NEW YORK — Count 'em up: All those dogs, cats, mice and ducks overrunning Toon Town!
Now consider this: In the annals of animation, how many buck-toothed, knickers-clad, marine-dwelling kitchen sponges have ever won a stake in the cartoon turf?
Perhaps you're beginning to see what's so special about "SpongeBob SquarePants," a much-deserved sponge paean from Nickelodeon — and, by the way, possibly the funniest thing on TV.
After two years making waves every weekend, "SpongeBob" will surely soak up even more attention in prime time. Now the opening chantey ("Absorbent and yellow and porous is he!") can be heard at 6 p.m. EDT Monday through Thursday.
But there's much more to be said about Bikini Bottom's favorite son.
Here in this sea-bedroom community, SpongeBob lives in a fully furnished, hollowed-out pineapple with his pet snail, Gary, who unaccountably mews like a kitten.
Next door is cranky Squidward, a misanthropic mollusk whose only interests seem to be playing the clarinet and keeping SpongeBob at tentacle's length. But avoiding his nemesis is hard, since both neighbors work at the Krusty Krab, a local dive (sorry) where SpongeBob is unmatched as a fry cook.
Adding to the laughs are kookie asides and zany sight gags in the best Warner Bros. Looney Tunes tradition.
For instance, when a jellyfish befriends SpongeBob and follows him home, sourpuss Squidward grumps, "I wouldn't let that thing in my house even if it was potty-trained." Next scene: The jellyfish delicately hovers over a commode, reading a newspaper.
Stephen Hillenburg, who created the series, is qualified to create aquatic absurdity, thanks not only to his postgraduate degree from the California Institute of the Arts, but also to his undergraduate studies: He majored in marine biology.
Clearly, Hillenburg was paying close attention during Oceans 101.
"We know that fish don't walk," he assures a reporter, "and that there is no organized community with roads, where cars are really boats.
"And if you know much about sponges, you know that living sponges aren't square."
In truth, even SpongeBob SquarePants isn't always square. He can instantly morph into other forms for the sake of a comic moment. (Any grown-ups out there remember similarly versatile Tom Terrific?)
SpongeBob can play his nose like a flute, assume the shape of the Lone Star State or turn himself into a surfboard (with the added comedy payoff of a surfer-boy fish congratulating him, "Duuude! That was awwwwwwwesome!").
Staying true to his poriferous pedigree, SpongeBob is always resilient and ever receptive to anything life sails at him.
"There are a lot of things about this show that mirror Nickelodeon's core philosophy," says Nick exec Cyma Zarghami. "SpongeBob is an innocent going through his day building his self-esteem. He always prevails, at least in own his eyes."
An inspiration, SpongeBob's not just funny, he's unsinkable — even in the depths!