Who’s lived in a pineapple under the sea for nearly 18 years? Of course, its the iconic yellow sponge that has served as the face of Nickelodeon (and likely the reason the network is still running).
Some say “The Simpsons” isn’t as good as it used to be. When people ask them why, the response is usually, “Well, I haven’t watched it in, like, 10 or 15 years.” Clearly, it’s because those people HAVEN’T WATCHED IT in 10 or 15 years. The argument is also brought-up with “SpongeBob” – those who say the first couple of years (pre-“The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie”) are impossible to top.
But guess what? As someone who has seen every single episode of “SpongeBob”, I can tell you that the past couple of years have featured episodes that rank-up there with some of the early greats. And it comes down to a couple of things:
In January 2015, the show’s creator, Stephen Hillenburg returned to the day-to-day operations of the series, as an executive producer and creative overseer. And you can tell that the episodes from the past couple of years have featured scenes that feel like throwbacks to the show’s core whimsical, surreal nature.
With this, the storylines have gotten pretty clever and interesting: from SpongeBob and Patrick’s hilarious take on Life Insurance policies to Plankton finally deciding to retire. And the writers came-up with a smart idea for an episode late last year called “Mermaid Pants”. Since Ernest Borgnine has passed away, and therefore cannot voice Mermaid Man, SpongeBob became his own version of Mermaid Man, Patrick his take on Barnacle Boy, and they joined Mr. Krabs as Captain Tightwad and Squidward as Dr. Negative to literally fight crime.
As for the guest stars: the likes of Betty White, Bob Barker and J.K. Simmons – as a band instructor similar in anger to his teacher in “Whiplash” – have recently appeared. John O’Hurley just returned as King Neptune (a role he originated back in 2000). And in February, Jon Hamm donned Bikini Bottom advertising guru Don Grouper in a nod to his “Mad Men” character for the half-hour special “Goodbye Krabby Patty?” The episode aired to 2.67 million viewers – a higher figure than each of the last five episodes of “The Simpsons” on FOX.
Last year, “SpongeBob”, passed the 200-episode mark and averaged 2.1 million viewers for each new episode debut. The show is currently airing episodes from Season 10, but an 11th season has already been greenlit by Nick. And a third “SB” movie will be released by Paramount on August 2, 2019. It was announced shortly after “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water” opened in Feb. 2015 and totaled $325 million worldwide.
But here’s why “SpongeBob” really matters right now. Earlier in March, Hillenburg, 55 made a public statement that he has been diagnosed with ALS – a disease that typically gives patients between two and five years to live. “Anyone who knows me knows that I will continue to work on ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ and my other passions for as long as I am able.”
Nickelodeon responded, “Steve Hillenburg is a brilliant creator who brings joy to millions of fans. Our thoughts and support are with Steve and his family during this difficult time.”
This is the show that has meant the world to him – and to millions around the globe – for two decades. SpongeBob is, has been, and will continue to be, a cultural phenomenon. Hillenburg wants to make sure the content he creates before the inevitable is meaningful to “SpongeBob” fans, especially those who have been with him and his yellow alter ego from the beginning. And for that, Hillenburg and the show deserve all the support in the world.