Tag: Nickelodeon

RIP Stephen Hillenburg, Creator of ‘SpongeBob Squarepants’

 

Public reaction to the death of SpongeBob Squarepants creator Stephen Hillenburg, who died from ALS last Monday, might have confused those unfamiliar with his most famous work. Here was a man being mourned across all ages and demographics, from the trades to Twitter, for creating … a cartoon made and marketed for children?

But this gets SpongeBob, Hillenburg ’s magnum opus, all wrong. At its best, SpongeBob was not simply a kids’ cartoon. From the beginning, Hillenburg brought to the show a unique tone and aesthetic that drew from his background in marine biology. He attended the show’s pitch meeting in a Hawaiian shirt. SpongeBob, the relentlessly upbeat, cleaning utensil-shaped main character, lives in a pineapple under the sea; Squidward, his grouchy next-door cephalopod, inhabits an Easter Island head. And the opening theme song is sung by a portrait of a (human) pirate. Though a veteran of Rocko’s Modern Life, another successful Nickelodeon program, Hillenburg had something all his own in mind from the start.

The result of this tonal intentionality was, at its peak, a delightful, offbeat, and sometimes surreal mix of childish humor for its purported target audience, reinforced by subtle or obscure (though never tasteless) comedy for older viewers. “Help Wanted,” the first episode, which premiered on May 1, 1999 (and which I viewed then as a five-year-old), is a good example of this. On the surface, it is a silly story about a fruit-residing sponge who decides to apply for a job as a fry cook at the Krusty Krab, a fast food restaurant run by a miserly crab in his underwater hometown of Bikini Bottom, a place populated by other anthropomorphic aquatic creatures. Some puerile humor ensues; entering the restaurant, SpongeBob trips on an errant nail and proceeds to spend about a minute tripping, falling, and bouncing around. It’s very silly stuff; slapstick taken just up to the point of absurdity.

Farewell to Spongebob, RIP Hillenberg

 

Stephen Hillenberg, the creator of Spongebob Squarepants, died yesterday at the age of 57. He died of ALS.

Hillenberg was a marine biologist and science teacher, which is what gave him the inspiration for his absurdist Bikini Bottom city of marine loonies. Like Looney Tunes at its best, Spongebob Squarepants was both ridiculously childish and impishly clever, and was one of those few cartoons to appeal to kids and adults both, without patronizing either or burying sex jokes for the adults.

Even now, some of the sketches still make me giggle just by thinking about them (particularly Squidward and the sea bear, which had a deft escalation of mishaps, and layering in of multiple punch lines — as that sort of humor goes, the scene is technically brilliant in its timing and execution). All of my children loved the show too, and each has their own favorite scenes that they’ll act out with each other, and their own favorite characters (for me it was Plankton, or perhaps Squidward, or maybe Mermaid Man… it’s hard to choose). It’s the sort of show that lends itself to frequent recollection.

Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America are glad to see red state Democrats push back against Hillary Clinton’s suggestion that she lost those states because of racism and misogyny but also get a kick out watching the Democrats squirm.  They also discuss the rough confirmation road ahead for Trump CIA nominee Gina Haspel as a result of her involvement in the enhanced interrogation program during the George W. Bush administration.  And they slam Viacom for going dark on all if its cable channels for 17 minutes Wednesday morning in solidarity with the national school walkout event promoting gun control, including kids’ channels like Nickelodeon and Nick Jr.  Of course, they then feel compelled to offer their assessments of Nick Jr staples “Bubble Guppies” and “Paw Patrol.”