May 2, 2014
The 100 Best Episodes of SpongeBob Squarepants
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the official list of the best episodes of SpongeBob Squarepants! In this article, we’ll dive into the rich history of the show and give you a definitive list of the greatest episodes. Ten episodes will drop here every single day for the next two weeks, culminating in the final spots near the 15th anniversary of the show’s premiere. So read around, comment, bask in the nostalgia, and enjoy all the funny images, memes, videos, and memories from the last fifteen years in one of the greatest TV shows of all time. We here at Geek Binge love SpongeBob, and we hope you do too.
You may notice the interchangeable nature of the word “episode” in this list. Really, an episode of SpongeBob is two segments put together with commercials, and so technically this is a list of the 100 greatest segments. But some episodes are only one long segment, and sometimes there are three in one, since this show doesn’t like being pinned down to one structure. So just know that you are not crazy, and that I am purposefully being weird about the jargon. Ignore it and you’ll be fine, trust me.
10. Rock Bottom (March 15th, 2000)
Here it is: the top ten. And what better way to start the final spots on our list, the best of the best, with the definitive first season episode? The best episode of the early days of this show is unquestionably “Rock Bottom” and I would say this is the defining and emblematic episode for SpongeBob’s success. It’s an exemplary piece of comedy, and was the first transcendent step forward for the show; everyone has seen this episode and everyone remembers it. Better yet, everyone thinks it’s funny. It starts off at Glove World, which could have been the setting for its own episode back then (it later was). I have no idea why Glove World is so funny, maybe because it’s so stupid, but once that bus leaves Bikini Bottom, it goes into another dimension. The town of Rock Bottom is ostensibly from the Twilight Zone, and everything in it makes no sense whatsoever. SpongeBob is stranded in the middle of nowhere, and without going deeper into the town, and no other real characters to talk to or anything around him, the writers delicately crafted a narrative to isolate him and also give SpongeBob enough material to work with.
The jokes are incredible, the slapstick never better, and the creature designs truly weird and scary. But I think what we all appreciate the most about “Rock Bottom” are the various ways SpongeBob misses the buses that drive by. His bit with the candy bar vending machine is a 21st century Monty Python skit, and SpongeBob is downright cursed. He’s lost in Rock Bottom and there is nothing he can do about it, and it seems like his luck gets worse by the second. A living embodiment of Murphy’s Law, Rock Bottom is indifferent to his needs and he is unfairly punished for being stranded. It’s like a Coen Brothers film, equal parts hilarious and sad. Also, I’ve never seen a fart noise be used as a source of comedy AND as a terrifying sound in the night. If you don’t love “Rock Bottom” then there is something wrong with you.
This segment is famous for this clip:
9. Frankendoodle (January 21st, 2002)
I think the most criminally underrated part of this show is all of the live action footage used. On the whole, it adds so much to not only each episode but helps to establish the art style and tone and satire that makes SpongeBob so special. It reminds me of the music video for “Black Hole Sun”, where everything is exaggerated and it mocks an earlier era in American history, including outdated technology and retro art designs, and “Frankendoodle” has a hint of that going on throughout it. The naïve residents of Bikini Bottom are welcomed by an outside force unknown to their world, a pencil from the surface, and it grants them magical powers: the power to draw things that come alive. The episode isn’t played like a sci-fi story, but manages to keep some nice fantasy elements. It also harps on the responsibility of the artist, and the vast creativity of art and storytelling in general, without bashing the audience over the head with its overt message.
Both wonderful and dangerous things can come out of a pencil, and someone’s mind, and soon an adventure blossoms out of that giant pencil. One of the best antagonists the show has ever produced is literally thought up and created in this episode, DoodleBob, and he’s a real threat to everyone around him, like Frankenstein’s monster. “Frankendoodle” is both thrilling and comedic, and takes a few cues from Chaplin, the Marx Brothers, and Universal monster movies from the ‘30s and ‘40s. Only this show could incorporate so much contextuality, and have a few meta jokes, and not feel burdened down by references or all the on-the-nose humor, which a lot of other shows get wrong. You want your meta-humor and your in-jokes to be homages that don’t stop the flow of the narrative, instead of being a big ‘hey look at what line we took from that famous thing!’ which is a major pet peeve of mine. But “Frankendoodle” is worthy of being in the top ten for its ingenuity and originality, and its imagination is only rivaled by another episode further down the list (you’ll know it when you see it, it involves a box).
This segment is famous for these noises:
8. Mid-Life Crustacean (January 24th, 2003)
“Mr. Krabs has a mid-life crisis.” As a logline, that has the potential to be a good episode, but if you’ve seen “Mid-Life Crustacean” you’ll know it’s a killer episode. The first minute of the story has no words in it, no dialogue whatsoever; it just uses visual cues and key sounds and one particularly funny song to set up the story completely. Mr. Krabs is concerned by his age, burdened by his withering body, and he’s ready to do something to shake up his life. This gives him the motivation to go out on the town for some debauchery with SpongeBob and Patrick, which results in the greatest montage the show has ever produced (see below for a snippet). This is a ridiculously fast paced, quick witted, and very self-aware episode. It also has some interesting POV shots, wisely repeats some lines of dialogue in hilarious fashion (are you ready to par-tay?), and the story goes all over town to some great new locations for its gags, like under the highway and to ‘Bunny Buns’. What I like so much is that it equally takes shots at SpongeBob and Patrick being losers, as much as it does Mr. Krabs. The whole third act about the panty raid should not be on Nickelodeon, let alone any children’s programming, yet it still managed to sneak in and it’s a classic ending to a hysterical episode. You don’t even need to have seen those ‘80s college party comedies to like this episode. NOT LAME
This segment is famous for this line:
7. Dying For Pie (December 28th, 2000)
What I find astonishing is that “Dying For Pie”, the most mature, heaviest episode of SpongeBob Squarepants ever made, was released in the same calendar year as “Valentine’s Day” and “Suds”, which are, tone wise, polar opposite episodes. In 2000, Season 1 ended and Season 2 began, and with it came an increase in wit, and a new emphasis on story with more thematic elements, and by the end of the year we get hit with “Dying For Pie”. Isn’t that incredible? Anyways, this is the first time in the series history we actually get to see Squidward be sympathetic towards SpongeBob, and it’s very rare that he takes pity on him. According to the SpongeBob Wiki, where I get a lot of my information from, “this episode marks the first time that we see a side of Squidward we have never seen before. It shows that even though he says multiple times in the series he absolutely hates him, Squidward cares about SpongeBob enough to make sure he dies happy.” Also, this is the first large scale explosion, and the first time blood ever appears on the show. Having blood and explosions and empathy isn’t what makes this episode dark, it’s the plot: SpongeBob is going to die.
That’s fucked up for a kids show, and the story really does not give a single hint to the fact that he isn’t going to die. The whole time the viewer and Squidward are sure he’s a goner, and it’s gripping the whole way through, right down to the twist ending. Yet, through the doom and gloom, the show doesn’t revel in the misery; it opts to make SpongeBob’s final day a positive one, and still cranks out some great jokes and keeps the grim humor to a minimum. This is some pretty ballsy storytelling when you consider the fanbase for the show, and the episode really sticks to its guns the entire time. This is as much a character study for Squidward as it is about SpongeBob’s impending death. He goes from not caring about SpongeBob’s sweater gift, to making sure his last minutes under the sea are happy. That’s the best arc you could ask for in an episode about pies; Squidward’s guilt about murdering SpongeBob is so much that he admits some deep rooted emotions, all the while making us laugh. And for walking that fine line masterfully, this episode makes our top ten.
This segment is famous for this scene:
6. Nasty Patty (March 1st, 2002)
So from the darkest and most mature episode in SpongeBob history, we now arrive at the second darkest and most mature episode in SpongeBob history! “Nasty Patty” is only rivaled by “Dying For Pie” in its graphic, melancholy, and depressing content but second to none in its parody of both the noir and horror genres. Many an episode is dedicated to detective stories, mysteries, slashers, monster films, and scary movies of old, but this one takes the cake in its genre deconstruction. The opening frame shows a dark and stormy night at Bikini Bottom, and the ominous tone is set once the French narrator says that SpongeBob thought he “killed the health inspector”. It immediately tells us the plot, and brings with it a set of questions that we have to know, thus forcing the audience to watch the episode (that’s called hooking in the viewer). What happened to the health inspector? How did he die? How are SpongeBob and Mr. Krabs involved? Why do they think he’s dead? Did they murder him? Is he really dead? Thankfully the narrative unfolds in such a way that we learn all of the answers to these questions, all the while going on a wild goose chase, that involves imposters, fraud, murder, coercion, blackmail, cover-ups, paranoia, and suspicious activity fit for a Raymond Chandler novel.
This is such a messed up episode, where SpongeBob and Mr. Krabs do terrible awful things, like laugh at the suffering of a choking man, lie to the police, sell each other out, and hide a corpse. None of this sounds very SpongeBob Squarepants to me; it’s more akin to an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, but somehow, someway it remains appropriate for kids and still is super funny the whole way through. You don’t have to be a sick or twisted person to enjoy watching the events of “Nasty Patty”, but it might help. Also, the toned-down color palette works well with the grim mood set, and once it starts raining this episode becomes absolutely gorgeous. The shadows, the lighting, it all screams vintage noir, and it looks stunning. Everything about how this episode is made comes together perfectly, and the plot matches the setting and the tone and the music, and it’s basically a flawless adaptation of a million other stories that came before it. There are some links to the works of Edgar Allen Poe and Stephen King and R.L. Stine, and I’m sure they would find that analogy very apt.
This is honestly the best YouTube video I could find on this segment:
5. Fry Cook Games (September 28th, 2001)
Before I talk about this episode, I just wanted to let everyone know that there’s a gay cartoon character bracket that went up recently, and Squidward was somehow thought to be a gay character. He’s not. The character that should be in that bracket is SpongeBob, and the best case for why I’m right (not that any of this matters) is “Fry Cook Games”. I remember this episode upset some people, because the ending is downright risqué. Again, not that there’s anything wrong with two men holding hands in their underwear, it’s just super weird to see the show go in that direction. The wrestling, the sweaty muscles, SpongeBob and Patrick’s friendship and love for one another overcoming their minor feud, the pink underwear, the hand holding (that might have been cut from future airings of the episode), SpongeBob’s fingernails having to be polished all the time; it all adds up to the same conclusion for me, but I’m fully aware that this is inconsequential, totally dumb to think about, and should not be entertained as an actual theory. Any who, now that I got that out of the way, let me explain why “Fry Cook Games” is the fifth best episode of the show: because it’s hysterical.
Like, maybe the single funniest episode of the show. That’s a tough call, for sure, and totally subjective and arguable, but for me the next four episodes on the list all do something beyond be funny, while “Fry Cook Games” really just relies on the comedy and the weird pseudo-sexual stuff throughout. And the 3D animation / TV broadcast satire at the beginning, I suppose. This is just a silly and shallow parody of the Olympics, and is just an excuse to bring everyone together for a series of jokes. Instead of skits, we have Patrick and SpongeBob competing in games, with Mr. Krabs and Plankton channeling their rivalry through their coaching/brainwashing. The attention to detail here is outstanding, the humor is outlandish, there’s plenty of meta commentary, and there’s just the right amount of non-sequiturs to make everything particularly special. There’s a crazy amount of memorable lines, a stupendous script keeping things unabashedly off kilter and funny, lots of idiosyncratic touches with the food jokes, and it’s all wrapped in a neat package full of ‘80s heavy metal. “Fry Cook Games” goes by very fast, it has a lot going on constantly, never lets up, and if you stop for a single second to think about it all it doesn’t make a lick of sense. Why are they doing this again? What do they win besides medals? Where did they get all that food from? Aren’t both of their restaurants unpopular? Why doesn’t the town consider SpongeBob to be a famous athlete? Who cares, is my answer.
This segment is most famous for this moment:
4. Krusty Krab Training Video (May 10th, 2002)
So far, I’ve written 25,000 words up to this point, all about SpongeBob. I may have repeated myself a few times, used a lot of adjectives or hyperbolic statements a lot, and that’s understandable. One phrase I’ve used a lot may have been “this episode is unlike anything I’ve seen before”. So let me make this painfully clear and emphatic: there is literally no other episode of SpongeBob Squarepants or any cartoon I’ve seen that is like the “Krusty Krab Training Video”. It is a wholly original and completely separate entity that stands out in every conceivable way, and can never be imitated or copied, topped or repeated again. There is simply too much to talk about, too much to break down about this episode to fit onto this list, and I would go insane writing about it too much. It takes everything we all like about the show, fits it into a condense eleven minutes, and still is not representative of any other episode. It just stands alone, in its own category, and I’m still flabbergasted by it today.
The word play, the narrator, the footage, the transitions, the editing, the surrealistic elements, the meta commentary, the 4th wall breaking, it all is just so off-the-wall it surpasses almost every other cartoon special ever made. The Disney-esque music is pure bliss, the jokes spring to life, and the story being told isn’t centered on a protagonist or antagonist, and there’s no arc. It breaks so many rules with glee that it turns into a positive attribute instead of feeling like a weird failed experiment. The narrator is the closest thing to a real character you’ll find in this episode, since the regular cast is boiled down to archetypes for the sake of the training video. But still, this isn’t quite such a departure comedy wise that a normal viewer couldn’t follow along, and it adds in some background to the Krusty Krab’s history, and I think it generally fits the tone of the show properly. You can tell the writers and animators had a lot of fun making this episode, let alone coming up with the ideas for it. There’s a ton of detail hidden everywhere, in the font and the cut little animations and the title cards, and an admiration for the show is within every frame. Kind of like the sweater with love in every stitch; the “Krusty Krab Training Video” is exactly like that, except the stitches are shots in an episode and not a sweater.
This segment is most famous for this scene:
3. Idiot Box (March 1st, 2002)
Where the “Krusty Krab Training Video” went buck wild and tossed a lot of at you until you went into sensory overload, “Idiot Box” does less with more. It removes a crucial part of a TV show, the visuals, and emphasizes sound over images. Audio is secretly the most important part of any film or TV show, and people would rather they get good audio quality with crappy video quality than the other way around. Trust me; hearing what people have to say is more important than what they look like. That’s why we elect politicians and not models. Anyways, “Idiot Box” is about using imagination to come up with fantastical and amazing stories, which is exactly what the writers did to create an episode like this in the first place. They let you, the viewer, envision the stories Patrick and SpongeBob come up with, and both you and Squidward are stupefied by how they have so much fun with literally nothing but a box. It’s impressive since not once do we see Robot Pirate Island, or the avalanche, or a rocket ship, or anything else they come up with, and it’s no less engrossing or thrilling for it.
It’s a very simplified premise for an episode, just the three best characters talking to each other, and the conflict comes from that and not anything external. It’s refreshing to watch something that sticks so close to the writing, and the performances, and the chemistry between the cast, and the magic is created out of the plot, instead of focusing on ancillary factors. It also works to deliver an anti-television, pro-‘go outside and use your imagination’ moral that is ironic because this is a television show and you’d think the staff would want you to keep watching. It also ahs this underlying through line about sticking to your inner child and escaping reality by creating your own adventures and fun. The sound design alone, the ambiance of the swelling music, and the intensity made from just sound and voices, it’s all top notch, right up to the ending pun. Also, Tom Kenny has never been better as SpongeBob; this is maybe his best work to date. More shows need to take lessons from “Idiot Box”. Except the motif about boxes, that wouldn’t make sense outside of the context established by this episode.
This plaque is to commemorate the brave pirates who gave their lives to keep this box sage from the Robot Menace. Lest we forget:
2. Band Geeks (September 7th, 2001)
Well, you knew it had to be way up high on this list. In fact, many of you (including me) were pretty sure it was going to be number 1. When I sat down to tackle this endeavor, I had an ultimate question to answer. Where would “Band Geeks” end up on the list? It’s arguably the most famous episode of the show, the one people know the best, it has some of the best and most quotable lines, and has spawned countless memes across the Internet. And when I re-watch it, I still marvel at how jam-packed this episode is with jokes. Every scene, every line, every moment, every beat: consistently funny. And not just in a ‘chuckle’ sort of funny, it’s completely laugh-out-loud funny. “Band Geeks” isn’t just tongue-in-cheek. The tongue rips right through the cheek. It’s fierce, unrelenting comedy at its best, and it all has to do with a marching band. How often can you claim a show has one of its best episodes based on a marching band? Not many. This was the debut of Squilliam Fancyson III, who is the archrival of Squidward and really is only there to serve one purpose: be the opposite of Squidward, so he can motive some sort of revenge plan for the plot to follow. Although I do like him, I understand he’s no more than a simple narrative tool the writers utilize to get Squidward to embark on his journey of lies.
And when you look at the arc of the story, Squidward lies to get what he wants, gives up, has his band do all the work, and then is rewarded by doing nothing. The glory isn’t really earned, but it’s hard to argue that it matters too much. What does matter is the vast array of humor, puns, running gags, band in-jokes, and general tomfoolery. The real MVP of this episode are the residents of Bikini Bottom, who come together to make the best moments. I love the citizens of Bikini Bottom, and this is the ultimate display of their eagerness and stupidity. Without them, we wouldn’t have “big meaty claws!” or “Correct!” or “now the talking cheese is going to preach to us” and all of the other awesome jokes in this episode. The ending performance of “Sweet Victory” has really become something else, and continues to thrive not only in the Internet’s consciousness but in the SpongeBob community’s as well. “Band Geeks” is an enduring, timeless classic, and I’m sure there are tons of people complaining that it didn’t get the top spot. Sorry folks, there’s one better than this.
Let’s just get it out of the way, I know you’re all thinking it too:
1. Shanghaied (March 9th, 2001)
We’ve gone through 99 episodes, and I’ve never been able to talk about the best character on SpongeBob Squarepants: Patchy the Pirate. He’ somehow managed to dodge being in any good episodes, except for this one, and I think the Patchy sequences are the best thing about this show. Genuinely I do. I don’t care what anybody thinks, I die laughing at Tom Kenny dressed as a pirate, and Potty the Parrot dangling next to him from strings. He’s like Krusty the Clown, but in Encino, California and is a total slave to children’s programming instead of the other way around. His antics are part kid’s show host spoof, part Pee Wee Herman rip-off, and part meta commentary on all of the diehard fans of the show, and if I could watch a spinoff of SpongeBob that only involved Patchy that would be my favorite show ever. So as SpongeBob’s number one fan, Patchy hosts “Patchy’s Pick” to introduce the greatest SpongeBob episode of all time, “Shanghaied”, and instead of the typical eleven minute segment we get a beefy sixteen minute juggernaut of comedy, bookended by the Patchy stuff. Not only is this my all-time favorite episode, it’s Patchy’s too.
If you research the history of “Shanghaied” you’ll find it has a strange broadcast history. It originally aired with Rugrats In Paris in the year 2000, which makes it the only SpongeBob short to appear in a movie theater. There was also a call-in vote on the ending of “Shanghaied”, which could have gone one of three ways, and only on the DVD can you watch the alternate endings. And the way they air this episode on TV now is shortened and reduced, and the old footage of Patchy doing the poll is super hard to track down. It was originally titled “SpongeBob’s You Wish Spectacular Special” but I’m not going to refer to it as that since it gets confusing. Nevertheless, if you are only able to watch “Shanghaied” without the Patchy stuff, do so, because it is still number one regardless.
If I were to introduce anyone to SpongeBob for the first time, I would choose “Shanghaied” to show them. It presents the characters exactly how they are so that anybody can pick up the gist of what the show is like. It perfectly encapsulates the humor that SpongeBob is known for, and adds in a touch of offbeat comedy that isn’t overwhelming or too strange for casual fans. Although that hell portal “Fly of Despair” Squidward is trapped in sure is scary and fucked up. Anyways, this is the best Flying Dutchman episode as well, and gives him a lot to do, as well as features the always wonderful dynamic between Squidward, SpongeBob, and Patrick we all know and love.
The plot begins when the sky has a baby, and an anchor hits SpongeBob’s pineapple and then Squidward’s tiki house. They climb the anchor and find its part of the Dutchman’s ship, and then become part of his ghostly crew. The dialogue is impeccable, the jokes are hilarious, and there’s a nice repetition and variation to the gags that make them funnier as the episode goes on. There have never been aquatic shenanigans quite like the ones in “Shanghaied”, and they hold up on every single viewing. I’ve been watching this episode for thirteen years now, and I still find it funny, and I probably will for the next thirty. You find a better scene than the perfume department at Macy’s. Go ahead, try. You can’t do it. That’s the best live action footage used in the history of this show, and it exemplifies why SpongeBob is more than just a cartoon. It’s comedic gold, and a 21st century artistic achievement. If I could only choose one episode of this show to keep around, like in a time capsule or in a vault of famous TV episodes, it would be “Shanghaied”. Since there has been so many episodes in this long and historic show, it’s hard to choose ‘the best’, but I truly do think this is the one that beats them all. That Patchy the Pirate stuff is just too good.
This is the last time I get to do this, but YOUR GOOD YOUR GOOD YOUR GOOD: