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Why ‘Spongebob Squarepants’ Will Never Die

Nearly two decades after its debut, the Nickelodeon cartoon remains popular. But is it worth your time?

Nickelodeon

It has been over 19 years since Spongebob Squarepants, everyone’s favorite absorbent and yellow and porous scamp, first arrived on Nickelodeon trying to blow the perfect bubble. Nearly two decades later, Spongebob has not been hollowed out or beaten down by his life in show business. His show is casually cruising through its eleventh season with no end in sight and he’s starring in a Broadway musical. How exactly has Spongebob remained so relevant for all of these years? Is the show as entertaining for adults as it is for kids? And how do beaches work underwater? It’s all a bit confusing but worth exploring at length. Why? Because Spongebob is an icon.

What is Spongebob About?

Spongebob Squarepants is an anthropomorphic sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea in the idyllic town of Bikini Bottom. He lives next door to Patrick, a starfish who is sweet but dumb as the rock he lives under and Squidward, a misanthropic octopus who is consistently annoyed by Spongebob and Patrick’s antics. Spongebob and Squidward work at the Krusty Krab, a fast food joint that is owned by Mr. Krabs, who is avaricious enough to make Scrooge McDuck appear charitable.

Each episode features two 12-minute minisodes in which Spongebob and the rest of the gang get themselves into some sort of situation that is rapidly resolved — or not. The show is not premised on continuity so the end of one episode and the beginning of the next are often disjointed. In one, the Flying Dutchman is about to turn Spongebob, Patrick, and Squidward into a delicious smoothie. In the next, they’re all fine. It’s a weird show.

Is There Anything I Need to Know Before Watching?

There’s no elaborate backstory that explains the existence of a talking sponge but the real-life history of Spongebob Squarepants is worth examining because of its unprecedented longevity. Kid’s shows, even wildly successful ones, tend to be on the air for only a few seasons because the core audience typically outgrows the show and moves on. Shows like Lizzie McGuire, The Last Airbender, and Duck Tales had massive ratings and were undeniably popular, but none of them made it past their third season. That’s just how it goes with kids television.

But, somehow, Spongebob remains on the air over 19 years after its 1999 debut and, even more impressive, it is still one of the most popular shows on Nickelodeon as it heads into the second half of its eleventh season. Only a handful of iconic kid’s entertainment franchises, such as Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, Looney Tunes, and Sesame Street, can compare with Spongebob‘s staying power. Spongebob is a cultural juggernaut that will likely outlive us all.

Why is Spongebob a Thing?

How exactly did Spongebob become The Simpsons of kid’s television? Simply put, there’s never been a kid’s show quite like it. That might sound a tad hyperbolic but, in this case, it’s accurate because no other show has managed to strike a balance between appealing to kids and parents so effectively. Plenty of other kid’s shows have entertained adults but typically those shows have jokes specifically written for adults that are separate from what kids love about the show. Spongebob takes it to a new level, somehow pumping out joke after joke that manages to make kids and parents both laugh their respective asses off.

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Sure, Spongebob will sneak in the occasional dirty joke for any viewers over the age of seven but for the most part, the moments that will make adults laugh are guaranteed to make kids laugh, too. Whether it’s Spongebob making a sweater for Squidward out of his eyelashes (followed shortly by a sweater made out of his tears) or Patrick and Spongebob dutifully worshipping a conch shell when they are stranded out in the wilderness, the show seems determined to write jokes that will hit with the entire room. And more often than not, it works, which is why Spongebob remains one of the most popular kid’s shows on TV nearly two decades after its debut.

Will I Like Spongebob?

Most definitely. It’s worth mentioning again that this is a very adult-friendly kid’s show, thanks to its ability to be simultaneously brilliant and stupid in a way that is reminiscent of Community or a cheerier version of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

Spongebob also deserves credit for establishing itself as the rare kid’s show that doesn’t really care about teaching its viewers any valuable life lessons. Most shows made for kids will sacrifice laughs in order to clunkily shoehorn in some vague morality message about friendship but not Spongebob. While the Nickelodeon cartoon may occasionally demonstrate the importance of respecting your friend’s privacy during hibernation or reveal the downside of ripping your pants to impress people, the show remains first and foremost committed to entertaining viewers of all ages.

Am I Going to Have to Buy Something?

Yes, but less than you might think. Almost every kid’s show comes with a completely unnecessary amount of merch but since Spongebob has a slightly older audience than Peppa Pig or My Little Pony, there is significantly less gear. So while kids might want a plush pillow or graphic tee, they likely won’t be asking parents to drain their college savings in order to get them an infinite supply of toys and accessories that will inevitably end up forgotten in the back of their closet by the end of the month.

Anything Else I Should Know?

-Like The Simpsons, Spongebob has been around long enough to have had a “Golden Age,” a stretch of the show that most fans and critics agree is when the series was at the height of its powers. Spongebob‘s ‘Golden Age’ is widely considered to be the show’s first four seasons. Seasons five through eight are considered to be among the show’s weakest before Spongebob managed to rebound and enter a second golden age starting in season nine.

-Given the overwhelming success of Spongebob, it’s hardly surprising that the franchise has not just been limited to the small screen. There have been two Spongebob movies so far, Spongebob Squarepants: The Movie (2004) and The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (2015), both of which achieved critical and box office success. Spongebob has also made it to Broadway with Spongebob Squarepants: The Musical, which recently earned 12 Tony nominations.

-Before he created Spongebob, Stephen Hillenburg made a name for himself as an animator of Rocko’s Modern Life, a Nickelodeon cartoon that has earned itself a cult following thanks to its incredibly weird sense of humor.

The theme song remains iconic, as the singing pirate painting perfectly encapsulates the entire show’s bizarre and irresistible appeal.

-There is no answer to why Spongebob and his buddies drink water and go to the beach whilst living in the ocean. Perhaps some mysteries are best left unexplained.