all the inhabitants are a single sex of half-human, half-tree “man-boys” with protruding dumbbell-shaped bellies. Ziz can’t stand the shape of the man-boys’ bellies, or how their loneliness makes him sad. Fiz notes that there is no ideal belly shape, only the shape we’re most used to. Eventually, a belly-bashing battle royale leads to the formation of the Mad-Chill Ziz-Fiz, which gives the golden boombox to the man-boys. The boombox starts producing half-human, half-tree replica orifices for the man-boys to have sex with. The Ziz-Fiz is invited to a celebratory feast, but the cuisine makes it gassy, so Ziz and Fiz can’t live on Testostratus Ultra. “Oh, the infinite mysteries of space,” they say, blasting off in their spaceship.

S01E02: “War (What Is It Good For? Ab-so-lutely Nothing?)”

The terrarium spaceship crashes on the planet of Zingtrock, where two races of anthropomorphized furniture have been locked in an endless, bloody war. Zingtrock is an “indoors planet,” with a ceiling instead of a sky, carpet instead of grass, and so on. The two races of furniture—decorative and functional—murderously hate each other, and no one remembers why. Ziz believes the two races should nuke each other to end the war once and for all. Fiz argues in favor of mandatory conflict resolution group sessions. Eventually, a contentious screaming match in the furniture senate leads to the formation of the Mad-Chill Ziz-Fiz.

Acting as a neutral third party, the Mad-Chill Ziz-Fiz begins mediating discussions between the decorative and functional furniture. After one hundred days of reflection, both sides discover that their warlike feelings emerge out of deep-seated and repressed sexual frustration. Representatives from the two races embrace and start to copulate, leading to a mass-scale furniture orgy that, due to short gestation period for offspring, results in a hybrid race of furniture that’s both functional and aesthetically pleasing. Furniture intercourse produces a foul-smelling goo, however, so Ziz and Fiz cannot live on Zingtrock. “Oh, the infinite mysteries of space,” they say, blasting off.

S01E03: “Night, Trash”

The terrarium spaceship crashes on the planet of Ekorox, where a day-dwelling race of sparkle bears, the Bruu, confess that they have no problems—“except for the mystery of where the trash goes.” The Bruu throw out trillions of tons of garbage on a daily basis, only to find it has disappeared by the morning. Blindly accepting this explanation, Ziz suggests Ekorox would make for a good home planet, but Fiz reserves the right to “sleep on it.” As the Bruu hibernate soundly in their levitation caves, Ziz and Fiz are shown what happens to the planet’s garbage.

Every night, Ekorox is cast into a global climate catastrophe, including tsunamis, wildfires, bomb vortexes, and mudslides. This makes life complicated for the Slikk, the race of subterranean slime rats who emerge to clean up the Bruu’s garbage. Shocked by this new knowledge, Ziz and Fiz form the Mad-Chill Ziz-Fiz and alert the Bruu about the existence of the Slikk. At sundown, the two races meet, and the Bruu pledge to eliminate all waste production within two lunar cycles. The recalibration of consumption habits is a rousing success, but the recycling centers are incredibly noisy. “Oh, the infinite mysteries of space,” Ziz and Fiz say, blasting off.

S01E04: “The Libraries of Lanxi 451”

The terrarium spaceship crashes on the water planet of Lanix 451, where Lanny, the last living member of an ancient civilization of eels, struggles to preserve the records of his people in his subterranean coral reef library. Sadly, Zanny is a disorganized hoarder, and it feels certain he will die before completing the task assigned to him by the final Council of Eel Elders. Ziz suggests taking a picture of Lanny and sending it to the Interstellar Records Hub to prove that the eels existed, but Fiz insists on finding a solution that works for Lanny. Maybe, Ziz and Fiz can make digital copies of his favorite books to share with the universe.

Their melancholy discussion of books leads Lanny to step onto the high ledge of his library and threaten to commit suicide by “de-electrocution.” After forming the Mad-Chill Ziz-Fiz, the main characters convince Lanny of life’s essential value by having him describe his favorite book, Currents Within Currents: Vol 1. Having not spoken about the book in decades, the description so moves Lanny that he begins spontaneously producing baby eel eggs by the tens of thousands, seeding the next generation of eel civilization. The little eel fetuses can be seen dancing “in a menacing manner” inside the eggs, however, so Ziz and Fiz deem Lanix 451 uninhabitable. “Oh, the infinite mysteries of space,” they say, blasting off. 

S01E05: “Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes (Inside and Outside Your Body, Which is Beautiful No Matter What)”

The terrarium spaceship crashes on the planet @[email protected]~!, where, after eons of asexual harmony, a solitary WerT youngling has suddenly grown a large, spiked penis. Not only is the rest of the species horrified (they lack genitalia and orifices)—they are also deeply aroused. Equal parts enamored and disgusted by the boy, the intercontinental parliament banishes him to total isolation in the frozen tundras of $^$. Ziz believes they should castrate the boy to solve his problems, while Fiz wants to show the boy that our genitals should be a source of enchantment and pride, not shame. Unfortunately, their conversation reminds the boy that he’s missing his regional Zipball championship, and he attempts to self-castrate with a diamond-bladed scimitar.

Forming the Mad-Chill Ziz-Fiz, Ziz and Fiz stop the boy and, in a controversial scene, use their rainbow appendages to show that sexual stimulation can be gratifying and healthy. Upon reaching simultaneous climax, the three characters hear a crash outside the boy’s warmth pod. Through the snow, they see an ice canoe carrying a WerT girl who has grown both a penis and a vagina. The resultant couple, though wildly in love and sweet, are awful conversationalists, so Ziz and Fiz cannot live on @[email protected]~!. They had been using the detachable genitals on their spaceship as utensils, but now understand their purpose. Staring into each other’s eyes, they blast off: “Oh, the infinite mysteries of space!”

S01E06: “Oh So Very Touching”

The terrarium spaceship crashes on the desert planet of Liko, but Ziz and Fiz do not emerge from the bay doors. Unlike previous episodes, the glass of the terrarium is fogged up, and a slow pan-in shot reveals what’s to blame: Ziz and Fiz, engaged in furious copulation. Drunk with passion, Ziz and Fiz form the Mad-Chill Ziz-Fiz and masturbate to completion. Ziz mounts Fiz; Fiz mounts Ziz. Their screams of ecstasy can be heard as far as the Groigar Mountain Range, which attracts the attention of the Norb, the planet’s race of conjoined twin mega-wombats.

For the remainder of the episode, Ziz and Fiz’s bouts of intercourse, auto-fellation, and mutual masturbation are broken up by earnest, intimate conversations about their shared fear of never finding a home. Did Mewzlies consider incest a sin? Or did they believe in the possibility that a brother and sister could be soulmates, like the majority of the universe? It feels unfair to Ziz and Fiz that they will never know, and the cope-sex they have in response nearly shatters the terrarium with its ferocity. Just before the episode ends, Ziz and Fiz leave the spaceship for snacks and encounter the Norb, whose centuries-dead faith in true love has been inadvertently restored by Ziz and Fiz. However, the red algae water on Liko gives Ziz and Fiz diarrhea, so they cannot live there. “Oh, the infinite mysteries of space!” they say from their toilets, as the autopilot blasts them off.

S01E07: “U R What? U Eat.”

The terrarium spaceship crashes on the planet Rezert, whose lush octagonal islands are dominated by treetop banquet halls and pyramidal temples. After copulating, Ziz and Fiz leave the spaceship and climb up to one of the said banquet halls, where the planet’s robo-simian inhabitants, known as Rezzers, are violently sacrificing hundreds of their younglings. As Ziz and Fiz learn, the Rezzers live on a planet where they are the only life form advanced enough to harvest meat from. Since their females can birth up to fifty children at a time, they have historically eaten their young, sacrificing them in complicated rituals meant to invite mercy and meat offerings from their gods.

Ziz wants to leave the Rezzers to their devices and return to copulating in the spaceship, but Fiz is moved by the palpable intergenerational sadness of the Rezzers, the untold mothers and fathers left with no choice but to eat their offspring. Forming the Mad-Chill Ziz-Fiz, the brother and sister explain that the Rezzers can just eat the enormous fruits and vegetables growing on the trees and bushes all around them. The Rezzers, saddened beyond words by the revelation, nevertheless revel in the sweet nectar of their native vegetation. Daunted by the task of teaching the Rezzers recipes (and wanting some privacy), Ziz and Fiz decide to continue their search. “Oh, the infinite mysteries of space,” they say, blasting off. 

S01E08: “New Planet, El Viss?”

The terrarium spaceship crashes on an unnamed cube-shaped planet. On the surface, Ziz and Fiz find an abandoned utopia, with ideal weather conditions, a superabundance of natural resources, and technology that enables VR gaming, intelligence enhancement, and eternal life. Trying to determine what happened to the planets’ inhabitants, Ziz and Fiz stumble upon a translucent gelatin beach, where millions of Mewzlies are reading, sunbathing, and playing trampoline volleyball.

Ziz and Fiz realize that the golden boom box lied to them: their home planet wasn’t destroyed, their parents simply abandoned them. Not surprisingly, Ziz bursts into a fit of rage. They pummel a guide drone into taking them and Ziz to their parents, El and Viss, who look exactly like Ziz and Fiz but with different accessories (stopwatch, tail brace). El and Viss explain how Mewzlie scientists discovered all suffering derived from the familial self-interest required to raise children, so they had established a practice of banishing all newborns to the far corners of the galaxy. The result was the universe’s lone utopia, Morp, a perfect present untainted by the drive to secure the future for children.

Hearing this, Fiz, out of character, unleashes a frightening banshee scream and rips off both of their parents’ heads. Pursued by every Mewzlie on the beach, they enter a high-speed chase back to the spaceship but are captured before they can reach it. As the crowd descends upon them, Ziz and Fiz both reveal that they’re pregnant. Fiz is arrested and taken to Morp’s restorative justice center, while Ziz is locked inside the terrarium spaceship and set on a programmed collision course with the farthest known red giant sun. As Fiz tearfully watches the spaceship disappear into the sky, the screen cuts to black.

5. Delays to Seasons Two

Season Two of Morp was scheduled to premiere on June 14, 2017, anchoring a retooled version of Disney’s “Mature Mouses” programming block. Ten days before the premiere, however, then-CEO Bob Iger issued a press release stating that the season would be delayed six weeks for “slight but not-inconsiderable fine-tuning.”

The press release caused an uproar on social media, inspiring protests at several Disney theme parks, including Euro Disney and Shanghai Disney. A one-thousand-strong Morpie sit-in at the entrance to Disneyland resulted in violent interactions between fans and Disney’s Mickey Force security detail. Non-fatal injuries were reported on both sides. An incident involving a seven-year-old Morp fan and a militarized golf cart was the basis for a highly publicized lawsuit, which was settled for an undisclosed sum. Out of respect for the victims, Foster canceled scheduled appearances on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and The Joe Rogan Podcast.

On July 27, 2017, Season Two of Morp was again delayed, this time for an additional four months. Foster announced the delay on his personal Instagram, where he wrote that “me and Zoey don’t want to share anything that’s anything less than mind-blowing. It’s like we’re kids playing make-believe again. Just when we think we’re done, Zoey will off-the-cuff come up with something awesome. We appreciate your patience, truly. Be like Fiz, not Ziz, my fellow Morpies.”

Foster’s statement on the delay was perceived by some as a stall tactic. Leaked stories from Morp Land suggested in-fighting among the residents over shelving space in the pantry and the possession of an un-microchipped pit bull on the grounds. With minimal evidence, a consensus grew that Foster was outsourcing creative control of Morp to Gass in order to concentrate his energies on Morp Land, MorpCorp Media, and the host of arts-focused charities he had founded in the greater Chicago area. Gass started to receive daily death threats both in the mail and online.

On October 30, 2017, an obsessed Morpie with ties to the American White Nationalist Movement broke onto the Morp Land property and attempted to kidnap Gass. The plot was foiled by Foster, who’d installed a series of what the New York Post called “Home Alone-esque traps” around the compound, a response to the death threats directed at Gass. No criminal charges were filed, though the suspect did leak pictures of the traps to the tabloid website TMZ. Foster, an obsessive pop culture fan himself, forgave the man and even invited him to reside at Morp Land. This act of forgiveness was wrongly perceived as a personal betrayal by Zoey Gass in the moment, who isn’t as pure or principled a human being as Zakari Foster and probably never will be. [Citation needed.]

6. MorpGate & Cancellation

6.1 Morpgate

The attempted kidnapping would result in a six-month delay to the production of Morp’s second season. Gradually, a dissatisfied community of Morpies, organizing across Facebook, Reddit, and 8chan, began to formulate a campaign to pressure Foster into releasing Season Two.

On New Year’s Day 2018, a cake box containing a prosthetic reproduction of Gass’s severed head was mailed to Morp Land. In February 2018, the hashtag #MorpOutSesh started appearing on social media. As part of the campaign, fans posted videos of themselves engaging in deep kissing with their blood relatives. “Morping” soon went viral among younger members of the Morp community, with promises to escalate the sexual behavior should Foster not release the second season.

Foster’s parents, who were suing him for libel at the time, appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight in March 2018. They defended the Morping movement, stating that anti-incest sentiments and laws were “antediluvian,” “anti-romance,” and “downstream from exclusionary fears of impure blood and the disabled.” Foster wrote a Medium post condemning the appearance. Some saw the post as hypocritical, given the rumors surrounding Foster’s relationship with Gass. A follow-up Medium post by Foster again dismissed these rumors.

As the delayed premiere date approached, more than five thousand anonymous Morpies signed a Change.org pledge to engage in penetrative sex with a relative should Foster fail to deliver the episodes. The pledge was viewed as tongue-in-cheek, but when videos of sex between underage Morpies started to appear on PornHub, Foster took to Instagram Live to reassert he had “never engaged in incestuous activities, never condoned incestuous thoughts or actions, and just want to make a cartoon about aliens trying to love each other.” The Live video ended with a distraught Foster indefinitely delaying the second season of Morp.

The toll this process has taken on my mental health and the mental health of my collaborator has been immeasurable, and it makes creating art impossible,” Foster said in the video. “When I was a kid, cartoons were my escape. But as an adult I want my art to offer more than escape—I want it to engage with stuff we’re scared to talk about, even with ourselves. Maybe that touched a nerve. All I can say is that I never intended to inspire a worldwide incest fad. Please note that, for our own safety and sanity, Zoey and I are ending our creative partnership, effective immediately. If Season Two ever sees the light of day, I’ll be the most surprised animator in the world. Oh, the fucking mysteries of human psychology, I guess.

6.2 Cancellation

The fallout from MorpGate was swift and devastating for the Morp brand. In July 2018, two Oregon teenagers sued Foster to finance the termination of their pregnancies, causing Disney to remove Morp from all programming blocks and streaming platforms. Merchandise was recalled, destroyed, and burned. Fan videos and edits of the show were scrubbed from YouTube, while conferences and midnight screenings of the first season were cancelled.

In August 2018, New York Magazine published a profile of Zoey Gass written by the novelist Taffy Taffner-Ratner. The piece was intended to center on Gass’s relocation to Los Angeles to write the screenplay for The Morp Movie!, but devolved into what Zoey Gass took as an unabashed character assassination. [Citation needed.] The profile seemed to intentionally confirm the Morp community’s worst inferences about Gass, suggesting that the profile’s author was more interested in producing clickbait than journalism. [Citation needed.]

Plans for a “Moons of Morp” rides area in Disney World were scrapped in September 2018. That same week, Foster signed over the deed to Morp Land to the incubators’ eighty-seven residents for one dollar, making them all equal owners of the seventy-five-acre lakefront estate. Foster’s retirement from public life and animation was announced by his agent on Thanksgiving Day 2018. Parts of the announcement seemed to be copied-and-pasted from similar press releases.

7. Interpretations & Criticism

In the wake of MorpGate, Morp became a flashpoint in both popular and academic criticism, with writers including Judith Butler, Cornel West, and Bari Weiss weighing in on its complexities on and off the screen. The philosopher Slavoj Zizek’s book-length examination of the show, Holes Without a Home, places Morp in conversation with Tintin, Zootopia, and other animated cultural products “borne out of suppressed and sublimated desires for the forbidden.” Claiming that Morp “lays claim to an autonomous semantic ground between drawing and literature,” Zizek positions the show as a reaction to the increasingly puritanical politics of the internet and a “terminal, mounting ur-anti-desire” for juvenile content among adult consumers.

MacArthur Genius Maggie Nelson wrote a 2019 collection of short lyric essays on the effects of Morp on her worldview, politics, and queer identity. A major point of her analysis concentrates on the “dehyphenization” of the Mad-Chill Ziz-Fiz, whose “corporeal combinations are a pale prestidigitation compared to the miraculous synthesis of affects belying it: the Zizification of Fiz, the Fizificazation of Ziz.” Nelson posits that Morp’s appeal, though grounded in a settler-colonial mindset, nevertheless captures a near-perfect aesthetic synthesis of merging consciousnesses, a feat made possible by Foster’s “transcendent, cellularly ingrained loneliness and unrequited longings.” The collection was longlisted for the Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction and won the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism.

8. Impact & Legacy

8.1 Pirated Access & Potential Sale

Though the first season of Morp has been removed from all streaming platforms, the episodes often appear on torrenting sites like Tor as well as the Dark Web. Blu Ray and 4K Ultra HD boxsets of the first season have become highly sought collector’s items, as have the show’s merchandise and promotional materials. A copy of Season One in its original packaging was sold at auction at Sotheby’s for more than $100,000. The sale sparked an internet rumor that Foster might sell off the master tapes for the show’s second season, but no such sale has yet occurred. In 2020, a group of wealthy celebrities, led by the legendary comedian Mel Brooks and the model Chrissy Teigen, offered Foster $50 million in cash for the rights to stream the second season of Morp for free via Hulu. This offer was never acknowledged by Foster.

Despite its reputation, Morp has had a profound influence on the animation industry, public discourse, the art world, and even sexual conduct and age of consent laws. Residents of the Morp Land incubator have sold animated series and films to companies like Netflix, NBC, Trump Media, and Viacom. In 2021, Morp Land resident Max Mitter’s short One Curious Clam was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. Mitter boycotted the awards show, citing the industry’s treatment of Foster and Gass. The award was won by Pixar’s Timeless, a short about paintings that come to life in an under-trafficked gallery at the Louvre.

8.2 The Mad-Chill Search for Zakari Foster

A 2022 documentary titled The Mad-Chill Search for Zakari Foster, directed by and starring Steven and Susan Reid-Singler, chronicled two obsessive Morpies’ quest to track down Foster in retirement. Following red herrings and hearsay to Argentina, Prague, and New Zealand, the brother-sister team trace Foster to Surlej, Switzerland, a town in the Swiss Alps famous for its housing of the boulder that partially inspired Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

Foster’s mountainside cabin sits empty, though remnants of his presence remain. Foster had wallpapered the interior with suggestive sketches of Betty Boop, for instance, and left behind a handwritten note addressed to Zoey Gass. Read aloud by Reid-Singler, the letter is resigned to the death of creativity in the internet age, when “content has overtaken form and name recognition makes you unrecognizable even to yourself.” Foster admits to completely disconnecting from technology, having chosen to lead the life of a nomadic hermit. “I just miss thinking up crazy ideas with you and watching your brain work,” Foster writes to Gass. “It’d be easier if we were brought down by people who hated us and judged us. How’s it love if the fans who love us did this??”

In classic Morp fashion, The Mad-Chill Search for Zakari Foster inspired heated debate, even among those who never saw the film. As the documentary reveals, Foster left behind a Ziz-Fiz shaped USB drive that houses the lone copy of Morp Season Two. The film ends with the Reid-Singlers relocating to a nearby chocolatier-coffee shoppe, where they press play on S02E01 of The Mad-Chill Mewzlies of Morp. During the credits, scrolling on-screen text explains that the USB drive was damaged during a “jacuzzi mishap” in the Reid-Singlers’ hotel room. In a Q&A at the film’s premiere at the 2022 Telluride Film Festival, Steven and Susan Reid-Singler confirmed that all of Morp Season Two had been lost, “though who can say if other copies are out there.”

The filmmakers resisted discussing the footage in greater detail, citing their paramount respect for Foster’s artistic integrity. It wasn’t reported in the press but Zoey Gass actually attended the screening and Q&A in an elaborate gender-swapping disguise. [Citation needed.] Firsthand accounts uphold that the letter-reading sequence of the doc moved Ms. Gass to tears. [Citation needed.] The film made Gass realize that her cousin is the only person or thing she loves with all her heart + if it were up to her everyone else on earth would die so they could make cool shit together again and be happy. [Citation needed.]

The Mad-Chill Search for Zakari Foster received mixed reviews from audiences and critics. When pressed about the second season, Steven Reid-Singler stated that it was “roughly based on The Odyssey and so heartbreakingly sad that you feel ashamed that you thought understood what sadness was before it.” Several entertainment outlets claimed that Reid-Singler winked after making this statement, but that claim has been widely disputed. The Q&A was cut short due to security concerns at the theater, where a marriage ceremony between two die-hard fans was interrupted by a fistfight over a piece of collectible Morp merchandise, a discontinued plush golden boom box.

Carmen Petaccio’s writing has previously appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Review of Books, The Atlantic, the Texas Observer, and Gulf Coast. He is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in English at the University of Miami. 

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