Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? Well, for a time, I did, alongside Spongebob and his cast of underwater weirdos — and dang, did I ever love being down there. I said before that for a time, I enjoyed watching Spongebob Squarepants, and I meant it — that show was one of the few 'new age' cartoons on Nickelodeon that I loved watching on TV when it first aired, because it was new, exciting, crazy, and most of all, funny.
It was one of those ridiculous, over-the-top cartoons that didn't take itself too seriously, and while the characters had their problems, most of them were just entertaining idiots getting caught up in entertaining shenanigans. And I didn't have a problem with that.
Spongebob himself was such a fun character. He was optimistic and kooky, oftentimes annoyed the you-know-what out of everybody around him (especially poor Squidward), but he had a good heart and he never did anything out of hate or malice.
He was a good-natured goofball, and he had a lot of charm and humor, just like Patrick, and Sandy, and Squidward, and Plankton, and Mr. Krabs; the whole gang had charm to them for a cartoon about underwater creatures that could talk, wore clothes, and lived in an underwater city called Bikini Bottom. It was an ultimately harmless bit of good fun, and I never had a problem with it.
Except, well, until the show's fourth season started.
Now, the first three seasons, for me, are what I considered classic Spongebob. Spongebob and his friends getting caught up in some wacky something or another, most of which are either brought on by Spongebob, Patrick, or Plankton, and the whole premise and humor comes from Spongebob dealing with the issue in some way.
There was never a heavy-handed message, anvils weren't dropped on my head with words tied to them, and usually while the characters could be jerks, there was always a moment where you'd be surprised — either by Squidward showing some decency toward his annoying neighbors, Mr. Krabs actually having a heart, Spongebob saving the day, or the rare moments where Patrick's brain functioned properly. And it was fun. Not all the episodes were great, sure, but for every sinker, there were plenty of solid catches (yes, fish puns, you will live).
But that changed after the first movie aired, when the fourth season started. The show itself wasn't too much different, that much was true, and I still had a lot of laughs and chuckles at the silliness. However, as the season progressed, and as each new season began to air, I started to notice something that, as a fan of the show, I found... disconcerting.
The characters weren't quite acting like themselves.
Oh, sure, they maintained their typical qualities: Mr. Krabs was greedy, Squidward was grumpy, Patrick was stupid, Sandy was smart, and Spongebob was the semi-dense catalyst for problem after problem in his own way.
Yet, the more episodes I watched, the more I started to notice that these qualities — their most prominent, and also most negative characteristics — were becoming more and more pronounced. At the time, I was merely a teenager, so I didn't give it much thought, but I was growing less and less interested in watching. In fact, after the sixth season — a season I didn't even fully watch, unlike the previous ones — I stopped tuning into Spongebob Squarepants as frequently as I did. I still watched episodes from time to time, but as a whole, it was nowhere near the same level of fun it used to be.
If I'm being honest, as of this writing, I haven't watched Spongebob for well over five years. I haven't seen any new episodes, nor have I seen the new movie, and I'm quite content with that.
The reason is, simply, that I no longer care for the show. I dare say it's fallen into the category of shows I used to enjoy, perhaps even love, but now I consider them animated trash that I wouldn't waste even five minutes on.
Truthfully, I'd say Spongebob has fallen even lower than that level, however; it's entered a very small nice, reserved only for the cartoons that I believe to be truly awful, the worst of the worst, alongside only two other cartoons: the new Family Guy and the much reviled Teen Titans Go!
Now, I want to make it clear before I continue: if you — yes, you — reading this happen to enjoy any of these shows, or your friends or family or kids or whomever you may know, enjoys one or all of these, I hold nothing against you, and I have no problem with this.
As with most things, cartoons and TV shows, in general, are subjective, and what one person enjoys, another may despise, while a third may not have any opinion one way or the other. But on a personal level, these are three of the worst cartoons I've ever watched, which is sad considering two of them — Spongebob Squarepants and Family Guy — used to be shows I really liked, and the third is the discarded remains of a much, much better cartoon I love.
Interestingly enough, actually, nowadays I tend to compare Family Guy and Spongebob with each other. Both cartoons started off as something fresh and exciting, and both had a lot of humor with them, the main difference being their intended audience — the former was one for adults and older teens, the latter was one aimed at kids, but it could be enjoyed by all ages.
And both, for me, fell victim to the same problem — Spongebob after the first movie, when season four began, and Family Guy when it returned after its first cancellation — a problem that has persisted into later seasons for both shows: the characters.
I said in my review of Steven Universe that what I loved most about the show was its characters. Well, on the flip side, what I despise most about Spongebob are its characters, which saddens me because there was a time when that wasn't the case.
I used to laugh at this show. I used to smile at this show. I used to enjoy the humor and the characters, quite a bit. No, they weren't deep or realistic like the characters from Steven Universe, but that was never the intention as far as I believed.
You weren't supposed to feel sympathy or attachment to Patrick because he wasn't all that intelligent, you weren't meant to find depth in Spongebob's struggle to be a good frycook, and you really weren't expected to put too much stock in the former friendship between Mr. Krabs and Plankton that has since become a heated (if a bit one-sided) rivalry.
And that was okay. It was innocent and fun, that kind of cartoon you could watch for a good laugh without having to analyze anything or think about anything deep afterwards. It was the kind of cartoon that, for me at least, you could use as a way to, shall we say, detoxify after a heartfelt show like Steven Universe.
But that all changed because the characters changed. Or rather, they didn't change: they got worse.
The qualities that they once had, the ones that gave them their flaws, became increasingly focused on, to the point where those qualities became their sole characterization. Patrick was a good-natured, but slow-witted character who tended to say and do dumb things, but he was always a good guy at heart. Then came the change, and all of a sudden, Patrick's intelligence level has plummeted, and he's become a crude jerk, even to his so-called best friend, destroying and ruining things for no other reason than because he could.
Mr. Krabs was a greedy, money-loving businessman who had a soft spot for his daughter and, deep down, was a decent fellow, regretting bad decisions when he realized he messed up. Then came the change, and gone were his gentler qualities, replaced only by his love for money, money, and more money, to the point where he's upped his prices, kicked out customers, and abused others if it meant he could get a couple of pennies out of it.
These are two examples, but Spongebob, the very character the show is named after, got hit with it the worst. Through my eyes, Spongebob was always a fun-loving big kid at heart kind of character, the guy who enjoyed being silly and having fun, who didn't care what others thought of him. At the same time, he was a caring, decent individual, who worked hard at his job, and went out of his way to help those around him, even though he would sometimes just make things worse.
He was well-meaning, though, and his simple way of looking at things was a nice contrast when you looked at shows where the characters or situations were super serious.
But after the movie aired, when the show continued into its later seasons, Spongebob's character took a nose dive into losing the qualities that made him likable and as relatable as one could relate to a talking yellow sponge. He became almost as stupid as Patrick, and his sometimes annoying aspects became the center of who he was, to the point where he was turned into a legitimately irritating presence, always laughing and smiling and making problems worse without a care in the world.
Combine that with the fact that the show has taken a much more mean-spirited edge as the seasons progress, along with a bizarre love for gross and disgusting humor and imagery, and I honestly have a hard time believing that the Spongebob I watched back in 2003 is the same Spongebob that I last saw some five years ago. Unfortunately, that's become the case, and I wish I knew why that was.
The best I reasoning I can come up with is that, ultimately, the creator of the show or the writers who made it so enjoyable stepped away. And, as with any long-running show where the people who gave it its heart aren't around anymore, the show changes.
New people step in and take the reins, and in doing so, new directions are taken. This isn't always a bad thing, mind you, but in the case of Spongebob Squarepants, I think it was. I could be wrong, of course; the creator and the lead writers may still very well be on board with the show, and if that's the case, then I couldn't begin to guess why things wound up the way they did.
Whatever the case may be, the magic that this show once held, along with all the charm and genuine humor brought about by the characters and the situations the characters got stuck in, has long since disappeared for me.
It was never an amazing cartoon, but I truly did use to enjoy watching Spongebob. Unfortunately, those days are long gone, and I'm left with a sense of somberness when regarding the way the show seemed to just fall apart.
It's still going strong on Nickelodeon as far as I'm aware, which is fine for the people who still enjoy it for the new fans it brings in, but I don't think I'll ever watch it again unless there's really nothing else on TV — or if one of the older episodes, back when the show had heart, are airing.
As a fan, I can only wonder why things went the way they did, and I wonder if the creators recognize that, for me, and for many others, this once fun cartoon has degraded greatly in quality. I suppose it would be wishful thinking on my part, and in the end, I know it won't amount to much. The show will keep getting renewed, and the episodes will keep getting cranked out, as it is one of the most — if not the most — popular shows on Nickelodeon right now.
Ah well. Such is life.
At the very least, I can still remember the episodes I liked the most, and with them, I can remember the days when Spongebob Squarepants made me laugh and smile instead of cringe and turn the channel.