Paramount+, which launched earlier this month, is still in its infancy, but it’s not too early to proclaim what the fledgling streaming service does best: peddling nostalgia to Gen X and millennial subscribers. Its slim pickings of exclusives include leftovers from CBS All Access, like Star Trek: Discovery and a reboot of The Twilight Zone, as well as a six-episode reunion of the original Real World cast and the SpongeBob SquarePants spinoff Kamp Koral. While these are all varying degrees of watchable—and successful at nostalgia baiting—it’s the ViacomCBS back catalog that is the real draw. You got the first few seasons of The Real World and a handful of MTV Unplugged episodes; all of Daria and Beavis and Butthead; all the other Star Trek TV series (plus some of the movies); the OG All That cast, The Amanda Show, Clarissa Explains It All, Kablam, Rugrats, Rocko’s Modern Life … I could go on, but then I’d probably give into my impulse to go watch these old-school favorites.
The promise of rewatching all of these shows in full is a particularly strong sell for me, someone raised on a healthy diet of Nicktoons. I had an extremely crappy week this week, for example, and I comforted myself by indulging in classic episodes of SpongeBob—which is how I noticed that, curiously, there is one memorable 11-minute installment absent from Paramount+’s otherwise complete collection. And it’s a segment that, as we are reassessing the politics and representational problems of many beloved movies and TV episodes, seems to have been intentionally left out. (Representatives from Paramount+ did not respond to a request for comment by publication time.)
The 15th episode of SpongeBob’s third season is composed of two segments: “The Great Snail Race” (best remembered for its “Squidward … Tortellini?!” kicker) and “Mid-Life Crustacean.” “Mid-Life Crustacean” is about Mr. Krabs going through an existential crisis over his age; maybe those cool kids SpongeBob and Patrick can teach him how to be young and hip again? Of course, SpongeBob and Patrick are lovable losers, so their idea of fun is doing laundry, going to the library, and picking up litter. Boring!
But when Patrick suggests a more adult activity, Mr. Krabs perks up: “You’re going to miss … the panty raid,” Patrick says, in a tenor that belies his sudden skeeviness. Now that’s the good stuff, Mr. Krabs all-but-says; checking out a woman’s underwear drawer without her knowing is some real cool-guy ish. It’s a joke, because this is SpongeBob, after all. The woman whose panties the boys are raiding turns out to be Mr. Krabs’ mom, which is all kinds of messed up, especially when she catches them in action. Maybe Mr. Krabs should just go back to being old, after all.
It’s a great episode, like most SpongeBob episodes of its era, even if it does feel a little uncomfortably adult in retrospect. Yet during my SpongeBob marathon the other day, I found that Episode 15 on Paramount+ no longer included the “Mid-Life Crustacean” segment, instead ending after “Snail Race.” It feels like a pointed exclusion, especially when one of Paramount+’s prime selling points is having the full collection of Nickelodeon’s longest-running cartoon.
SpongeBob fans picked up the omission of “Mid-Life Crustacean” almost immediately, as per this YouTube video published March 12, eight days after Paramount+ launched.
What’s especially odd is that Amazon Prime, which still streams much of SpongeBob, does include “Mid-Life Crustacean” in its catalog. But with a high-profile new platform to launch, it seems as if Paramount+ execs, taking cues from other streaming platforms like Disney+ and HBO Max, reevaluated the episode and found its content perhaps too lurid for its target audience. After all, SpongeBob, Patrick, and Mr. Krabs literally break into a woman’s bedroom with the intention of rifling through her underwear drawer. A lesson in consent or respect or equality, this isn’t.
That said, “Mid-Life Crustacean” is nowhere on the level of offensiveness of, say, Gone With the Wind, which was notably removed from HBO Max until it returned with a disclaimer referencing its archaic, offensive racial stereotypes. Disney+ has similar qualifiers before movies like Dumbo, which features a murder of minstrel-inspired crows. (You can’t watch Dumbo, or other shows and movies like Peter Pan and The Muppet Show, at all when using a children’s profile, as if to protect kids from stumbling upon problematic content without a parent around to help explain what makes it so.)
Paramount+—and all streaming services not named Netflix at this point—are media conglomerates’ main bid for survival in a sea of free content; they’re brand ambassadors in a way that, say, Amazon Prime is not. If you’re watching SpongeBob on Amazon and suddenly your kid is watching Patrick rummage through a woman’s underthings, you have to go into the fine print to figure out who to get mad at. But if you’re watching it on Paramount+, you already know who’s at fault; their name is in the title of the platform.
Yet at the same time, as a nostalgia buff who looks to Paramount+ solely to sate that need, seeing a small piece of SpongeBob history be stripped away by its parent company is jarring. There are tons of other 11-minute SpongeBob adventures to enjoy, but there’s nothing like watching an episode and having that warm feeling of remembering it; I’m sad I won’t get to have that with that now-infamous “panty raid” episode anymore.
Update, March 29, 2021: Since the publication of this article, both “Mid-Life Crustacean” and the episode’s preceding segment, “The Great Snail Race,” have been removed from Amazon Prime Video. This means that “Mid-Life Crustacean” is no longer available to stream anywhere. We have reached out to Nickelodeon for comment and will update accordingly.
Nickelodeon also reportedly removed another episode from both its rerun rotation and streaming services, Season 12’s “Kwarantined Krab,” due to sensitivities around the pandemic.