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My introduction to SpongeBob SquarePants

The years of 1998-1999 were a crazy time of my late childhood for me. The popularity of Pok'emon was going strong, Sony and Nintendo were giants in the gaming industry with their 3D consoles, memorable theater flicks were aplenty and I was breezing through middle school. On top of it all was trying to finish my homework as speedy as possible for some weekday afternoon programming, mostly from the Toonami block on Cartoon Network. Cut to spring of 1999 and a commercial for the premiere of a fresh new Nicktoon was on its way and soon taking over the timeslot of Nickelodeon.

Just to clear up some confusion, after the '99 Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards the premiere date was bumped up from July to May.

I wasn't sure what to make of it at first. It was like it combined the charm and humor from Rocko's Modern Life with the zany episode stories of the Angry Beavers, which is funny because after doing some digging around it just so happened that the show's creator, Stephen Hillenburg used to be a creative director for a few episodes of Rocko.

So getting back to Toonami, it was at this time that its lineup of anime on weekdays consisted of Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z. Yeah, not much on its schedule during the period but I was becoming an anime nut at the time thanks to Toonami and some anime merchandise I found at my video stores. Well, come May 1st was when SpongeBob was set to air its first episode and I was hesitant about missing the shows, but ultimately decided to channel flip and watch it anyway. The episode, "Help Wanted" had a simple plot to introduce the star character, SpongeBob is reluctant to become an employee of the Krusty Krab, and proves his worth by saving the manager and cashier, Mr. Krabs and Squidward from unruly customers.

It was just as basic as a cartoon pilot episode would go, having a bit of a bumpy start by having character introduction with wonky, dated animation compared to later episodes, but it was done decently here. Future season one episodes were also pretty kid friendly, but had maybe one or two adult jokes thrown in to cater to older viewers.  After Summer break and going back to school, I had friends who would chat with me during lunchtime talking about how great the show was and discussed our favorite episodes, much like how we would also talk about Pok'emon during the same year, and well, speaking of which....

Around the Fall season of 1999, the weekday afternoon schedule for Kids WB programming had started putting the Pok'emon anime on its timeslot, along with a couple of other cartoons from the lineup. As much as I began watching the yellow sponge, being able to watch reruns of Pok'emon after school as well as the build up of the first Pok'emon movie premiering in theaters had me missing some episodes of the show I was beginning to love. Now I could have easily recorded one show or the other via a VHS tape, but this was during a time when I was living at an uncle's house without an actual home, so the televisions were being shared.

Next year I had moved to Gloucester, Virginia to move into a new home and finally have a TV of my own again. SpongeBob was still in its first season and I got more time to see episodes that I missed out on, but later in the year the second season soon followed, and more memorable episodes were starting to surface. Episodes like Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy, Survival of the Idiots and Band Geeks were just a handful of fan favorites.

Some fans consider "Band Geeks" to not only be the best episode of the series, but think of it as a true series finale as SpongeBob's ill-tempered neighbor Squidward gets the success and fame he's wanted.

The third season premiered in 2001 and lasted all the way up until 2004, and it was at this point that I was in high school while Toonami had more of a library of anime in its timeslot, so you could say I was pretty busy with trying to keep track of the show listings. Much like the season before it, season 3 also had a handful of great episodes, and the adult jokes were becoming more apparent. Some of the friends I made in middle school were long gone, but the new ones I made talked about the show as much as they did now that it had a lot more episodes than before to go back to talking about, and on top of the height of its popularity it was overflowing with merchandise to boot.

By late 2004, Stephen Hillenburg had directed the SpongeBob SquarePants movie accompanied by some of the show's writers at the time and retained the same quality of the show, having humor that caters to both kids and adults as the film crams in a plot of King Neptune's crown getting stolen. But while the flick became a success, the show took a nosedive in quality after Stephen and his hired writers ran out of steam and left the series sometime after the upcoming fourth season.

Some of the newer episodes were hit or miss, but episodes like "The splinter" and "A pal for Gary" were enough to have once fans of the show to stop watching and move on with other cartoons that were significantly better, or just sticking with watching the previous seasons.

Obviously I was part of the group of fans who left, what was once a show that had fun, memorable characters was now being dumbed down for its target audience and lacking the quality that made its first three seasons so great. With Hillenburg not around to give any supervision in the show's writing, the characters were becoming flanderized and generic. SpongeBob was equally as dumb as Patrick, Squidward is more aggressive towards SpongeBob, Plankton felt like a tacked on villain and Sandy wasn't appearing as much. To put it simply, anyone could tell that the novelty had gone stale and the show wasn't being as talked about anymore, at least from the people I knew at the time, and people my age.

It wasn't until years later, in 2015 that Stephen Hillenburg made a comeback to write the second SpongeBob movie, Sponge Out of Water and ex-fans felt that there was a glimmer of hope with him returning to the show. As exciting as the news was, Stephen sadly passed away from ALS just a few years later, but his yellow creation is still going strong to this day, with a supposed third movie coming soon.

As I look back on my memories of watching the show in its golden years, I will say that SpongeBob was one of the few cartoons that helped me cope with my difficult years of high school. Depression was taking its toll on me, but it was all thanks to the antics of a talking yellow sponge that I kept my chin up and continued moving forward. It's funny that you can take any out of context quote from a familiar episode of the show and almost anyone will recognize it, and it just goes to show just how strong it was as a program for kids and adults alike. Thanks for the memories SpongeBob, and thank YOU Stephen Hillenburg, for creating such a memorable and inventive cartoon.

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Benjanime Posted on Jul 20, 2019 at 04:02 PM

@Mr. Magic nice find! i think the last time they had 2D cartoon characters interacting with the nick logo was that hey arnold one where arnold and gerald are playing baseball and the baseball hits the screen.

Mr Magic Posted on Jul 20, 2019 at 12:16 PM

I still remember the 1999 bumper where he sneezed the Nick logo.

jkatz Posted on Jul 20, 2019 at 01:38 AM

It's really crazy to think just how big Spongebob got and how long it's been around. I remember a time when it wasn't on Nickelodeon yet, but barely. The early seasons, which did a lot more surreal stuff like have live-action occasionally, are the ones I like most.

Rick Ace Rhodes Posted on Jul 19, 2019 at 11:33 AM

I remember the promo campaign in the beginning. Nickelodeon really was hyping up SpongeBob to be their next big Nicktoon.

Mr Magic Posted on Jul 19, 2019 at 02:40 AM

All that bickering over a drink. Which the customer never ordered.

Glad Squidward stepped up and gave the customer a taste of his own medicine.

Benjanime Posted on Jul 19, 2019 at 02:33 AM

@Mr. Magic

you have to admit though, there was that moment in pizza delivery when he stood up for spongebob after a disgruntled customer gave him a taste of reality, seeing squidward put his cynicism aside to help spongebob is pretty rare.

Mr Magic Posted on Jul 19, 2019 at 02:28 AM

Squidward was a jerk. But a likeable jerk.

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