By: Michael DePietro
NIAGARA UNIVERSITY N.Y — Are you ready kids?! Because on May 1st everyone’s favorite yellow sponge is turning 20 years old! Sure, the barnacle-heads over at Nickelodeon aren’t starting their “Best Year Ever” celebration until July 17th since that’s when the initial series run officially began, but any real goofy goober will know that the pilot episode first aired on May 1, 1999.
SpongeBob began life as the brainchild of American animator and marine biologist, Stephen Hillenburg. In 1989, while working at the Ocean Institute in Dana Point, California, Hillenberg wrote a comic titled “The Intertidal Zone” which he used to teach students about tide pool animals like sea sponges, starfish, octopus and crab. Hillenburg eventually went on to serve as director for another Nickelodeon classic, “Rocko’s Modern Life” until it’s cancellation in 1996. Afterward, Hillenburg revisited “The Intertidal Zone” comic and used it to form the basis for his own show which he would successfully pitch the following year.
While an animated series about sea critters might sound like a lot of hoopla at first, the show was an instant worldwide hit, eventually spawning two financially successful theatrical films (with a third slated for release next year). With countless memorable gags, infinitely meme-able moments and just enough innuendo to keep parents entertained, the show now has 244 episodes under its wumbo-sized Mermaid Man utility belt, and is currently Nickelodeon’s longest running program.
Despite the series’ incredible string of success, recently the show was met with tragedy. Sadly, Stephen Hillenburg passed away last November from complications brought on by ALS. After his passing, a legion of adoring fans petitioned the NFL to play the David Glen Eisley song, “Sweet Victory” from the episode “Band Geeks” in tribute at Super Bowl LIII. For a brief wonderful moment, it looked like the fans had succeeded— that was until Maroon 5 singer, Adam Levine took his shirt off and *dolphin noises* it all up.
Some may wonder if after 20 years the series is ready to call it quits, to which I reply tartar sauce. There’s simply too many loose ends to tie up. Will SpongeBob ever get his boating licence? What ever happened to Pearl’s mom? And what exactly is the Krabby Patty secret formula? Regardless of what the future holds for the denizens of Bikini Bottom, the fact is that the show has left an incredible imprint on children’s television and the world owes Mr. Hillenberg a tremendous debt of gratitude for it. Over the course of its two decade run, SpongeBob has brought joy to a generation of children while teaching them some of life’s most invaluable lessons along the way— like how to protect yourself from sea-bear attacks, when the best time to wear a striped sweater is and whether mayonnaise is, or is not, an instrument.
SpongeBob’s “Best Year Ever” officially kicks off July 17th with the premier of “SpongeBob’s Big Birthday Blowout,” a new special mixing live action and animation and featuring the series’ voice cast playing human versions of themselves.
Feature image by Norlando Pobre attribution 2.0 generic (CC by 2.0)