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.