On May 1, 1999, Spongebob Squarepants made his television debut on Nickelodeon. I remember, for some odd reason or another, being kind of excited about the show. So much so that I asked my big brother and my cousins to sit and watch it with me.
The reactions were meh, but I sorta liked it, not enough to follow it, but enough to watch it when it was on.
As the show continued on, my interest peaked more and more: the characters were funny, unique and made you fall in love with them. Patrick was a lovable goof who still had a marginal level of intelligence, Spongebob was naive but more happy-go-lucky than annoying, Mr. Krabs was a penny pincher but was still a great mentor to Spongebob. Every person had their place and it worked. The show became a phenomenon very early, holding its own and taking the thrown as Rugrats reruns stopped airing and the original Nicktoons like Rocko’s Modern Life, Hey Arnold, and Angry Beavers were slowly walking into retirement.
Then on September 7, 2001, something magical happened. The greatest Spongebob episode of all-time aired, and with it, one of the best episodes in cartoon history was launched.
Yes, I mean this.
Look, I know a lot of people don’t remember certain episodes of shows and cartoons, and that’s fine, totally okay, but you have to understand something. I grew up on cartoons. Cartoons upon cartoons, just like many of you. Looney Tunes, Cartoon Network, ABC family, pretty much anything that aired since around 1985. As I grew up and studied media and television and began to understand certain concepts and tropes, I appreciated this episode more and more. It takes a group episode that shows don’t pull off that well and executes it to perfection. I won’t recap the episode, I’m sure most of you have seen it, but let’s talk about the highlights that make this thing stand out.
Squidward gets a call from his old rival Squiliam Fancyson inviting him and his band to play in the “Bubble Bowl” since he can’t make it. Preparing to taunt Squidward since he “doesn’t have a band”, Squidward, unable to admit he doesn’t have one, posts flyers for auditions all over town. In his first practice everyone shows up, but nobody knows how to play instruments. Hilarity ensues.
The brilliance of this episode comes from the interaction of the town members and iconic lines between them, from “BIG. MEATY. CLAWS” to “is mayonnaise an instrument?” and as a matter of fact Patrick damn near steals the show here but that’s besides the point. The building of the plot, the inevitability that it’s not going to work, but somehow pulling the cheap “it all works out in the end” trick with an epic performance is just well organized and planned out.
You’ll be hard pressed to find too many pieces of animated brilliance that are able to top this episode and its legendary status. This seems to be the episode that turned heads toward Spongebob and solidified its status as the next big thing, and say what you feel about its run after the movie when Hillenberg stepped away, it doesn’t tarnish its early run and all its brilliance.
At worst, it’s the best Spongebob episode of all-time.
At best, it’s one of the greatest pieces of television in animation history.