‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ rides a 20-year success wave of nautical nonsense

Ahoy, Maties! ‘SpongeBob’ celebrates being the Nickelodeon captain for two decades

“SpongeBob SquarePants” celebrates its 20-year anniversary Friday on Nickelodeon.

There are many notable cartoon characters in TV’s history, but none quite like the absorbent, yellow and porous “SpongeBob SquarePants.”

Believe it or not, two decades have sailed since its splashy debut, which is unique in the fact that it crosses generations of parents growing up on the show and then passes it along to their children while it’s still on-air. The four-sided title character and his friends prepare to party like it’s 1999 (when the series actually began) as they mark the maritime milestone with the special episode “SpongeBob’s Big Birthday Blowout,” premiering Friday on Nickelodeon.

Here, SpongeBob, Patrick Star, Mr. Krabs, Sandy Cheeks, Squidward Tentacles and Plankton play human versions of their animated characters, which also features guest star David Hasselhoff (“Baywatch,” “America’s Got Talent”) as himself, the same “role” he had in 2004’s “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie.”

Patrick and SpongeBob journey to the surface world, where they come across a few familiar characters during the lunchtime rush at The Trusty Slab restaurant. Just to mention, the eatery’s naming similarity to that of the crustacean-owned underwater version sounds a bit fishy. While all that is happening on dry ground, the Bikini Bottom residents are diving into plans for a tidal wave of a surprise party for SpongeBob. That’s one heck of a celebration considering 760 creatures have made appearances at some point on the series. Additional guest stars include Kel Mitchell (“All That”), Jack Griffo (“The Thundermans”) and Daniella Perkins (“Knight Squad”).

There’s sadness surrounding this celebration, however, as series creator Steve Hillenburg passed away in November 2018 from ALS. Hillenburg, a former marine biology teacher, used his love of the sea and artistic talent to create stories and illustrations that he would use as teaching tools for his students that ultimately transformed into the residents of Bikini Bottom.

Following the success of the 2004 movie, and a 2015 follow-up titled “Sponge Out of Water,” the franchise has a third film getting ready to shove off in 2020. “It’s a Wonderful Sponge” sees a flashback to younger versions of Patrick and SpongeBob, who meet at camp as kids and find themselves forming a fast bond when SpongeBob’s pet Gary is snail-napped by Poseidon and taken to the Lost City of Atlantic City. Tom Kenny, Bill Fagerbakke, Clancy Brown, Rodger Bumpass and Mr. Lawrence are among those expected to reprise their voice roles.

There also are reports of some spin-off series in the works, and though no specifics had been released as of this writing, potential ideas could focus on Sandy, Plankton or BFFs Patrick and SpongeBob. Let’s hope that maybe Squidward is included in those plans and finally gets some recognition for his clarinet crooning and artistic whimsy.

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