“SpongeBob SquarePants” isn’t just the latest animated hit; boxer shorts bearing his bright, yellow smiling face are No. 1 in adult loungewear, and there are SpongeBob CheeseNips. It’s an official TV phenomenon, and to celebrate, Nickelodeon will air a primetime special, “SpongeBob’s House Party.” It’s about time.
One reason for the hype is that “SpongeBob” has universal appeal: Show has reached out to preschoolers, tweens and college students. It has a wider demographic reach than the much bawdier former Nick sensation “Ren & Stimpy,” but “SpongeBob” offends the rare few with its simplistic optimism and highly stylized animation.
Primetime, however, is hardly new territory for “SpongeBob,” which reaps some of its best ratings with its 8 p.m. rerun. The special is built around several live-action segments featuring Patchy the Pirate (Tom Kenny), the unofficial president of the SpongeBob fan club.
Just like his hero, Patchy is throwing a party, but some of his guests aren’t cooperating, especially his pet parrot. Interspersed between Patchy’s antics is SpongeBob’s own party problems. SpongeBob (voiced by Kenny) receives a “How to Throw a Party” kit as a free gift from the grocery store and takes all of the book’s instructions to heart when he decides to throw his soiree.
His meticulous preparations require a schedule that breaks down the entire party into five-minute increments; nametags that provide too much information and topic cards for guests that include suggestions such as “discuss the philosophical nature of irony.” In the midst of his micromanaging, SpongeBob gets locked out of his own Pineapple house and ends up spending the night in jail.
With such a diverse audience, it’s nice to see head writer Merriwether Williams resist the temptation to aim beyond its original target audience of kids. Instead, Williams and creator Stephen Hillenburg deftly give the humor enough edge to amuse but not to offend.
The live action is silly, even by preschool standards, with a heavy emphasis on slapstick and sight gags. As Patchy, Kenny is trying to pick up where “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” left off, but the show still belongs to SpongeBob.
Technical credits are stellar. Animation director Andrew Overtoom has created a very stylistic and vivid animated world that smacks of retro pastiche. And music editor Nicolas Carr gets points for finding a way to incorporate Lux Interior of the Cramps in the show, even if it is as a singing parrot.