Do you know what today is? No, not Annoy Squidward Day — that’s on Monday. Nickelodeon’s iconic series, SpongeBob SquarePants, has reached it’s 20th anniversary, and the network is celebrating the “Best Year Ever” starting today, with a special episode: SpongeBob’s Big Birthday Blowout!
I’m not just ready, I’m ready Freddy!
The show holds a special place in the hearts of my family. It premiered in 1999, the year before my first child was born, and both my children grew up with it as their favorite cartoon. OK, let’s be honest here — it was their dad’s favorite cartoon at the time too! Having a coral father who loved animation meant we watched and enjoyed all sorts of shows together. But SpongeBob was the best — he was number one!
One of the funniest moments my wife and I experienced with our daughter when she was very young was when she was starting to speak but wasn’t always intelligible. She came up to us one day, put one arm in the air, the other out in front of her, and with a big smile on her face starting repeating “ma may ta ya ha sa”. We had no idea what she was doing! It wasn’t until later when watching the show one day that we realized she was quoting a scene where Patrick repeats , “May I take your hat sir” several times in a silly voice!
TWO YEARS LATER: she would have her little brother giggling hysterically when she would repeatedly purposely have him drop a toy she would put a toy in his hand, while telling him to “FIRMLY GRASP IT“! She and her grandfather even made a real-life secret box!
But, as they do, kids grow up and move on to other shows. It is nature’s way.
Just like kids move on, so too do writers and producers and directors. Shows that have been on the air past the decade mark usually aren’t as high in quality as they were at the start with their original creators excitedly working on something new and fresh. And SpongeBob is no exception. I can sit down and watch just about any episode from the first five seasons (which aired from 1999 to 2009) and laugh along even all these years later. After that even the show’s biggest fanatic has to admit things started to go downhill. With the decrease in quality and the kids no longer as into it as they got older, I stopped watching too. (See my review of the second theatrical outing for more of my thoughts on the show’s decline from it’s original high).
So it’s been almost a decade since I’ve regularly watched the show. But with the 20th anniversary starting the same week my now 19 year old daughter returned from her college orientation, nostalgia and longing for the good old days when my kids were still kids washed over me and I was ready to go back to Bikini Bottom.
Nickelodeon is kicking off the “Best Year Ever” tonight with the premiere of SpongeBob’s Big Birthday Blowout. My daughter and I sat down to watch it together — I can’t remember the last time we did that! The episode still had many of the things I didn’t like from when I stopped watching originally. Too many cheap bodily function jokes, characters making weird faces too often, random storylines rather than coherent plots, and just plain bad jokes. But there was a lot more of the old SpongeBob humor than I thought there would be. And after my ten year hiatus, those moments more than made up for the bad. In addition to that, one of the most fun parts of the episode were the segments featuring the voice talent of the show playing live-action doppelgängers of the animated characters they voice! That alone was worth the price of admission!
The celebration doesn’t end tonight! Here’s what you can look forward to in the coming year:
— New episodes throughout the summer. Highlights include: “SpongeBob closes the gap in his teeth and his personality changes; his dream comes true when he becomes boss for the day at The Krusty Krab; and Plankton and Karen, somehow, have a baby”.
— Brand new toys, collectibles, plush and novelties are on the way. A “Masterpiece Meme” line of vinyl figures, bringing to life fan-favorite viral memes like Mocking SpongeBob, Imaginaaation SpongeBob, Surprised Patrick, SpongeGar and Handsome Squidward; SpongeBob toys that incorporate Nickelodeon Slime; the first-ever range of SpongeBob cosmetics”.
— New digital media include the “debut of an official global SpongeBob SquarePants YouTube channel, featuring the most iconic SpongeBob moments, music from the show, brand-new content, and more”; a brand-new global mobile game; and “new short-form content across YouTube, Facebook, Facebook Watch, Instagram and Twitter, celebrating fans and their favorite episodes, cast moments and more”.
— “The lifestyle brand Cynthia Rowley will feature a SpongeBob SquarePants wetsuit in their New York Fashion Week runway show in February”.
— “International artist Romero Britto will reimagine SpongeBob SquarePants with his trademark vibrant, bold and colorful style in a mixed media art installation that will be exhibited at pop-up SpongeBob experiences across the US”.
— The celebration year concludes with “the Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies theatrical, The SpongeBob Movie: It’s a Wonderful Sponge, coming summer 2020″.
Even though I may not watch as much as I used to, SpongeBob is still a big part of the family. We have wonderful memories around the show, references still litter our conversation, and the character is a pop culture phenomenon even if you haven’t seen an episode. The inner machinations of the show may be an enigma, but it’s no secret why so many people love it: at it’s best it’s sincere, optimistic, and just plain F.U.N.