...portrayed by SpongeBob.
But seriously, this little square dude has been on the air since May 1999. With a wide and global fan base, SpongeBob has become an icon of Nickelodeon and one of the most recognizable fictional characters. Through the years, the show's quality has met changes, each being represented in three categories: the pre-movie
, and post sequel
era. What's more, each of these eras matches a trend with the quality of other shows and networks of their respective dates. As if the mysterious decline and rebound of the cartoon industry has been captured by the sponge. Much like Mickey Mouse and the Looney Tunes, it could be seen as a veteran show that met changes throughout its long run to suit the different generations watching.
The beginning (1999-2004)
Not just the golden age of SpongeBob, but arguably the golden age of Nickelodeon. This was when we had Rugrats, Hey Arnold!, and other classic gems. The first three seasons of SpongeBob are hailed as the peak of the show - starting out small in Season One but quickly gaining leverage in the next season onwards. The episodes of this time had witty humor that sometimes goes above childrens' heads, the characters were likeable and relatable, it had some good life lessons and was entertaining to watch, still holding up well today. Other networks had their share of gems from this period - Cartoon Network had things like Ed, Edd n Eddy and Courage the Cowardly Dog, while Disney's cartoons and even its sitcoms from then also hold up nostalgic value now.
The fall (2005-2015)
After the movie, Stephen Hillenburg and most of the writing crew left the show, which was supposed to have ended. However, its popularity would lead to a new cavalcade of writers creating episodes. Because of this, the show took a gradual slope in quality that became most prevalent by Seasons Six and Seven. By this time, Nickelodeon itself seemed to have run out of steam; the shows that came with it were mediocre at best and absolute garbage that couldn't make it past one season at worst. Promising pitches were rejected in favor of trainwreck shows in what almost felt like a desperate plea for attention. SpongeBob essentially became a life support system as other shows got the can just because they couldn't compete. Many other cartoons from this time (save a few exceptions) were also rather lukewarm in quality - Cartoon Network's live action gimmick also happened during this era. By 2010, things changed a bit when Cartoon Network began accepting cartoons again and Disney's revival period began. Nickelodeon's dark age, however, lasted just a little bit longer.
The revival (2015-)
Hillenburg returned to supervise the second SpongeBob movie and came back to helm the show's ninth season. After a decade of gross-out and cruel, unfunny jokes, the quality slowly reignited. No, it isn't as good as it was in its heyday, but SpongeBob's upgrade in goofiness makes for an entertaining watch. This was when Nickelodeon also returned to form starting with Harvey Beaks, followed by the first show in years that could actually hold up against the yellow sponge in ratings and popularity: The Loud House. Then came the return of classics in the return of TV movies. It took this long, but Nickelodeon finally got its spunk back. At this point of what many call the cartoon revival Era, we got shows like Steven Universe and Star Vs. The Forces of Evil which earned large fan bases of their own.