The 100 Best Episodes of SpongeBob Squarepants
50. Pickles (August 21, 1999)
Bubble Bass seemed, at one point, to be the preliminary villain on this show, behind Plankton. But after the first season ended, he never returned until seven seasons later for one brief cameo. I think he’s an interesting character who never got to be fully explored, sort of like Larry the Lobster. There’s something there, some deep seeded entitlement or vengeance or something, that is fueling him to be a jerk not only to SpongeBob but to the other citizens of Bikini Bottom. For whatever reason, he hides things under his tongue, including car keys. Why would he do that? In any case, “Pickles” is one of the few purely psychological episodes of SpongeBob, where nothing happens except what’s going on with SpongeBob mentally. His psyche is completely fractured, and he slowly digresses his sanity until he is no longer to function like a normal person. SpongeBob’s inability to complete daily tasks, set goals, and his highly obsessed nature seems like there is some commentary on mental illness. But it really could just be that he had a bad day and was in a funk. We’ve all been there before, but not to this degree. Nailing bread to your walls and furniture? Yoda speak? It can be somewhat daunting, but much like all good episodes of this show, it takes a potentially depressing situation and finds ways to make it funny, entertaining, enjoyable for all ages, and not waste any time at all. No unnecessary scenes, strong editing, dialogue that always pushes the plot forward and reveals character, and a lot of killer jokes; “Pickles” is an early favorite for many, and takes something as stupid as pickles and presents it with great candor.
You may remember this particular segment from:
49. The Camping Episode (April 3rd, 2004)
Within the span of a minute, Squidward twists his own logic (and maybe jealousy) from wanting to stay away from SpongeBob and Patrick to joining them outdoors camping. The title really does encapsulate what the story is about, and the only thing for twelve minutes is just the three’s adventures camping. But it escalates quickly into a madcap joke-fest, with a spectacularly dangerous and exhilarating climax. Squidward never comes out of these things unharmed, and his tirade about sea-bear leads to a gut busting display of violence and very bad luck. It’s risky to make an episode rest purely upon its joke telling, but not once do you ever hesitate to question what is going on. Even though the mauling is never onscreen, it’s implied, and that’s enough to prove how perilous the wilderness is. The once scene, where the sea-bear is attacking Squidward nonstop, never actually cuts away, and you don’t even need to see him being attacked for it to work. Like a play, the sea-bear just exits stage left, over and over, and the dialogue is the only thing holding the comedy up. It’s daring and hilarious storytelling, but “The Camping Episode” knows what it’s going for and nails it.
Here it is. Because you couldn’t listen to it enough, right?
48. Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy IV (January 21st, 2002)
I love Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy. They’re only used sparingly, and I mean exceedingly so, which makes their appearances all the more special and weeds out the possibility of bad episodes. You can tell the writers only bring them into the equation if they have a particular story in mind, and while I cannot justify them being in this one, it is nonetheless a worthy addition to the MM&BB legacy. I think if SpongeBob just found the shrinking belt, and you never saw Mermaid Man, it would be relatively the same story. But that’s not a knock at all, just an observation. The Wumbo Belt is an excellent McGuffin to base a story around because of the endless possibilities it offers. “MM&BB IV” plays out like a Twilight Zone episode, where bad decisions lead to worse situations, and things get so out of hand with the sci-fi zaniness, you’d think Rod Sterling would show up and narrate the epilogue. I say this a lot, but any episode that can utilize the entire cast gets bonus points for me, and plus: SpongeBob’s parents show up! How cool is that? Never thought I’d see them again. This also happens to be the Wumbo episode, if you haven’t clicked below and watch that ten times already. It’s a very lighthearted and wacky affair, with no real substance behind it, but it does feature enough moments to capture a high spot on the list. And that ending. Come on, it’s fabulous.
You may remember this particular segment from:
47. Squid’s Day Off (November 2nd, 2000)
Either Roman Polanski wrote “Squid’s Day Off”, or the writers on this show need a lot more credit. And counseling. Frugal Mr. Krabs leaves work from a dime related injury and Squidward is left in charge of the Krabby Patty. Once he gets the idea to take the day off, and relays the responsibility onto SpongeBob, he goes home. But just the thought of leaving him there, alone, without supervision, and HIS job is on the line, things go a little haywire. Then really haywire. Then completely mental, and filled with so much paranoia it might be disturbing to some. The crazy thoughts and worries of Squidward, juxtaposed with him running back to check in on SpongeBob, is a beautiful recipe for disaster. ‘Keep it simple’ is a famous screenwriting mantra, and this episode sticks to that. It’s just Squidward freaking out, and hallucinating and coming up with scenarios that might happen, only to run in and be proven wrong. For us, it’s a set-up and payoff that repeats multiple times, and this is the bulk of what the story is. But somehow, it works (shocker, right?) and it is just one joke after another after another, all the while SpongeBob saying “did you finish those errands?”. Repetition and variation is the backbone to avant-garde art, and also to good comedy. Do a joke, repeat it, but vary it enough to make it funnier the more you rely on it. And that’s what “Squid’s Day Off” is, a one-note joke executed and expanded into an eleven minute episode. Which is an accomplishment, if you think about it.
You may remember this particular segment from:
46. Squeaky Boots (September 4th, 1999)
So take whatever I said about “Squid’s Day Off”, and apply that times tenfold here. A superior episode about paranoia and conspiracy, “Squeaky Boots” goes just a bit further over the line in its depiction of insanity and obsession. Sort of like Edgar Allen Poe’s The Telltale Heart, but more Kafkaesque, and with a pinch of David Lynch in there for good measure. I like how instead of Squidward, who would be prone to this kind of ridiculousness, it’s Mr. Krabs as the protagonist, trying to get rid of those gosh darn boots. As if karma struck him with this plague of bad luck, sort of like he was stuck in a Coen Bros. film and something terrible happens just because he’s trying to squirm out of a wrong purchase he made. The lying, the deception, his stinginess, and ruining Pearl’s birthday, it all comes back to bite him in the ass. That’s textbook tragedy, classic Greek drama, only in the SpongeBob universe. His antics with the boots are both acrobatic and wild, which lead to some innocent laughs in an episode filled with a lot of terror and fear. Man, this episode does not look funny on paper, but when you watch Mr. Krabs fight an open window, it’s great. It’s funnier because of his sad circumstance, and the physical comedy is on full display in “Squeaky Boots”. Also, if you hate that infernal squeaking noise, you may hate this episode. I know people who just can’t watch it, which is odd to me. Oh well, they miss out.
Can you handle this video? I went 30 seconds, not going to lie:
45. Big Pink Loser (November 16th, 2000)
Patrick being an idiot; we’ve already talked about this before. Once he gets a taste of success though, he becomes ambitious, and then jealous and spiteful, and eventually turns into a belligerent troll copying SpongeBob. What I really love about this episode is the snappy dialogue and the strong writing, which lay as the foundation to a lot of goofy jokes. Utilizing Patrick can be tricky, since he’s a walking punch-line. If you overuse him, or pander to the audience, or go too easy with the insults, then he doesn’t work quite as well. But “Big Pink Loser” truly understands what he wants as a character, and what he’s willing to do to accomplish his goals, and often times cartoons lose sight of that. A character’s needs and how he/she overcomes obstacles and reacts to conflict is the backbone of narrative storytelling. And for comedy, you want to add some funny gags strung together throughout the story, and make sure your jokes are witty and your timing is right. Of course that sounds easy, but it’s not. Take for example one line that decimated me, and it’s a simple throwaway. SpongeBob tells Patrick that’s he getting colder, then warmer, then hotter as he tries to find the lid on a jar. So instead of just ending it there, Patrick yells out “IT BURNS!” as if the lid is actually on fire. That’s all it takes, just one illogical step forward for the sake of silliness, and you turn nothing into something funny. Much like SpongeBob slipping and dropping a bunch of plates; that’s good initially, but then Patrick repeats what he does, and in turn makes that joke better than it was. What a pointless thing to do, you cannot help but find that funny. There are countless examples of that, where good writing turns okay stories and jokes into great ones, and that’s really noteworthy for me.
Here are two clips for you! The list is getting so good now, there are too many clips to share!
44. New Student Starfish (September 20th, 2002)
Replicating a friendship through fiction can be relatively easy. Just have two characters who like each other hang out a lot, and BOOM they’re friends. But to truly examine what makes a great friendship tick, you have to go through a commonality: a fight between the two, and them making up. We go through that process in ten minutes in “New Student Starfish”, and it’s remarkable when you think about that from a narrative standpoint. This episode is nuanced and also incredibly funny. But then again, any time an episode takes place in Mrs. Puff’s classroom it’s almost guaranteed laughs. Patrick being a horrible student, juxtaposed against SpongeBob trying to be a good noodle, is a terrific A plot, and the B plot with Roger the egg makes it only better since it weaves into the main storyline and resolves the conflict by the end. There’s a good joke in every scene, and there’s some good drama between SpongeBob and Patrick. Stakes are hard to pull off on a cartoon that’s supposed to be lighthearted and for children, but showing Roger freezing to death is a very smart visual way to convey that to any audience. Plus, “New Student Starfish” is both suspenseful AND quotable, which is almost impossible to achieve. Unless we’re talking about the Indiana Jones trilogy, but other than that, a rarity.
You may remember this particular segment from:
43. Squilliam Returns (March 15th, 2002)
Good on the writers of this show to bring back an excellent and far too often underused character in Squilliam, and give him his own episode. “Squilliam Returns” goes totally off the deep end with Squidward trying to impress his high school rival, and the lies pile up as the story goes on (as any good sequel to the almighty “Band Geeks” should be). The mission is established early, create a 5-star restaurant in one night, and it all unravels in a beautiful travesty with the plan getting only worse and worse for everyone involved in the charade. And not just ‘everyone has a bad night’, like literally everything that can go wrong does. I’m talking monsters, insanity, kidnapping, torture, the works. Total sweeping justice, absolute cosmic karma happens because Squidward wants to show up an old friend. The story goes out of its way to become an ambitious showcase of insanity, and for that “Squilliam Returns” ranks fairly high on our list. By the time it reaches the “clever visual metaphor used to personify the abstract concept of thought” sequence, it turns into an early ‘70s Woody Allen slapstick, and it is miraculous. Getting revenge can be the most satisfying thing to watch, just look at Tarantino’s filmography, and seeing it fall apart for Squidward is even better than seeing him succeed. Because that’s how his character works: he has to be miserable in order for us to find him funny. That’s the role he serves, and he does it better than any grouch on TV. Also, he technically won the last two these guys fought, so it makes sense for Squidward to reset back to miserable by the end.
Here’s two more!
42. Your Shoe’s Untied (November 2nd, 2000)
What does an episode of SpongeBob have to have in order to be considered quintessential? For me, it’s a weird list: a song, very strong editing and sound effects, puns, a Flying Dutchman appearance, retro live action footage has to be somewhere, Patrick being an idiot, Squidward being grouchy and sarcastic, Mr. Krabs saying “money” and chuckling to himself, Gary getting a punch-line at some point, marine biology jokes, the French narrator doing a timecard transition joke, Krabby Patties are made, and the entire cast of characters in Bikini Bottom show up at some point. That is, for me, the quintessential SpongeBob experience, and “Your Shoe’s Untied” has all of these things. Hell, it has the painting of the pirate from the beginning of the show; how often do you see that? Never, that’s how often. This is the premiere episode of Season 2, which I consider to be not only the high point of this show but also one of the greatest seasons in TV history. All that’s missing from this episode is Plankton and Sandy, and I’m sure you could have squeezed them into the montage of not knowing how to tie shoes. All in all, it’s a jam-packed episode with a lot of diverse humor and a satisfying end, and a catchy song to sing. What more could you want from an episode?
Let’s learn how to tie our shoes with this shaky cam footage:
41. Club SpongeBob (July 12th, 2002)
I don’t need to remind anyone of how long-lasting and popular “Club SpongeBob” is. Just take a look at Twitch Plays Pokemon, which has sprouted countless memes and religions, and a lot of them all tie back to SpongeBob for whatever reason. I guess that generation of kids, myself included, got hooked on Pokemon Red and Blue in 1998 and watched the show in 1999, so the two make sense being mixed together culturally. But there would be no “All Hail the Helix” or “All Hail the Dome” without the magic conch shell, and despite being 15 years old I still continuously see and hear people discuss the magic conch as if it aired on SNL last night or something. The premise is that, once again, Squidward says something he will later regret, and the exact moment he says it something terrible happens. In this episode, it’s getting deserted in the rain forest while starving to death. Yes, that is rather hardcore for a children’s cartoon, but it’s also trite because there are a lot of similar storylines in other shows. The brilliance behind this episode is in the conch shell saying something, and everyone reacting to it. Or not reacting: not moving, not sharing, not eating, whatever. The comedy comes from hearing what the shell says and seeing the consequences of it happen. Squidward tries to fight his fate, and SpongeBob and Patrick just embrace it; their philosophies on life never more clear in their actions. I will never get tired of Squidward saying something that bites him in the ass, like “…fall out of the sky” and having a picnic fall out of the sky. That’s just perfect irony, and Squidward is far too often on the other side of that irony, much to my delight.
ALL HAIL THE MAGIC CONCH SHELL: