If you asked actor Bill Fagerbakke 22 years ago if he thought that gig voicing a very dense, pink starfish under the sea would still be going, he likely would have laughed you out of the room. But, that's exactly what's happened as his vocal performance as Patrick Star in just about every official iteration of SpongeBob SquarePants storytelling has secured the character as an all-time animation icon.
For more than two decades, Patrick has played the loyal, and deeply enthusiastic echinoderm sidekick to SpongeBob with aplomb. But now, Nickelodeon is shining the spotlight on Patrick and his equally odd family in the spin-off series, The Patrick Star Show, which premieres on Friday, July 9, at 7 p.m. Eastern. A prequel to the main SpongeBob SquarePants series, the new show will reveal who helped Patrick become the starfish we know and love. We'll meet his parents Cecil (Tom Wilson) and Bunny Star (Cree Summer), his ambitious sister, Squidina Star (Jill Talley), and his bombastic GrandPat Star (Dana Snyder).
Despite being the vocal custodian of the character since Patrick's inception, Fagerbakke admits to SYFY WIRE in a recent Zoom interview that he had no idea a Patrick-centric series was even in the works until SpongeBob executive producers, Vincent Waller and Marc Ceccarelli, surprised him with the idea a few years ago.
"I got to see some of the early artwork and that was really great," Fagerbakke recalls, although he admits that he didn't get to share too many of his own ideas for the series during these early stages. "That's a pretty rare deal for a carny/voiceover actor to get that kind of input. [Laughs.]"
It wasn't until the full cast for The Patrick Star Show was secured and revealed to one another that the actor input came into the mix as they worked their magic voicing their characters for the episodes. And for Fagerbakke and actress Jill Talley, who has voiced Karen Plankton and countless incidental voices on SpongeBob SquarePants since 1999, The Patrick Star Show marked their first chance to actually work together as siblings Patrick and Squidina Star.
"We've worked together for 20 years, but we haven't worked together because Karen and Patrick haven't had a lot of interaction, so it's really fun to get to play together," Talley says of their new dynamic. "And even now, we're working from our homes because of the pandemic. But I can't wait to be back in the studio together doing that."
Hardcore Bikini Bottom fans may know that a version of Squidina Star first appeared on-screen in the 2018 episode "Goons on the Moon," where she was voiced by Talley. But, with one line of dialogue and no more impact on the show's narrative, even Talley forgot she originated the character. She admits the producers had to remind her, and play back the audio to jog her memory about how Squidina even sounded.
"They found it," Talley recalls with a laugh. "But, then there's the realization that any audience member isn't going to remember it either. So you can take that little bit of information, and tweak it and make it a little different if you want. I used that as the jumping-off point when they played that little sound clip of one line of dialogue from years ago, and went from there."
What The Patrick Star Show presents is a very different Squidina, who serves as her big brother's booker and producer on the house-based variety show they put on daily for their pet sea urchin, Ouchie, and a few curious neighbors. She's clearly the more focused of the two, with potentially a big Hollywood, behind-the-scenes career ahead of her. But for now, she's just got her hands full wrangling her unfocused brother.
Their dynamic is a very different one than we've seen for the excitable starfish before, and Fagerbakke says it was delightful to have something so different for Patrick to play against.
"The [writers] really set it down in the dialogue that there is this connection; a great familial, sibling bond between Patrick and Squidina that is just there and you recognize it automatically," Fagerbakke says, adding that he felt that connect as soon as he read the script. "I love that that's one of the instant things that happens, almost subconsciously, when you're [reading] well-written content. All these mechanisms just fire in your brain and you go, 'Oh, that's what that is!' You recognize it, and you just go with it. We don't have to get together and go, 'So, what do you think?' What do you see coming at us?' It's just all there and I feel like there's a lot of natural combustion with the characters that works together in a great organic way. And then, what Jill has done with the performance, that lifts it up even more."
Talley adds that Squidina is just tickled by her brother as well, which makes for a very uplifting show overall. "Patrick's character is entertaining the audience of one, Ouchie. But I think Squidina is entertained by him as well, in the way that a brother and a sister have inside jokes, and can make each other laugh really hard. That's already there," she says. "It's like Bill said, it's written in. And it's fun to play that as well."
The Patrick Star Show premieres on Nickelodeon on Friday, July 9, at 7 p.m. Eastern.