It's official: Everybody loves SpongeBob SquarePants. You can tell by all the stars who line up for cameo appearances in the cartoon's 10th anniversary special (Friday, 7 p.m., Nickelodeon), including Robin Williams, Pink, Tina Fey, Will Ferrell, Craig Ferguson, LeBron James and Rosario Dawson. They're here because SpongeBob is cool, even though he's also the ultimate square - literally.
Ten years in, SpongeBob's nerd act still appeals to kids with its silliness and to hipsters with its cynicism. The original 1920s surrealists would enjoy it too, given the series' expertly crafted incongruities. It has just the right amount of grotesquerie to offset the Saturday-morning sweetness.
SpongeBob hasn't changed in all these years. He's still happy and hapless in his undersea world, working a dead-end job at the Krusty Krab fast-food joint. But the filmmakers are committed to keeping the show fresh, as you can tell from the anniversary special. Along with the wry cameos, it features a densely packed hour of character bits, sight gags, commercial parodies, musical numbers and live-action skits.
SpongeBob SquarePants pulls off a rare feat: It's joyous while savagely satirizing joy. Here's to the next 10 years.
Ancients Behaving Badly
Friday, 8 pm (History)
Cable networks like E! and VH1 get a lot of mileage out of stars' bad behavior, chronicling the misadventures of Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton et al. The History Channel wants to get in on the action but, by definition, must relegate itself to historical figures. So this week's episode of Ancients Behaving Badly focuses on first-century Roman bad boy Caligula, whose hard-partying ways made headlines in the stone-tablet forerunners of the National Enquirer.
Back then, the only way to deal with Caligula was assassination. Today, he'd simply be given his own cable reality series.
Ann Rule's Too Late to Say Goodbye
Saturday, 7 pm (Lifetime Movie Network)
This above-average TV movie begins with a woman's suicide - or is it a murder? She had just been served divorce papers by her husband (Rob Lowe), a seemingly perfect dentist. He tells the police she was having an affair, but flashbacks show that she suspected him of the same thing. Who's the culprit here?
The movie does a nice job of keeping you guessing, though Lowe has to work hard to suppress his natural sleaziness. He's one of those TV-movie actors who are always guilty until proven innocent.
The Wanda Sykes Show
Saturday, 10 pm (Fox)
Jay Leno's new talk show is widely considered a disappointment; Conan O'Brien's numbers are bad; and David Letterman is swimming in scandal. The bar couldn't be set any lower for impolite comedian Wanda Sykes, who enters the talk-show wars this week. It also doesn't hurt that Saturday Night Live has run about 10 lame sketches for every funny one so far this season.
If Sykes tells only one good joke during this week's debut episode, I'm prepared to proclaim her show a success.
The Real Housewives of Orange County
Thursday, 9 pm (Bravo)
The Real Housewives of Orange County are associated with heedless self-indulgence. The not-so-young socialites busy themselves with conspicuous consumption and conspicuous cosmetics, using plastic surgery to suck in various body regions and puff out others. But the new season begins with a more somber tone, befitting the country's economic crisis. Jeana, for example, sees a drop in income from her high-end real estate business. "It's weird to be at a point where you have to think before you make a purchase," she says. That truly must be weird for her - I mean, the mere act of thinking about anything.
Life is even more melancholy for bleached-blond gold-digger Gretchen, whose elderly sugar daddy has passed away. "After Jeff died, I was in a really dark moment," she says. Gretchen pulled through the way most of us would in such times: She hooked up with a young stud and posed for Internet porn pictures.
The other Housewives are shocked by the photos, but not because of their shamelessness. It's because Gretchen is shown using last year's sex toys. "Who has a vibrator with a cord?" gasps Tamra.