Psychologists Angeline Lillard and Jennifer Peterson of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville examined three groups of twenty 4-year-olds — one that watched SpongeBob for nine minutes, one that watched a slow-paced PBS cartoon about a preschool-aged boy (Caillou), and one that spent nine minutes drawing with crayons — and determined that SpongeBob’s “fast-paced” format harmed the children’s “executive function” (i.e. memory, attention, and self-regulation).
From the study:
The present study found that 9 minutes of viewing a popular fast-paced fantastical television show immediately impaired 4-year-olds’ [executive function], a result about which parents of young children should be aware.
In response to a request for comment, Nickelodeon told CNN: “Having 60 non-diverse kids, who are not part of the show’s targeted demo, watch 9 minutes of programming is questionable methodology. It could not possibly provide the basis for any valid findings that parents could trust.”
Despite the study’s seemingly negative conclusion, accompanying commentary [pdf] does leave open the possibility that, in the long-term, the effects of fact-paced shows might benefit those who must be adept at multitasking in order to succeed.
Then again, as the commenter notes, multitasking harms deep thinking and focus, so we’re back to square one.
tl;dr: Science say SpongeBob bad but me no see problem.
Original Airdate: May 1, 1999
Written by Stephen Hillenberg, Derek Drymon, and Tim Hill
May 1st. Mere minutes after the final silo of slime was dumped at the Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice Awards, in vogue with tradition, a new show made its debut. It was called SpongeBob SquarePants. From the moment its grotesque painted pirate barked, “Are you ready, kids?” all the way until its bizzaro sea foam funk outro, it began a new era in children’s television. It wasn’t the first Nicktoon to confuse or even terrify some parents (Rocko’s Modern Life and Ren & Stimpy, for starters), but it was probably one of the only ones that the whole family could enjoy without one of the parents retiring to the liquor cabinet before dipping into the gun drawer. What a concept.
Of course, I would not realize this until months later. I recall watching a little bit of the pilot when it first aired, but either I fell asleep or turned to something a little more violent or profane (my parent’s weren’t home – at the Medicare-ready age of 10, time was of the essence). Nevertheless, not long after my fashionably late introduction, I was eventually introduced to the one cell-laden pilot that got the whole ball rolling.
First and foremost, how perfect is the SpongeBob SquarePants intro? I’ll tell you how: it’s so good, they never thought to alter it after 12 years on the air. Even with the advent of HD, the changing in hands of direction and animation, and so forth, its still got the hand-drawn look that brought it into the limelight in the first place.
From the moment I saw that intricate painting of a pirate, whose only non-static body part was his scurvy-riddled mouth, spitting out “ARE YOU READY KIDS?”, I was taken aback. Who was this pirate, who the hell painted him, and how is he so cocksure that kids would be so excited to see what’s coming? A pirate (and thus a show) with balls, that’s what. From the beginning, Hillenberg, Mr. Lawrence and Co. knew they had a hit on their hands before it even aired.
What follows is thirty seconds of giddy absurdity, a coked up version of the series itself. Seeing our hero for the very first time in nothing but his underwear? Priceless. Soaking him up then exploding all of it out? Splendid. Attempting twice to put him all in one ordered being before getting it right? Terrific. They make absolutely no effort to give him proper dignity, establishing him as a happily hapless hero from the very beginning. My one gripe: when do we EVER get to see him playing his noseflute outside of the intro? Very troubling.
Well, now that we have that out of the way, let’s proceed onto the segments themselves shall we, yes? Yes.
The bigamy marriage of “Help Wanted” “Reef Blower” and “Tea at the Treedome” make a perfect pilot in part because of how they introduce their characters that will dominate the majority of the series. They are in part introduced by an omniscient French narrator who, after 12 years, has yet to be seen. With a voice both silvery and oily, he introduces us to what may be the most perfectly named city in all of cartoondom: Bikini Bottom. The creators forwent the cliche of combining a well known metropolis name with some nautical pun: Fishadelphia, or something. I think the fact that I can only really come up with one is further proof that Dreamworks will never call me back for my idea for an animated film about worms as they brave hot weather and rubber soles in a tragic but heartwarming (heartworming?) family film. Bastards.
In this small land of steel and reef resides one of the narrator’s favorite citizens, SpongeBob SquarePants (“Of course, he lives in a pineapple, you silly!”). For such a small critter, he’s got quite a big bed, and something must be explained about the blankly catatonic snail named Gary. Ah, but these mysteries are never solved. SB proudly announces, “Today’s the big day, Gary,” before rocketing from the bed to his preset outfit (I hope he washes those damn things). Riddle me this, universe: how many children’s television shows (or any non-Spice channel show for that matter) reveals their protagonist naked in the opening seconds of the show? It took Rugrats two seasons to do their “nakey” episode. This one brought it straight from beneath the crust of the can. I guess it’s one of the perks of having a character without discernible genitalia; you can incorporate nakedness into an entire season’s worth of gags without having anyone bat an eye.
From there, a gag that would drive many of the first episodes comes into place. How wonderfully un-awesome is SB’s gym? A banner screaming “I that, iCarly! You only have the incorrigible power of boring everyone (except of course the creepy crawlers that have access to photoshop and dirty books)! Pow! Biff!
Starry eyed and awestruck at the sight of the Krusty Krab (home of the enigmatic Krabby Patty - with a HELP WANTED sign in front!), SpongeBob realizes he can’t do it. That is until he is coaxed by his eternally buffoonish buffoon of a best friend, Patrick Star, into proceeding. Patrick, who usually has the intelligence of a sack of marshmallow peanuts,
sometimes moonlights as the supportive angel on SB’s shoulder. He can’t do much, but he has a heart as big as his stomach full of wisdom that is often dusted off for crucial moments. But fear not - throughout the rest of the series, he’ll undergo a Homer Simpson-like de-evolution in which parts of what brains he has mysteriously disappear.
Deciding once again that he’s ready, SpongeBob is ready to trot towards his idea of occupational heaven, much to the chagrin of his long suffering coot of a neighbor, Squidward Tentacles, who always looks like he’s been working for the Krusty Krab far, far too long. The only thing that could make it worse is to have SB joining him. He warns Mr. Krabs (his first name is Eugene and he sniffs dollars like they were PromQueen brand panties - why hasn’t the Jewish Board of Dissecting Shit for Anti-Semitism jumped on this?) of SpongeBob’s arrival, but SB’s entrance speaks for itself: tripping on a nail and turning into an underwater Jezzball. In no way (ahem) could that possibly channel into burger flipping! But hey, maybe that was his audition. OK, probably not, but even after that bit of tomfuckery he remains optimistic. So much, in fact, that he believes Squidward can vouch for him. No dice.
His mind made up, Mr. Krabs sends SpongeBob on a fool’s chase: retrieve a hydrodynamic spatula with port and starboard attachments, and let’s not forget the turbo drive! Too filled with pixie magic at the sight of a Krusty Krew hat (see above), SB gleefully embarks on his first mission. When he leaves, Krabs and Squidward laugh hideously at their mean joke. Not only does it reveal their mean streak, but it offers a rare moment in which Squidward and Krabs can actually agree and share in something. Usually, Squidward is disgruntled at being an overworked and underpaid free range cow, and Krabs just can’t stand the prospect of somebody breathing his fucking air on his own dime.
Their laughter is cut short by a smell, the kind of smelly smell that smells smelly, the thing that terrifies 90% of the earth’s population, above land and beneath: ANCHOVIES!!!!! Busloads of them! They are righteously dreaded, mostly for their jarring, monotonous meepmeepmeepmeepmeeping. Look at their eyes! How are they not tripping balls?
The establishment is in peril, as the impatient anchovies become an ocean bound to swallow up both Krabs and Squidward. Just when their asses are about to be minced, Spongebob returns with his holy grail and flies emphatically into the kitchen, kickstarting the series’ first whimsical musical sequence. The soundtrack? Just a track from another hip, high pitched geek of all high pitched geekdom: Tiny Tim.
Thus begins the tradition of musical sequences and montages in SpongeBob episodes. It’s something not well seen outside of Fox animated sitcoms, and not seen enough in kids’ shows. It provides animators the opportunity to practice comic timing as well as just throw in whatever sight gags they couldn’t fit in before without much dialogue. In the case of “Help Wanted” it’s a chance to be impish and whimsical (as well as somewhat surreal).
Those dastardly anchovies now out of the way, Spongebob is now on the crew, Squidward is another foot in the self-made grave, and Mr. Krabs likes money. A fitting end, and more chaos can only be underway!
With a name fit for an 80s porn queen, Sandy Cheeks adds a strange element to an already bizarre show. In the animated universe, they’re all in luck there, down in the muck there under the sea, and land creatures pose a threat greater than the Nazis, Al Qaida, and Train combined. A bucktoothed Texan with a warm heart, Sandy means no harm; she is down in Bikini Bottom to be the best scientist/karate master a squirrel can be. When SpongeBob first sees her in “Tea at the Treedome”, fear strikes in his heart, but for her own well being rather than his own (and that of his beloved town). His first encounter with her comes when she is involved in a squabble with a giant clam (don’t you hate when that happens?), which seems in her favor until it swallows her whole. This provides SpongeBob with a marvelous opportunity to be a boy scout and save the day with his Tiger’s Claw. After pulling the clam open (while stopping in the middle to be impressed with himself - “Hey, I’m actually doing it!”), a friendship is born.
What SpongeBob is too naive to realize though, is that Sandy might pose a greater threat than he anticipated when she speaks of an esoteric thing called “air.” After consulting Patrick (who apparently tans on his rock), SpongeBob mistakes it for “fancy talk,” and landlocks a nugget of useful advice: “When in doubt, pinky out!” Sandy invites SpongeBob over for Texas tea and cookies, and the advice is sure to be handy.
SpongeBob arrives prepared, flowers in hand. In the early episodes, it became slight speculation as to whether Sandy would become a gal pal or just a pal. As “Ripped Pants” will show, we arrive at a certain age when the pressure to impress begins to sow its seeds, especially when it pursuit of a piece of tail (because she’s got one, get it? No? Well it kinda sucked anyway). Their relationship by the end of “Tea” holds no pressure however, teaching a subtle lesson to kids (and grown ups who refuse to grow up) about it being OK to have members of the opposite sex just as friends. Especially since SpongeBob doesn’t have to worry about being a boyfriend for Sandy to kill him; she’s about to do that the moment he arrives at the treedome.
What SpongeBob fails to realize is that “air” is a little more than just fancy talk, and he begins to hack and dehydrate. He keeps telling himself, “I don’t need it,” because he wants to appear a man since a squirrel in a bikini is present, I mean come on! You’d do the same. He realizes he can’t take it, and begins to hopelessly chug water (but still with his pinky out, thanks to Patrick’s desperate reminders). His best friend arrives into the treedome to curb his insecurity, but Patrick soon finds his own advice useless, marking the first time Patrick solidifies himself as Bikini Bottom’s resident dumbass. Sandy arrives with the tea and cookies, only to horrifically shriek at the sight of SB and Patrick dried up and ready to be sold at a beachside stand. Not animated though, but live action photography. One thing you gotta love about this show is how it lovingly blends all different mediums. But as with all sitcoms, the problem is solved, and now SB and Patrick have their own helmets. A toast to new friendship is made, and its just as humorous as the misfired one from Young Frankenstein. Few pilots are as charming from beginning to the end.
What set SpongeBob apart from other shows is its lack of preachiness, its own special message tucked into the subtext, but remaining somewhat sheer. I guess that’s why I like it more than Hey Arnold! or Rocket Power. Not all episodes have a message, but when they do, they’re hardly overt about it. There are a few exceptions, which make it a more valuable show than people often let on. Having girls as just friends, remembering to ask what things are if you’re not sure (but from legitimate sources and not your idiot best friend), being yourself, etc. are all lessons taught on the show but not openly. It’s a show that has enough confidence in its audience to learn from it without having to be told exactly what to think. It only gets better from here.
I must (or must I?) apologize for the length of this post, but seeing how I needed to provide a much needed amount of context, it needed to happen. The next posts will be somewhat lengthy enough, it’s a work in progress, give it time I say!
- “Water would be nice!”
- “WHAT KIND OF PLACE IS THIS???”
- Sandwiched between these two is “Reef Blower,” a cute little short that is almost a pilot itself. It’s silent and slightly difficult to write about, but its a landmark for introducing the reef blower, which will come in handy in coming episodes.
First of all.
When I was in 7th/8th grade, I was past the point where I’d be eligible for children’s programming. My teenage teeth were coming in slowly, meaning it was time to pursue more “adult” things. I became exposed to new kinds of music, thanks in part to my then-nurtured love of skateboarding. Religious viewings of skate videos and frequent rounds of THPS exposed me to the sounds of so many bands I had only seen logos of: Dead Kennedys, Slayer, Primus, Flogging Molly, etc. They may have been old, but they were new and exciting to me. It was a change from the makeup and rap riddled nu-metal sounds I could only remotely relate to. Another reason why I should make nightly animal sacrifices to Activision and Neversoft: it was coming off the heels of my previous long-term musical obsession Weird Al Yankovic, which may have some connection to the show to which this blog owes allegiance.
Additionally, Nickelodeon just wasn’t offering much at the time; the Rugrats were getting All Growed Up, Hey Arnold! was growing stale, and its newer shows (with the exception of Fairly Odd Parents) incited only yawns. There was a contradiction; I watched Rocket Power quite a bit, but I found problems with it. First of all, Otto Rocket was a shitturd. I couldn’t relate to a character whose primary focus was to channel his incessant rebellion and cockheaded cockiness into downright annoyance. I could only relate to Sam, as I (like him) had a brain a million times sharper than my still-yet-to-be-learned kickflip.
I’m going down pointless routes. My goal is not to bemoan the loss of Nickelodeon’s innocence; that already has proven evident. Instead, this blog’s purpose in the Internetosphere is to trumpet the most original, brave, and throat-destroyingly funny Nicktoon to premiere since Ren and Stimpy: Spongebob Squarepants.
At a time when society told me NO CARTOONS ARE FOR KIDS AND YOU ARE GROWING HAIR IN YOUR NETHEREGIONS AND YOUR VOICE IS ALTERNATING BETWEEN THE BIG BOPPER AND MICHAEL JACKSON, SpongeBob couldn’t have come sooner. I was finally at the age of almighty self-consciousness, when I would continue to be evaluated and judged on everything about me until the day I died.
It was the same then as it is now. I couldn’t (or at least didn’t want to) play sports well. I was skinny as a twig (though I had more muscles than MuscleBob). I was looked upon as strange for my taste in music. I loved skateboarding, yet I was too much of a weenie to progress with it. And I loved this show. I quoted it with my fellow SpongeHeads (we were few but proud) immensely. It was fresh. It was different. It was unabashedly bizarre. It was everything I was, but afraid to expose it. Being in a catholic school in one of the top 3 wealthiest counties in the United States will do that. The show was just the catalyst I needed for me to let out my inner me. Everyone around me was a Squidward when I’d be Spongebob. I had a bit of a mean streak back then; my pre and mid pubescent anger was channelled in regrettable ways. That’s in the past, though, and I’m glad I had things like SB back then to ground me so I wouldn’t go manically depressed.
This is quite the informal introduction to what I hope will be a quite formal (yet still somewhat casual) blog about the show that still sometimes gets me through the tough times. It’s a kid’s show, but my love for it has kept me from turning into a crusty old coot in my early 20s. I’m not so sure about the episodes that have premiered since the movie came out, but what I do know is that there is nothing like the first 2 seasons. My not so hidden agenda is to go through each episode, one by one, and expose it for the masterful series it is so hailed to be.