The 100 Best Episodes of SpongeBob Squarepants
40. Clams (September 20th, 2002)
What is it about Mr. Krabs losing money that makes episodes good? Really, he loses a dime, then a dollar, then his first dime, then his first dollar, then his millionth dollar, I mean what in the hell? Anyways, SpongeBob has a long standing history of making references and homages to Jaws, which is only natural. But “Clams” takes it to another level, and is this show’s crazy take on a remake. But this feels like Edgar Wright was a part of it, because “Clams” is high flying, mile-a-minute comedy with rapid cuts and a wonderful emphasis on music. The story is centered on a giant Clam and that weird orchestra, who ratchets up the tension in a strange fourth wall breaking role. Like a Greek Chorus, but funnier. This episode feels very similar to “Wet Painters” in that SpongeBob tries to fake a dollar for Krabs, and also feels similar to “Grandma’s Kisses” with the innovative ways it makes someone cry continuously. It’s funny, then becomes unfunny, then funny again with how long it commits to the bit. And that’s “Clams” in a nutshell, a series of bits that go on for a while, like the orchestra and Krabs dancing with his dollar, and if they fall flat for you the first time then this is a colossal waste of time. For me, it works, but that’s because I’m a nutjob and I also love Jaws. I appreciate stories and characters that care deeply about something, which is a trait more cartoons need. Mr. Krabs’ obsession with that dollar is why the episode works, and if it was just an unfortunate fishing trip it wouldn’t be as tragic or hilarious.
You may remember this music from this episode:
39. Walking Small (March 22nd, 2000)
Perspective is an interesting thing. Different perspectives on life can lead two similar people to two very different outcomes. Of course, speaking strictly from a filmmaking standpoint, the way “Walking Small” handles perspective is outrageously fun and creative. Small objects in the frame seem big, and just by a simple zoom or a cut, you can gain an entirely new perspective on what you’re watching. The story here is about Plankton convincing SpongeBob to have a new perspective on things, and him failing miserably at it. What we get here comedy wise is an all-time Plankton performance, an overwhelming amount of wordplay and crisp banter, and some classic sequences. Controlling SpongeBob is a usual go-to tactic for Plankton, but manipulating him with words instead of machinery is just as fun to watch. The Chum Bucket Mega-Bucket is the perfect symbol for assertive, aggressive behavior, and the fact that Plankton loses in the end is a great way to teach kids that nice guys can finish first. I love this episode for a lot of reasons, but mainly because I am biased towards Plankton because he is my favorite character on the show. I frequently use the phrase “Isn’t it wonderful, when you’re maniacal?” and will do so until the day I die.
You may remember this particular segment from:
38. Welcome to the Chum Bucket (January 21st, 2002)
You just learned that I love Plankton way too much, and episodes involving him taking control over SpongeBob basically equates to the mantra ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ in my eyes. And I find it splendid that the writers went so far as to rip SpongeBob from the Krusty Krab, which is unusual, and give a new context to how Plankton controls SpongeBob. His homesickness turns into a full blown duet with Mr. Krabs, which is phenomenal, and almost Disney quality good if you really listen to it. The songs on this show are major hits, yet this one gets forgotten about a lot for whatever reason. Maybe it’s the spectacular ‘brain in the robot’ thread, and how that culminates in a flurry of jokes about tacos. Also forgotten about: Karen, the computer wife. She is THE most underrated character on the show, and her rapport with Plankton is unmatchable. Add that to the relationship between Plankton and SpongeBob, which here makes Plankton the more submissive one for a change, and you have a loaded episode that doesn’t feel bloated. Although, why doesn’t SpongeBob just quit his new job? Can’t he just do that? I know you can’t do that because then there would be no episode to tell, but the angst ridden teenager shtick with robot SpongeBob is simply too funny to care about that one plot hole. But really though, does he have to work out his contract? I mean, you’d leave money on the table, sure, but if Carmelo wanted to leave the Knicks he could just quit. I’m clearly thinking too much about this and I don’t know why.
You may remember this particular segment from:
37. Pizza Delivery (August 14th, 1999)
“Pizza Delivery” plays out like a Cormac McCarthy novel. It is large in scope yet contained down to a simple focus, it’s harsh on its characters, fleeting and cold, depressing and wondrous, and I think that’s helped to make this episode last for as long as it has in the pop culture hive mind. Its longevity and impact are pretty big for a story about two guys wandering the ocean floor for ten minutes, and without much to do or see, the interaction between Squidward and SpongeBob has to be perfect in order to capture our attention the whole time. It did back in 1999 when I was a child, and it still does now, and retains its gut punch moments. When the customer at the end slams that door in SpongeBob’s, it hurts. You feel for him, and Squidward breaks loose of his hard exterior and stands up for him immediately, which really established them as characters and set their emotional complexities. The whole adventure, the images, the songs, the pizza, everything about this episode culminates together beautifully. It all just clicks, and you don’t have to be a fan of the show, or the humor, to appreciate how structurally sound and iconic “Pizza Delivery” is. The pacing is excellent, the jokes timed perfectly, and even though it seems cliché, it all feels original. I think this is a model example of what a good cartoon was back 15 years ago, and you can argue that it still is in 2014. Timeless, hilarious, and effective, everyone has seen this at some point in their lives.
You may remember singing this song way too much:
36. Prehibernation Week (May 5th, 2001)
How fitting, for this show, to introduce special guest Pantera. It just feels like a perfect match, you know? SpongeBob is light, and Pantera heavy, and opposites attract. I’m a pretty big metal guy, and I remember being floored by this episode back in 5th grade. Maybe that’s why I started listening to rock music. But anyways, “Prehibernation Week” starts with a bang and never stops, much like its protagonist Sandy, who is determined to do as much as possible before she hibernates for the winter. It’s a simple set-up, and introduces a ticking clock into the equation, and by the halfway point into the story the narrative shifts into a city wide manhunt for SpongeBob. It’s a risky move, since the first half has a lot of energy and outlandish stunts, and I didn’t think upon rewatching that it would hold up. It totally does. Aside from the ultra-violent activities Sandy does, and her psychotic quest to find SpongeBob, there’s a real emotional core to her actions. It’s in the background, and if you blink you’ll miss it, but she really does not want to have her mammalian instincts control her life, nor lose her friend, which is all commendable and understandable. Most cartoon characters do nonsense for the sake of it, but you can see she is passionate and doing this all for a good reason. Plus the Pantera soundtrack only adds to the intensity and how off-the-wall it all is. For something so metal, this episode sure is heavy on emotions and character motivations. But just remember, life is as extreme as you want to make it!
35. Imitation Krabs (December 28th, 2000)
You’d think I would get tired of talking about Plankton and his plans to steal the Krabby Patty secret formula, but I will never get tired of that. Ever. This is yet another episode dedicated to his quest, and as always, it takes a turn for the bizarre. In a rash and brazen attempt to guard off the formula, SpongeBob becomes a tad too paranoid, and in doing so, Plankton takes advantage. He creates a robot to impersonate Mr. Krabs, and the rest of the story devolves into a surreal sci-fi conspiracy thriller that should be a part of The Twilight Zone. In fact, a lot of episodes on this show should fit right into Twilight Zone canon, and you can tell it was a big inspiration on the writers. SpongeBob’s escapades with the Mr. Krab doppelganger go from aloof, to frivolous, to downright crazy. The rules to learning the formula are almost like a laundry list of non-sequiturs, and it’s pretty madcap the things Plankton will do to get what he wants. But the third act is where it really gets interesting, and I love how the real Mr. Krabs isn’t able to answer SpongeBob’s questions correctly, which you think he’d be able to do, but I appreciate the subversion of expectations. All in all, this is a thematically hollow yet incredibly hysterical episode that trades in emotions for laughs and high stakes.
You may remember this particular segment from:
34. SB-129 (December 31st, 1999)
I have no way of knowing this, but some of you reading were not alive back in 1999. That means you weren’t there for Y2K, and the dawn of the new millennium, and the ensuing madness over technology and the Internet and computers ruining clocks and destroying the world. I think the best piece of fiction ever made about this Y2K fear, and about our relationship with the future back at the turn of the century, is “SB-129”. Yes, that is a bold statement, but this episode premiered on December 31st, 1999, and was literally the last vestige for people’s concerns before the ball dropped. It’s apropos that Squidward is trapped in that storage room for 2000 years, a nod to the year 2000, and when he emerges enters a place taken over by technology and then goes on a Twilight Zone time travel adventure to learn about taking your life for granted. It’s scary, and humbling, and very different from almost any SpongeBob episode just in terms of tone, let alone the content and the look and feel of it. It takes from a number of inspirations from other source materials, and is apparently non-canon to the SpongeBob universe since it deals with paradoxes and causality loops. According to Tom Kenny on the SpongeBob wikia page, this episode is the most surreal episode in the series. I agree with him wholeheartedly; it’s really fucked up, but still very memorable and iconic. It helped to externalize people’s fears of that time, and make it funny and also really creepy.
ALONE ALONE ALONE ALONE ALONE:
33. Survival of the Idiots (March 5th, 2001)
As much as I love the idea that SpongeBob and Patrick can enjoy a winter wonderland, simply because snow is water just in a different state, what I love more is how Patrick drags SpongeBob into precarious situations in the simplest of ways. Once the duo enters Sandy’s treedome, past the video tape warning, they find Sandy is deep into hibernation, and also enormous. What’s so silly, and adorable, is that the entire story rests on Sandy sleepwalking and sleep talking. And sleep-doing. Not only are the stakes real for Pat and SpongeBob (being frozen in the treedome until Spring), the threat of Sandy murdering them is also very real. That’s terrifying, since she’s not even consciously aware of her actions. But that gets offset by the playfulness of the rest of the episode, and the insanely strong writing that backs everything up. Dirty Dan and Pinhead Larry have become their own memes at this point, and the snow, Sandy’s fur, and lots of other jokes from this episode have endured long after its premiere. I also really like the thought that Sandy, the smartest one under the sea, becomes a monster, like Jekyll and Hyde. But most of all, there is an insane amount of quotes that I continue to use this day with people, and I’ve put some of them below. The fact that I say “some of them” and not “all of them” tells you how good this episode is. Now, here are 4 (four!) videos to prove my point.
32. Karate Choppers (December 31st, 1999)
I think the #1 most underrated aspect of any film or TV show is the sound. Sound effects, music, and voice acting can be (arguably) more important than what is going on inside of the frame, and I think the episode that most exemplifies this is “Karate Choppers”. Within the few first seconds of the episode, and into the first few minutes you hear the difference; the story is 100% funnier with its offbeat sounds than if it was just traditional or ordinary or nonexistent. Add upon the fact that the music in the first season was always spot on with what was going on in the story, and you have a show that catches your ear as much as your eye. Every snap, every quack, every time a window is broken off camera, it just builds this world more than almost any other cartoon, and gives it a real personality and exuberance missing from most other TV shows. Beyond the brilliant production, “Karate Choppers” is a wild escalation of action sequences coupled with visual gags and audio cues. Once SpongeBob gets fired, the episode goes from being fluffy to actually being about playing with fire, and the consequences of not listening to your boss, temptation, and the struggle to juggle hobbies with your job. Bonus points for having the best line of dialogue in the show’s history and for starting the running joke of characters crying their tears in creative and fun ways.
You may remember Tom Kenny’s face from:
31. Wormy (February 17th, 2001)
If you’ve been reading this list, you can see a pattern emerge: the writers love to take their favorite films and TV shows and music, and squeeze them into episodes throughout the series. And like Jaws, which is the invisible backbone of “Sandy, SpongeBob, and the Worm”, monster movies like Godzilla are the inspiration behind “Wormy”. More than just the ‘man versus nature’ motif, there’s a whole underwater versus land creature thing going on, and hilariously a misunderstanding of biology turns into a ripple effect for mass destruction and chaos. Paranoia spreads like wild fire, and only a show like SpongeBob could transform an innocent butterfly into a Kaiju. Wormy drifts from one place to another, and that’s a perfect excuse to get everyone in town involved in the story. It’s not often all the citizens in Bikini Bottom agree on something, and it’s refreshing to see them all afraid of something. It kind of unifies the characters, even though SpongeBob and Patrick are the ones doing all the fear mongering. Wormy also speaks to the inherent disgust we all have for insects, because when they’re close to you, you freak out. They just have a look and sound that’s unnerving, sort of like this episode. There’s a terrific apocalyptic weight to the events, and the jokes are on point, which makes it all the funnier. Imagine if Bikini Bottom wasn’t destroyed, how much worse this episode would have been?
You probably forgot this outstanding montage existed: