The 100 Best Episodes of SpongeBob Squarepants
30. The Algae’s Always Greener (March 22nd, 2002)
Apparently it isn’t taboo at the Nickelodeon offices to suggest doing another Plankton episode. There are so many of them already, yet I don’t feel like me or the writing staff ever truly gets tired of utilizing the show’s (secretly) best character. If it was up to me, I would highlight and showcase him as much as I could, and “The Algae’s Always Greener” is the ultimate Plankton episode. It is the end-all, be-all storyline for Plankton, since it gives him exactly what he wants and shows him that having his dreams come true isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Much like It’s A Wonderful Life, we get an alternate timeline narrative device where Plankton understands what he takes for granted. He switches lives with Mr. Krabs using a time machine life switcher he built, and experiences everything Krabs does, but in a parallel universe.
It again steals a lot from The Twilight Zone, shamelessly, and I wouldn’t have it any other way; the show gets better when it goes crazy town on the sci-fi stuff. There’s so much irony to soak up in this episode, from the simple juxtaposition between Krab’s old life and Plankton’s new life, to the fact that a microscopic organism is now the father to a giant whale, and SpongeBob works the register and Squidward cooks patties since everything is possible in an alternate universe. Even though this show might not be totally grounded in reason or logic, this episode definitely flips SpongeBob fan’s expectations even more so than usual. It’s funny, in a cosmic sort of way, and you can’t really say that about most episodes, can you now?
29. I Had An Accident (October 4th, 2003)
If you’ve had a bad experience with something, or have felt an overwhelming amount of pain (physical or otherwise), you’ll undoubtedly be risk averse to avoid feeling any more pain. This manifests itself into a number of bad habits, and can be unhealthy, and in “I Had An Accident” SpongeBob goes through this entire process of risk aversion. A sandboarding accident breaks his butt, and SpongeBob decides to stay indoors. Forever. He avoids any and all contact with the outside world in fear that he’ll get hurt again (and have to live in the iron butt) and makes friends with Chip, Penny, and Used Napkin. It’s understandable, and sad, when told from his perspective, but the whole episode goes out of its way to show to SpongeBob, and the audience, the value of life.
All the fun you can have outside, missing out on friends and experiences, and personal (mental or otherwise) health are all examined, although at the end it’s all undermined by the underwater gorilla attack; which is, by the way, phenomenally goofy and out of left field. At least the moral is good: SpongeBob takes on his demons, risks his own safety for the sake of others, and his bravery is rewarded at the end. And by that, I mean a man in a gorilla suit rides two other men in a horse suit into the sunset, and then a middle class white family is disgusted and confused by this scene, and decides to turn off their television set.
You may remember this particular segment from:
28. Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy III (November 27th, 2000)
The second highest ranking MM & BB episode on our list, part III relies on SpongeBob and Patrick to NOT touch anything. Which really means the episode relies on them touching EVERYTHING, and the story hinges upon one single character for its entire run time: Man Ray. Man Ray is such a fantastic villain, in the classical sense, and of course only the nuttiest fans like SpongeBob and Patrick could be his foil. Which is so stupid yet utterly brilliant, that regular heroes cannot defeat him but two bumbling buffoons who idolize him can wither him down after just one afternoon of unintentional mind games and shenanigans. He’s a spin on the Aquaman villain Black Manta, much like many of the parodies of Aquaman on this show, and is named after this conceptual modern artist (who was big into the Dada and Surrealist movements).
His voice acting, his Shakespearean dialogue, his gravitas, it all culminates to a performance that is so irrevocably powerful, it basically had to be undercut by his Jack Kirby costume and the fact that he’s stuck in a kid’s cartoon show. Seeing him struggle to deal with SpongeBob and Patrick for an entire day, and laughing throughout (thanks to the Tickle Belt) leads to one of the most wonderful and surreal episodes in the show’s history. Man Ray’s evil smirk stuck on his helmet, his imposing stature, all just there for comedic effect. He could kill them at any moment, and that’s scary, but he’s at the whimsy to their tomfoolery because he’s trying to learn (or fake) being good for once in his life. It’s a great arc for a super villain, and the entire time I watch it I’m crying in laughter not only because of Man Ray himself, but that damn song that plays when the Tickle Belt is on. Plus, most of the story takes place in one location. That’s incredible.
You may remember this particular MM & BB segment from:
27. Procrastination (November 30th, 2001)
It’s true that boundaries and rules inspire the best kind of creativity. Forcing constraints on yourself can fuel the best works, and I don’t want to go all Dogme 95, but very rarely can a show put an entire episode in one room. With one character. And somehow, some way, make it entertaining, never break the action, and find new ways to tell its story without the need for superficial or unnecessary extras. “Procrastination” has a lot of ideas, and manages to put them all into one story: SpongeBob does nothing but procrastinate. It has “classic episode” written all over it, since it has a timeless quality to it, and has a beautiful three act structure. He gets the assignment, he loafs off, and then he completes it, with a perfect punchline at the end (the essay wasn’t due at all). We’ve all done this exact same thing, goof off on important school work, and some people legitimately have a hard time focusing and concentrating on one task.
We know exactly what SpongeBob is doing this whole time, he knows he’s fooling around, and the other characters on the show know it too. Guilt begins to eat him alive, time continues to tick on, his attention ever shrinking, and the more SpongeBob spends doing anything else the harder the essay becomes. It’s not long before he’s hallucinating, and his dreams take on the kind of judgmental attitude a Greek Chorus would in a play. But by the end, all of the events he did during the day create the creativity he needs to complete the assignment. It’s not the funniest episode the show has, but one that sets a high standard for cartoons from a purely structural standpoint.
What is up with these violent deleted scenes that pop up on the Internet?
26. Sleepy Time (January 17th, 2000)
It takes a lot imagination and creativity to base an entire episode of a TV show only in your character’s dreams. You have to really know your cast, in and out, in order to pull something like that off. A story like that can run the risk of making things too weird, which a lot of ‘90s cartoons did, or making them too dull, or just so weird that following along isn’t worth it at all. The sweet spot is somewhere in between, a place “Sleepy Time” manages to be at for eleven straight minutes. As much fun as it is to see dreams visualized, it’s more fun to have SpongeBob wreck them and make everyone upset. His astral projection hopes from one lucid dream to another, like a video game character conquering levels, and succeeds in not only ruining people’s days consciously, but subconsciously as well. Gary is an omniscient intellectual who can talk,
Plankton is a giant monster, Mr. Krabs is Captain Ahab, Sandy is a daredevil, Squidward is a concert musician, and Patrick is an idiot; these reveal the inner most desires of each character, something most cartoons couldn’t bother with. No one has to catch the Herman Melville references to find this episode funny, but everyone has had a crazy dream before (and also one ruined by someone they know). “Sleepy Time” is an innovative and quintessential episode of SpongeBob, and marks a high point for the early days of the show. It’s whimsical and fantastical and wild, something the show is very well known for, and I think that distinction started with episodes like this.
You may remember this particular segment from:
25. Graveyard Shift (September 6th, 2002)
We’ve seen a few Halloween episodes make it onto the list already, and somehow there are even more left to go in the top 25. “Graveyard Shift” starts off with a fabulous premise: Mr. Krabs finds out that if he leaves the Krusty Krab open 24 hours a day, he can make more money. He doesn’t factor in paying his workers, nor the fact that nobody shows up in the middle of the night, but that’s beside the point. This leads to all sorts of spooky things going on after dark, which spirals out of control after Squidward tries to scare SpongeBob with the tale of the ‘Hash Slinging Slasher’. The writers know how to handle crafting a horror story and make it tense, and are deft enough to still make it appropriate for children of any age AND make it funny the entire time.
All of the details of Squidward’s story come back to haunt them, and the episode builds at a perfect pace. The power of Squidward’s storytelling is in full effect here, considering it not only spooks SpongeBob, but takes up a significant portion of the episode’s length. The last third really focuses on using your expectations against you, and the episode makes a great effort to frighten and amuse both the audience and SpongeBob and Squidward. Of course, it all gets explained by the end, if you don’t count Nosferatu showing up for no reason. It’s an ending punchline that might confuse a lot, and anger others, and only a small contingent of cinephiles will get it, which is the primary reason this isn’t ranked higher. I have one friend who is a super fan and swears this is the greatest episode, but it only lands on our list at 25. Sorry buddy.
You may remember this particular segment from:
24. No Weenies Allowed (March 15th, 2002)
The way “No Weenies Allowed” plays out is like a classic comedy bit. It’s literally just SpongeBob trying to get into a saloon, and the bouncer outside won’t let him in. That’s it, that’s the whole episode. But with such little to work off of initially, ends up being a fantastic and jam-packed episode. There’s no funnier place to be in that Weenie Hut Jr.’s, and no funnier Macguffin than the Salty’s Spitoon. There are a number of wonderful new characters introduced (and never brought back, which is a shame) like Reginald the bouncer, the two nerds at the bar arguing about semantics, and the robot bartender. Along with them are some masterful jokes with pitch perfect timing, an extravagant fight scene with Patrick, snappy dialogue, devastatingly real humor, and an ending that is downright brilliant. The editing is razor sharp, the story goes a mile a minute, and the longer SpongeBob goes without entrance in the bar the funnier it gets, because his plans become more elaborate and nonsensical. What makes the whole thing come together is the fact that you never see the inside of the Salty’s Spitoon. That may upset some viewers, and they may feel cheated out of a true ending, but then again, Godot never showed up at the end of Waiting for Godot, and you don’t see any critics bemoaning that, now do you? “No Weenies Allowed” is absolutely bananas and I love it to death.
You probably don’t even remember this clip. I didn’t until I saw it again:
23. Sailor Mouth (September 21st, 2001)
You have to have BALLS to make an episode of a children’s show about curse words. Cursing is a part of all languages, certainly, but to craft an entire narrative around the taboo associated with curse words? That blows my mind. Like, when you watch “Sailor Mouth”, you can obviously fill in the missing words with your imagination (hilariously masked with a dolphin’s squeal), and that can lead to some risky business, since this is made for kids. Or proclaims to be, anyways. It’s like the writers wanted to get fired, or something, and I have no idea how they even got this past the censors, especially at a time in America when we were all reeling from 9/11 the week prior. MTV wasn’t allowed to play certain songs, sports leagues were unsure if they were going to continue playing games, yet Nickelodeon let this air. To anyone, including toddlers who might just tune in accidentally.
I understand that it works in an effort to teach about not using curse words, but there is some downright dirty material in this episode, and I revel in it every time I watch. “Sailor Mouth” still has an effect thirteen years later. It’s still a funny episode, that’s structured and has all of the patented quirks to it, but with an added bite. Characters expressing frustration before basically involved using something like “barnacle” or “fish paste” as a surrogate for ‘shit’ and ‘fuck’, but here it is full blown in its allusions, and I have to commend and praise this episode for doing something South Park gets recognition for all of the time. Except this is less lazy and more creative.
This is the cleanest joke from this episode I could find:
22. Life of Crime (May 5th, 2001)
What’s worse than cursing in the SpongeBob universe? Stealing. There’s already been a few episodes involving theft on the list (Mr. Krabs was behind them all, ironically) yet none of them can reach the heights that “Life of Crime” hits. The guilt hits Patrick and SpongeBob pretty hard, and they immediately go on the run once their ‘stolen’ balloon pops. The best parts of this episode involve the two of them living away from Bikini Bottom, not that the law would have done anything, since it was National Free Balloon Day the whole time. Although the most memorable scene is the underwater fire meeting, where they decide to live as felons and then turn against each other for the dumbest possible reason: Patrick thinks SpongeBob stole his candy bar. The ensuing scene with the chocolate bar is one of the greatest scenes in this show’s history, and that does sound rather hyperbolic, but that really is their “Who’s On First?” routine.
It’s the most remarkable comedy bit you could possibly find on YouTube if you Google ‘memorable SpongeBob moments’. And if you don’t think it’s as historic as I say it is, then go ask somebody about “liar liar plants for hire” and they’ll immediately respond “it’s pants on fire Patrick” and then you get to say “well you would know” since everyone on Earth has seen that exchange a billion times by now. Beyond that scene, not a single second of the rest of the episode is wasted, and the ending wraps up the moral of the story in a nice bow. “Life of Crime” is a lean and well-crafted episode that I think is a riot. Where else can you find a show that involves two criminals going on the lamb after stealing a balloon? Nowhere. And I’ve checked.
You may remember this particular segment from:
21. Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy V (June 1st, 2002)
Well, this is it. This is the highest ranking MM&BB episode, which makes it the best one. It really is the end-all, be-all, quintessential, definitive episode for Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy, and it would have worked as a great send-off if it weren’t for the sixth iteration they made (it’s not very good). I think deep down, we all knew Barnacle Boy hated playing second fiddle to an old geezer like Mermaid Man, but his meltdown at the Krusty Krab gives a good enough reason to him to turn into a super villain. Much like the Winter Soldier, or Jean Grey’s transformation into Dark Phoenix, Barnacle ‘Man’ spends the episode with the Dirty Bubble and Man Ray, which prompts the usual cast of SpongeBob characters to form a Justice League/Avengers type super group (that is very similar to the Fantastic Four).
This is one of the best premises for a plot you could possibly ask for, and it leads to some of the silliest and most enjoyable super hero parodies I’ve seen in years. The live action ‘Chief’, make-out reef, the way their powers backfire on them, the lonely teenager and his pillow, ding dong ditching; it’s all so seminal to the MM&BB series now, I can’t think of them in their suits without thinking of this episode. This is a rip-roaring, high octane, looney, and side-splitting episode that is not really worthy of my cliché adjectives but definitely deserves a spot on our list near the top 20. I mean, go back and listen to the music they use, that ‘60s era football music. It’s sublime.
What language is this, I don’t even know what I’m doing anymore: