Grandchildren provide grandparents with an opportunity to experience things they would otherwise miss completely. Watching TV with kids, for instance, allows you to see what captures the attention of developing minds at various stages. So for a few years that meant watching SpongeBob SquarePants with the boys. One was immediately struck with the subtle wit of the series, based in an imaginary seabed town mischievously named Bikini Bottom, inhabited by the aforementioned sea sponge and an array of sea creature friends—Patrick Star (fish), Squidward Tentacles, the greedy Mr. Krabs, proprietor of the restaurant Krusty Krab and the evil Plankton, owner of the rival and far less successful eatery, the Chum Bucket. After close to 20 years on the air the series’ popularity had made it a media franchise, as well as the highest rated series to ever air on Nickelodeon, and the most distributed property of MTV Networks. As of late 2017, the media franchise generated $13 billion in merchandising revenue for Nickelodeon. So it was sad to learn that SpongeBob’s creator Stephen Hillenburg has died at age 57 from ALS.
There are nearly 250 episodes of the program airing in syndication. The program for years was the most popular children’s show on TV, having won Emmys and British TV awards. But the show had enough humor and sly wit to captivate adults as well. College students were known to stage viewing binges of the show. Hillenburg’s background was marine biology, and the program shows that, with its gentle but pointed messaging about protecting our seas from pollution. Rather than heavy-handed preachiness about protecting the environment Hillenburg approached the issue through the lens of the goofy optimist SpongeBob—always seeing the bright side of things. Guest voices on the show included the likes of Johnny Depp, Victoria Beckham, David Bowie, Scarlett Johansson and Kristen Wiig. SpongeBob has been translated into 50 languages, has spawned three feature-length movies and the Broadway play has been running since last year to full houses.
The closest thing we had to SpongeBob as kids was Rocky the Flying Squirrel. Again it was a cartoon series that appealed to kids and adults alike with its mixture of wry humor, puns, cultural and topical satire. Running from 1959 to 1964—in some ways the height of the Cold War– the show nonetheless spoofed Russia with its Boris and Natasha spy characters. And like SpongeBob, as I recall, parents enjoyed the show as much as kids.
From all of us at the Bay Observer, we wish the best to all of our readers in this holiday season 2018!