When Spongebob Squarepants premiered on Nickelodeon in 1999, the world knew little about the always-optimistic, yet naive, sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea with his pet snail Gary, neighbors Squidward Tentacles and Patrick Star and money-hungry boss Mr. Krabs. With nostalgia at an all time high thanks to TeenNick’s The 90s Are All That, it’s time to take a closer look at the last remaining Nickelodeon cartoon to begin in the 90s and still be making new episodes in 2011, Spongebob Squarepants.
Creator Stephen Hillenburg truly started a phenomenon with Spongebob, voiced by comedian Tom Kenny. The idea that any man, woman or child in America today may never have seen an episode of Spongebob Squarepants seems impossible, in a world where Spongebob and his sea creature friends are everywhere.
Simply put – Spongebob is like the Mickey Mouse of our generation, and I consider myself to be a studier of Spongebob. A Spongebob Squarepants Scholar, if you will. I have considered my options, weighed them deeply and determined the ten episodes of Spongebob Squarepants that I consider to be the best of the series below.
10. Chocolate With Nuts – season 3, episode 52a: In the first episode on my list, Spongebob and Patrick are trying to make some cash, and so they decide to do what other people do to make money: “sell stuff!” They specifically opt for chocolate bars but quickly determine that they’ll have to stretch the truth to get the savvy citizens of Bikini Bottom to buy their product.
The reason Chocolate With Nuts is such a good episode is that it subtly and somewhat-darkly hints at the concept of just how crazy the people who live around you are. Spongebob and Patrick are mostly swindled into buying things from other people – actually, a single con man who keeps appearing – and nothing is more terrifying/hilarious than the man who simply starts screaming “chocolate” repeatedly until Spongebob and Patrick run away.
Chocolate With Nuts adds the complete absurdity of the program – like the old lady and her even older mother who remembers when “they first invited chocolate. Sweet, sweet chocolate. I always hated it!” – and the aspects of Spongebob’s undersea life that mirror our own lives on land – like stranger danger.
9. Rock-a-bye Bivalve – season 3, episode 49b: In Rock-a-bye Bivalve, Spongebob and Patrick assume the roles of mother and father to a baby clam who was left abandoned. This leads to some serious gender ambiguity in Spongebob’s character, who quickly dons frilly dresses and French-maid like outfits to clean the house and assume the stereotypical roles of women in the household.
Meanwhile – Papa Patrick is eating doughnuts under his rock, or what he tells his Spongebob wife is “working overtime.” The episode plays on the cliche problems of a dying marriage, through an adorably weird woman-Spongebob and gross-as-usual father-Patrick. But, the best part about Rock-a-bye Bivalve is how they address the mother/father issue:
Patrick: Oh! I wanna be the mom!
Spongebob: I don’t think you can be the mom, Patrick, because you never wear a shirt.
Patrick: You’re right. If I was a mom, this would be kinda shocking. Just call me “Daddy!”
And with that simple conversation, Spongebob becomes a woman. It’s the sheer lack of attention paid to this gender-switch that makes the episode so funny, refreshing and bold.
8. Squilliam Returns – season 3, episode 48b: The title of this episode is referring to the original appearance of Squilliam Fancyson, an amazing caricature of what Squidward wishes he was, in a season two episode, Band Geeks, which is featured higher on the list. I mostly love this episode because, well, I love Squilliam. He brings out the best in Squidward; there’s nothing funnier than when Squidward is angry – and he’s gonna do something about it.
This enraged side of Squidward, seen in many an episode, gets a full eleven minutes in Squilliam Returns, when Squidward accidentally tells Squilliam that he owns a five-star restaurant. When Squilliam says he’ll be there for dinner, the Krusty crew pulls together to help transform the Krusty Krab. There’s something really endearing about Spongebob and Mr. Krabs trying to help out Squidward, who is so begrudging towards them each day.
Also – there’s nothing cuter than fancy-waiter Spongebob, who empties his mind of nothing but fine dining. Fine dining, and breathing.
7. Dying For Pie – season 2, episode 24a: It’s “Employee Brotherhood Day” at the Krusty Krab, meaning employees have to make homemade gifts for their co-workers. Spongebob makes Squidward a sweater made of eyelashes (“I wasn’t sure how big to make the head, so I used a watermelon for size!”), and when Squidward rejects it, Spongebob makes him a sweater of his own tears.
Conveniently – there’s a mysterious crew of pirates outside who have seemingly thousands of pies, and they sell one to Squidward to be his “homemade” gift to Spongebob. It’s only after Spongebob assumedly eats it that Squidward realizes the pie was a bomb, giving Spongebob until sundown for the bomb to hit his lower intestine, making him explode.
Squidward darkly chooses not to tell Spongebob, but does spend the day with him, doing whatever shenanigans Spongebob wants to do on his last day alive. When the sun sets and Spongebob doesn’t explode, one of my favorite Spongebob lines follows:
Squidward: I spent the whole day with you, doing all kinds of ridiculous things, because you were supposed to explode!
Spongebob: …you want me to explode?
Squidward: Yes! That’s what I’ve been waiting for!
Spongebob: Okay, I’ll try… GARY! YOU ARE GONNA FINISH YOUR DESSERT, AND YOU ARE GONNA LIKE IT!
6. Opposite Day – season 1, episode 9b: Nothing short of a classic, Opposite Day is one of the older episodes on this list, clocking in at episode nine of the entire series. Squidward is trying to sell his house to escape his neighbors, and so he tells Spongebob that it’s “opposite day,” in hopes that his natural personality won’t distract the realtor.
Little did he know what Spongebob’s complex reasoning would lead to:
“I don’t get it. I made my house a mess, which was making it clean, which made Squidward clean my yard, but that really means he’s messing it up. But the opposite of clean is filth, which means filth is clean, that means Squidward is really making my yard a wreck, but I normally wreck my own yard which means, Squidward is being the opposite of Squidward which means he’s SpongeBob! A-ha! I understand everything now! I must be the opposite of SpongeBob! By being… Squidward!”
Similar reasoning makes Patrick and Gary impersonate Squidward as well, terrifying the realtor and dooming Squidward to a life on Conch Street. Opposite Day is one of the best episodes of Spongebob because of the perfect blend it has of silliness, uniqueness, and in 2011, nostalgia.
5. Rock Bottom – season 1, episode 17b: In Rock Bottom, Spongebob accidentally misses his bus stop after going to Glove World with Patrick, and he ends up in an ominous land: Rock Bottom, where the native dialect includes blowing raspberries between words and the buses seem to purposely miss our titular character.
While Rock Bottom is mostly a goofy episode, it’s also one of the scarier episodes of Spongebob. When he misses the last bus and all of the lights of the town shut off, he isn’t stuck in “your average every day darkness,” he’s stuck in, “advanced darkness.” And who will feed Gary if Spongebob can’t get back to the pineapple house?
Rock Bottom has the ideal balance of cuteness – Spongebob’s glove hat, his temper tantrum at the bus stop and his clever attempts to fool the buses – and sheer terror – like Spongebob running from a mysterious character, saying, “Well, that place will be there tomorrow. I guess I’d better keep walking. Running. Better start running. Running. Sprinting! Yes, I just gotta keep sprinting!” (Before he hits a wall; “Sitting, sitting, bleeding.”) It’s this even mix that makes Rock Bottom so well-remembered.
4. Band Geeks – season 2, episode 35b: We are introduced to Squilliam Fancyson in Band Geeks, when Squidward makes the mistake of telling Squilliam that his band (to be made up of unknowing Bikini Bottom-ers) will be playing at the Bubble Bowl. This leads to an awesome compilation of almost every named character in the town – from Plankton to Larry the Lobster – getting in a joke or two, while banding together to help Squidward, much like in the future episode, Squilliam Returns.
Most of the gags in Band Geeks center around Squidward’s bleak existence, but it’s also stuffed with one-liners from and about each of the characters on the show, such as the line “These claws ain’t just for attractin’ mates!” from an about-to-brawl Mr. Krabs and when Squidward says, “No Patrick, mayonnaise is not an instrument,” in response to an inevitable query from the stupid star.
Lest we forget the heart-warming end of the episode, when Spongebob and the gang practice all night long to become an amazing band behind Squidward’s back, fulfilling his dreams and causing Squilliam Fancyson to faint at their Bubble Bowl performance of “Sweet Victory” by Buck Green.
3. Valentine’s Day – season 1, episode 16a: Catching this episode on TV is difficult, because it usually only airs seasonally. But when it’s on, it’s always worth the watch. Basically – in Valentine’s Day, Spongebob and Sandy have a surprise Valentine’s Day gift for Patrick, and when their secret plan is disrupted and Patrick thinks he isn’t getting any presents, he goes on a rampage (“Attention everyone, there’s a chubby, pink starfish on the loose!).
Patrick destroys a Valentine’s Day carnival, attacking children, yelling primally and destroying every heart in sight. Pretty dark stuff, right? “Heart on stick must die!” he exclaims as he attempts to knock down a carnival ride filled with children, feeling no love from his best friends. As grim as it is, Patrick’s violent pity party is really funny, and you know that the truth will make him feel better in the end anyway.
Airing during season one, Valentine’s Day was one of the first Patrick-centric episodes, and it’s certainly one of the best. Its infrequent airing makes the episode that much more prized in our hearts, and Spongebob prancing around with little heart-shaped gifts is enough to warm even the blackest soul.
2. Graveyard Shift – season 2, episode 36a: Graveyard Shift is another scary episode of Spongebob, and it’s my favorite one. When Mr. Krabs realizes that the Krusty Krab can make more money by staying open 24/7, he promptly puts a sign above the restaurant that states “open forever.” Working the register at 3 a.m., Squidward manages to keep himself entertained by making up a scary story to frighten Spongebob, that of the “Hash Slinging Slasher,” a fry cook who used to work at the Krusty Krab.
As soon as Squidward reveals that the story was just a joke to calm Spongebob’s shrieks of terror, some eerie happenings start going down at the Krusty Krab – flickering lights, etc. – hinting that the made-up ghost story may be true after all. The tables are turned when Spongebob is convinced that Squidward is still making everything up, and the cashier grows terrified.
I love Graveyard Shift for a myriad of reasons, but mostly because it puts the two Spongebob Squarepants characters with the best chemistry together: Squidward and Spongebob. The episode is kind of like a puzzle, and Spongebob’s relentless cheer in the midst of likely doom is inspiring.
1. Pizza Delivery – season 1, episode 5a: In this episode that I have deemed the best episode of Spongebob Squarepants of all time, Mr. Krabs demands that Squidward and Spongebob deliver a pizza to a customer, resulting in the co-workers getting lost in No-man’s-land, Bikini Bottom. They’re lost, they’re hungry, and they’re Squidward’s angry.
But – the pizza is for the customer, and flawless employee Spongebob won’t let Squidward eat any of it. Pizza Delivery has the undervalued nostalgia of being episode five of the entire series and it benefits from the aforementioned chemistry of Spongebob and Squidward. Pizza Delivery is an in-depth look at their relationship, and it set the tone for just how strange the show could be.
Spongebob is constantly taking wilderness tips from “the pioneers,” who ate coral and hitchhiked by dancing interpretively for cars, much to Squidward’s chagrin. These moves are amusing and charming, while Squidward’s bitterness is easy to relate to. And at the end of the episode, Spongebob uses a magic rock to transport them home. Could there have been a more pleasingly absurd ending?
Well, reader, what do you think? Is there an episode that I left off the list? Or is there a different program we should be honoring? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!