Illustration by Alex Finger

Art thou feeling it now?: 'SpongeBob's' 11 most iconic episodes

It feels like just yesterday Nickelodeon was airing a “SpongeBob SquarePants” marathon in celebration of the show’s ten-year anniversary. Glued to the television for days on end, children had little more to worry about than strategically deciding which episodes to miss for a shower or a nap. 

Today, those same children are joining the workforce, going to college and maybe even delivering your news. While the children of the ‘90s and early 2000s might not be living as simplistic of lives as they were a decade ago, it’s comforting to know this little piece of childhood is still as beloved as ever. 

Late last year, the long-running animation series lost its creator, Stephen Hillenburg, to complications of ALS. The loss was a blow felt by all who grew up on the program. Hillenburg created one of the most unifying television programs of a generation. Even today, sayings such as “firmly grasp it” and “ravioli ravioli” continue to act as a sort of bonding mechanism between otherwise strangers and are always good for a laugh, assuming the strangers in question weren't some of those sorry individuals whose parents found the program objectionable.

Sure, the cartoon had some low points. Remember the splinter episode? How about when Squidward ripped off his toenail with a piece of furniture? Oh, and who could forget when SpongeBob fell in love with a Krabby Patty – a literal cheeseburger – for no reason? “SpongeBob” is not perfect, and recent episodes have lost the charm and age-defying humor of its early days, but it nonetheless remains culturally relevant at the ripe age of twenty. 

To celebrate the life of Hillenburg and the show’s 20th anniversary, dust off that Wumbology degree and take a look at this extensive — but far from comprehensive — list of "SpongeBob SquarePants’" 11 most iconic episodes.

Procrastination: “The”

We’ve all regarded assignments with the arrogant certainty we can breeze through them in one sitting only to be met with crippling writer’s block. Becoming increasingly resonant as its fanbase ages, this episode plays on the ridiculous lengths to which people will go in order to distract themselves from the task at hand, such as finding extreme amusement in arbitrary sources or needlessly cleaning the house in order to obtain an easy yet fleeting sense of productivity. Also of note is the show’s spot-on depiction of stress-induced fever dreams that haunt our procrastinatory sleeps.

Shanghaied: “No, no, wait, it was his mother you said was dirty, not his ship.”

This ep – LEEDLE LEEDLE LEEDLE LEE – episode pairs The Flying Dutchman with the dramatically different personalities of the SpongeBob/Patrick duo, each acting as a foil to the other. Try as he might, The Flying Dutchman cannot break the optimism and utter obliviousness of Bikini Bottom’s goofiest goobers as he conditions them into proper “ghostly ghost pirates.” They prove to be more trouble than they're worth, and after informing them he has no choice but to eat them, they attempt escape through an unpleasantly fragrant perfume department in one of the cartoon's signature live-action montages.

Tea at the Treedome: "Do you mean she puts on airs?"

Simply put, this installment introduces two "SpongeBob" staples: Sandy Cheeks and, "When in doubt, pinky out." The former is the show's resident land mammal who has been the source of classic episodes such as "Texas;" "Sandy, SpongeBob, and the Worm;" and "Survival of the Idiots." The latter is solid advice for any swanky event. 

No Weenies Allowed: "Way to go, buddy. It took us three days to make that potato salad."

Not everybody will fit in at the Salty Spittoon. Not everybody will fit in at Weenie Hut Jr.'s. Everybody, however, will always have a place at Super Weenie Hut Jr.'s. The message? Embrace your inner weenie and stop trying to be something you're not. This idea of authenticity has been done with greater success in the past, but this episode contains three of the series' most iconic locations of the weenie variety, and on this list, weenie trumps substance.

Chocolate with Nuts: "You just can't wait for me to die, can you?"

SpongeBob and Patrick embark on a mission to become entrepreneurs by selling chocolate, introducing the audience to some of the show's most colorful characters in the process. As such, the episode is rich in quotable one-liners. If you haven't screamed, "What are they selling?" or "CHOCOLATE" at somebody in the grocery store, are you even a Nickelodeon kid?

The Camping Episode: "Well, maybe it is stupid, but it's also dumb."

Marshmallow roasting, campfire-song songs and anti-sea rhinoceros undergarments are all you need for a night outdoors. Coincidentally, they're also all you need for quality television. "The Camping Episode" takes all known rules of camping safety and challenges them by means of bad clarinet playing, a sombrero worn in a goofy fashion and cheese (cubed; sliced is fine).

Pizza Delivery: "The pioneers used to ride these babies for miles."

The Krusty Krab has seen many failed business ventures over the years – salads, drive-thrus and a hotel come to mind – but the Krusty Krab pizza, which is the pizza for you and me, was the one that started it all. The episode also gave us some early insight into the complexity of SpongeBob and Squidward's relationship, with Squidward making a surprising, heartwarming gesture in standing up for his frenemy to an ungrateful customer.

F.U.N.: "U is for Uranium ... bombs."

Unless you live under a rock a la Patrick Star, you've heard the duet between SpongeBob and Plankton in which they define the word "fun." There was probably other stuff that happened, too, but does anybody really remember?

Rock Bottom: "SpongeBob, where's 'Leaving Bikini Bottom?'"

The most stressful ten minutes of television history, "Rock Bottom's" scene, in which SpongeBob reaches for the candy bar as the bus pulls up to the stop, will forever live in infamy. In the end, SpongeBob makes it back to Bikini Bottom thanks to a stranger's act of kindness, but – pfft – we – pfft – still can't get over the horrifying images that characterize this unfamiliar area of the ocean ... pfft.

Band Geeks: "Big. Meaty. Claws!"

Squidward's rivalry with unibrowed lookalike Squilliam is introduced, and just about every character is on deck. Viewers learn a number of important lessons throughout the episode, including, but not limited to, what qualifies as an instrument, speaking louder makes you sound more intelligent and sometimes you need to work hard not because you necessarily will get anything out of it, but because other people are depending on you. Also, there was "Sweet Victory" (let's not talk about Maroon 5's ultimate betrayal of trust).

Graveyard Shift: “Squidward, I used your clarinet to unclog my toilet!”

From beginning to end, the episode is fraught with all the makings of a "SpongeBob" classic. Characters play to their stereotypes, such as Mr. Krabs turning his premier daytime eatery into a 24/7 money ploy or SpongeBob’s disproportionate enthusiasm toward doing things … at night, but also have moments of genuine development, such as Squidward breaking from his disinterested schtick to tell SpongeBob he’s “always sorta liked” him. Then, of course, there are unexpected cut-away scenes, witty one-liners children won't appreciate and off-the-wall references not even adults can make sense of. Why was Nosferatu, the star of a silent German film from the 1920s, flickering the lights? Your guess is as good as mine. Most importantly, though, the episode gave us the mash-flinging, er, the hash-slinging slasher.


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