Two decades ago, few could have guessed that an animated, talking aquatic sponge would be the central figure of one of the funniest, strangest, and most influential children's shows on television. The late Stephen Hillenburg unleashed his zany undersea world on us 20 years ago when SpongeBob SquarePantsofficially premiered on Nickelodeon on July 17, 1999. In the years since, the absorbent, yellow, porous creature has starred in movies, appeared on Broadway, and taken on a new life as countless internet memes.
Yet unlike the majority of late '90s animated kids shows, Hillenberg's series has secured a permanent spot in our memories thanks to more than mere nostalgia. At the time that it premiered, nothing quite like the wacky, imaginative world of Bikini Bottom existed. A fascinating concoction of slapstick and surrealism, SpongeBob echoes the comedy and visual gags of silent film stars like Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton, and Charlie Chaplin; borrows the childlike eccentricity of Pee-wee Hermann; and sprinkles in some light social commentary here and there to keep both kids and adults engaged. It's a show that's purely enjoyable no matter your age.
In honor of SpongeBob's 20th anniversary -- how's that for feeling old as hell? -- I've decided to take on the difficult challenge of ranking the best 100 episodes. Though the series continues today (it's currently airing its twelfth season), it began to lose its sharp edge and quality consistency into its fourth and fifth years. That means the majority of this ranking consists of the series' first three seasons, which represent the very best of SpongeBob, Patrick, and Squidward's misadventures. Without further ado, let's get this started. Are you ready? I'm ready.
SpongeBob breaks into the film industry to make his own Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy movie as a protest to a big studio production starring younger actors. An episode all about ageism that also predicted the industry's TV reboot phenomenon.
Of course there's a jellyfishing version of Comic-Con in Bikini Bottom. When SpongeBob and Patrick go and predictably nerd out, SpongeBob tries to join the Jellyspotters crew, a group of arrogant nerds who haze him. SpongeBob saves the day with his bubble-blowing skills, but ultimately this is a lesson in avoiding toxic fandoms at all costs.
Patrick starts going to boating school, which quickly gets SpongeBob in trouble and sent to the back of the class. They make up after saving an egg named Roger.
Squidward teaches an art class, but no one comes except SpongeBob, who shows impressive skill that -- yet again -- pisses off Squidward. In a rage, Squidward destroys his art studio and in the process accidentally makes an amazing sculpture, but he's too mad to notice.
A Jaws parody where Mr. Krabs takes SpongeBob and Squidward clam fishing to celebrate making his millionth dollar, but a giant clam ends up stealing it. There's some classic SpongeBob waterworks silliness here, but this time it's Mr. Krabs who cries into his own mouth and spews his tears in delightfully odd ways.
Sandy and SpongeBob become hooked on surprising one another with karate duels in the middle of the day, but when Mr. Krabs finds out he threatens to fire SpongeBob. Another weird SpongeBob crying highlight: he sobs into a mug then drinks it.
What's not to love about a parody of Aquaman, Batman, and Robin all rolled into a pair of old guys stuck in a retirement home? The later installments give the two more to do, and allow more room for the series to explore their gadgets and enemies, but their debut is quite memorable. Questions that still bug me: how do they breath underwater? And why are they humans, but the same size as sea creatures?
The "F.U.N. Song" is iconic and therefore must be included on this list. This episode is also proof that manipulative people never change, so stop falling for it!
SpongeBob adopts a magical seahorse who ends up becoming addicted to Krabby Patties. It pisses off Mr. Krabs, who tries to get rid of her, but she ends up eating all of his money. A lesson in how to become a proper pet owner instead of spontaneously adopting cute but erratic strays.
Squidward reveals that he's never eaten a Krabby Patty somehow, so SpongeBob flips out and feeds him one. Squidward realizes he actually loves Krabby Patties now, but is too proud to admit it.
Plankton recruits an army of his fellow tiny crustacean family members to hold Mr. Krabs hostage (oddly, in a toilet) for the Krabby Patty recipe. There's a nice little dose of the surreal when the plankton army form a giant hand and an ear to crack open a safe.
Mr. Krabs sells SpongeBob a soda drink hat for $10 right before a hoard of people offer to buy it for a million dollars, sending Krabs into a speedy frenzy to get the hat back. After destroying a graveyard full of fish zombies to get it, it turns out it's no longer trendy and no one wants it anymore.
SpongeBob is terrified of a bully at boating school who wants to beat him up. But once the bully does it, SpongeBob willingly gets punched and is kinda into it -- because he's a sponge and therefore doesn't feel the pain. Really, this is an episode about SpongeBob discovering he's a bottom who finally found his aggressive top.
Sandy and SpongeBob try to save the town from a giant Alaskan worm. Meanwhile, everyone else follows Patrick's alternate plan: to literally move Bikini Bottom somewhere else so the worm will stop attacking them. Actually, not a bad idea.
The Krusty Krab airs its first commercial, which features SpongeBob ever-so-briefly in the background. After Old Man Jenkins recognizes him on the street, mistaking SpongeBob for a cereal box commercial, he starts to believe he's a celebrity. I admire cocksure, if delusional, Spongebob, who radiates suaveness with such ease.
Squidward develops a gambling addiction to a toy claw machine that SpongeBob is effortlessly skilled at. Post-Season 3, the series struggled to generate the same fresh sense of humor and kooky originality that defined the earlier and best episodes, but this is one of the most memorable installments of Season 4 that felt like classic SpongeBob.
An exercise in SpongeBob weirdness, in this episode SpongeBob and Patrick get stuck inside Sandy's house mid-winter while she's hibernating. To entertain themselves, they build earmuffs out of belly button lint and wax off all of her hair to keep warm.
SpongeBob watches a horror movie that convinces him Mr. Krabs is actually robot, leading to SpongeBob roping Squidward into one of his wild conspiracy theories.
One of my favorite ongoing SpongeBob plots is the unending cycle of hell that is Mrs. Puff's life. In this one, she's replaced by a military instructor who finally teaches SpongeBob how to drive, but it's only when he's blindfolded by Patrick's pants that he's able to do it.
Honestly, I'm amazed it took 17 episodes into this show for Mr. Krabs to go on a treasure hunt.
In order to become a convincing and thus not square ghost for Halloween, SpongeBob asks Patrick to shave his head, but he ends up shaving off his entire sponge body. This remains one of the most disturbing things this show has ever done.
Mr. Krabs feels old and wants to spice it up so he goes out with SpongeBob and Patrick to prove he's hip, which is the least hip thing to do. The evening involves staring at a washing machine, going to the dentist, fixing a rooftop, picking up trash, and, uh, stealing Mr. Krabs' mother's underwear.
Plankton becomes a life coach and tries to teach SpongeBob how to be more assertive and act like an aggressive toxic jerk, but of course SpongeBob responds by being aggressively nice.
This is an episode for all the people out there who passively suffer in order to make other people happy. It's also for anyone who sucks at sports. Before Sandy goes into hibernation, SpongeBob joins her for a series of extreme sports even though he hates every minute of it. A reminder that saying no to things you don't want to do is okay!
It's like Wife Swap but with sea creatures who run fast food restaurants. Plankton gets his wish to switch places with Mr. Krabs and work at the Krusty Krab, but SpongeBob quickly drives him crazy. Realizing that running the Krusty Krab and being around a nutty sponge all day is a nightmare, he goes back to his old life.
Mrs. Puff has reached her breaking point and finally gives SpongeBob his boating license so she doesn't have to teach him anymore. Then panic sets in so she steals his boat so he won't be able to drive. Once again, Mrs. Puff goes to jail.
SpongeBob and Patrick accidentally free Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy's nemesis Man Ray and torture him with a tickling belt, which ultimately cures his desire for evil. Instead of robbing a bank, he ends up opening a checking account. A good tip: when you want something from someone, tickle them into submission.
To get back at SpongeBob for an April Fool's Day joke, Squidward gets extra vicious and carries out a rude plank that makes SpongeBob cry. Then he struggles to apologize, which turns out to be a part of another one of SpongeBob's pranks.
In Plankton's series introduction he makes his first attempt to get the Krabby Patty recipe by controlling SpongeBob's brain. The main reveal is that Plankton went to college, which explains things; he's just a sad millennial drowning in debt trying to make some cash by selling a profitable burger.
A SpongeBob episode about veganism. SpongeBob catches all the jellyfish in Bikini Bottom so Mr. Krabs can add jelly to the Krabby Patty recipe. Yet in a twist of greed and exploitation, Mr. Krabs builds a factory that tortures the jellyfish to extract their jelly. When SpongeBob learns the truth, he swears off catching jellyfish for food.
If you pester retired superheroes enough, they'll let you hang out and be a superhero with them. SpongeBob's superpower is being really annoying and completely unaware of it, like calling on a nearly naked Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy to open a jar of mayonnaise for him.
In a new venture to make money, Mr. Krabs turns the Krusty Krab into a hotel that caters to every guest's desire. Squidward grows sick of being a bellhop so he quits and checks into the hotel to drive Krabs nuts. Then Krabs and Spongebob kidnap Squidward's mom to bake cookies.
Mr. Krabs loses SpongeBob in a card game to Plankton, which is supremely screwed up that he bet a human (er, an invertebrate) in the first place. Now SpongeBob has to work at the Chum Bucket where he turns into a moody brat who demands foot rubs and floral vibrating shoes in order to work. A hero.
SpongeBob loses his name tag from work and has to retrace his steps to find it. He ends up recreating his morning over and over again, which is concerning since he feeds Gary breakfast approximately 15 times. Turns out SpongeBob just put his shirt on backwards.
SpongeBob learns a swear word that's been graffitied on a dumpster. Patrick convinces him it's a word you use to sound smarter, so they go around town saying it nonstop, which reminds me of the time someone told my childhood neighbor the middle finger means "thank you" so he spent a day flipping everyone off.
Mr. Krabs accuses Squidward of stealing a dime so he quits his job, then loses his house and is forced to move in with SpongeBob. Squidward turns into a bitchy moocher who refuses to get a job and makes SpongeBob his personal servant.
It's Walden, but with SpongeBob living among the jellyfish. And much like Thoreau's influential book, this episode should also be credited for its major contribution to the advancement of humanity through literature and art: it gave us the Tired Spongebob meme.
When SpongeBob brings home a jellyfish, the entire local jellyfish community decides to take over and move in too. A selection of things jellyfish do in this episode: walk on two legs, play fetch, read a newspaper, throw a house party, turn into an angry mob.
This episode is mostly excellent for the title alone: Plankton creates a robot version of Mr. Krabs to fool SpongeBob into giving him the Krabby Patty formula. When both are put to the test, the real Mr. Krabs fails and gets blasted with tartar sauce.
SpongeBob and Patrick house sit for Sandy's bugs and befriend a caterpillar that then turns into a butterfly. After Wormy, who is no longer a worm despite the name -- I mean did anyone ask Wormy what name they wanted to go by?! -- gets out, he's viciously ostracized and called a "monster" for how he looks and is hunted down by all of Bikini Bottom. Yes, this is an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants about discrimination and transphobia.
SpongeBob, Patrick, and Squidward get stuck in a treehouse then accidentally launch themselves into another part of the ocean where they get stranded. They use a Magic 8-Ball conch to survive, which tells them to do "nothing" so SpongeBob and Patrick, of course, do exactly that as Squidward continues to lose his damn mind.
In one of SpongeBob's many entrepreneurial attempts, he opens his own food stand with colorful burgers called Pretty Patties. Mr. Krabs buys out the business before things go south and the patties turn everyone's tongue a different color. But most significantly, this episode gave us the iconic Mr. Krabs tunnel vision meme.
The Krusty Krab hosts a talent show where SpongeBob steals the show while mopping up the stage. Honestly, the citizens of Bikini Bottom don't deserve Squidward's interpretive dancing.
As if it wasn't already obvious SpongeBob and Patrick are in a queer relationship, whether they acknowledge it or not, this seals the deal. SpongeBob plans an elaborate Valentine's Day surprise that goes terribly wrong and Patrick, heartbroken and in serious need of working on his jealousy issues, throws a fit.
Patrick's parents think he's an idiot, so to convince them otherwise SpongeBob pretends to be the dummy when they visit. But the twist: they weren't even Patrick's parents, but a random starfish couple who thought they were his parents. Starfish would be so insulted by this show.
SpongeBob becomes a lifeguard so he can be as cool as the buff lobster Larry. SpongeBob cannot swim. As expected, things go very poorly.
In one of an endless number of attempts to move away from SpongeBob, Squidward decides to put his house on the market. To make sure SpongeBob doesn't screw it up, Squidward tells him it's opposite day when the realtor comes, which means SpongeBob and Patrick try to act like, and contort their bodies to look like, Squidward.
Gary leaves SpongeBob to live with Patrick, which destroys SpongeBob. To make Gary jealous, he gets a new pet: an angry, hissing snail named Lary. Turns out Gary just wanted a cookie in Patrick's pants.
SpongeBob gets sick with a cold, better known as "the suds." Patrick tries to cure him by pretending to be a doctor, which includes plugging up his holes with dozens of corks, torturing him, turning him into a trampoline, and pretending a congested SpongeBob is his house.
Squidward decides to take a day off work, but can't enjoy it because he becomes paranoid something is going to go wrong with SpongeBob running the Krusty Krab. Do they have Xanex in Bikini Bottom?
Squidward is reminded of the utter mundanity of his life when he runs into his arch-nemesis from high school, Squilliam Fancyson. To impress him, Squidward pretends he owns a five-star restaurant while SpongeBob goes nuts trying to successfully be a five-star waiter. Then we go inside his brain Inside Out-style where a bunch of panicked mini SpongeBobs run around madly.
I'm pretty sure this episode opens with SpongeBob watching anemone porn. He suddenly forgets how to tie his shoes (probably because he's so nervous after Gary caught him watching porn!) then proceeds to screw up everything. We also see unborn SpongeBob as a sperm who wears socks and shoes, while Gary is revealed to be wearing oxford shoes and has a record player under his shell.
SpongeBob noir. After Mr. Krabs thinks the health inspector is a phony trying to scam him for free food, he and SpongeBob feed him a bad Krabby Patty with a sock in it that nearly kills him, then they attempt to bury the body.
It's baffling SpongeBob manages to pay his bills (if they indeed have bills in Bikini Bottom) considering how often he gives his paycheck to Mr. Krabs for dumb shit. This time around he becomes obsessed with a pair of squeaky boots that Mr. Krabs swindles him into buying. In typical bizarre fashion, this episode ends with Mr. Krabs eating the boots.
Add this to the list of the series' deeply unnerving imagery: SpongeBob and Squidward as snails. Amid a spate of madcap incidents, both SpongeBob and Squidward are accidentally injected with snail plasma. They transform into SpongeSnail and SquidSnail, and never get turned back. Most relatable is how SpongeBob continues to justify every bad thing that happens to him as normal, even as he grows giant eyestalks and a shell.
Patrick is depressed over the fact that he's never won an award so SpongeBob gets him a job at the Krusty Krab. An ever darker downward spiral commences when Patrick can't answer the phone or properly sweep the floor.
When SpongeBob and Patrick destroy a Squidward wax figure then see his baby powder-covered body emerge from the bath, they're convinced they killed him and are seeing his ghost. Squidward goes along with it until finally admitting to the charade, but SpongeBob and Patrick just think he's in denial, which honestly could be a possibility considering how many times Squid has been blown to pieces in this show.
This is a masterclass in how to turn an embarrassing moment into a praiseworthy joke, then stretch that joke so obnoxiously far everyone ends up hating you. But the most pressing question: where does SpongeBob acquire so many pairs of pants? Ripping all of your pants? In this economy?!
SpongeBob and Patrick "borrow" a balloon, but when it pops they run away and live as outlaws. Turns out the balloons were free all along. The highlight is when Patrick eats his chocolate bar and immediately forgets, so he goes off on SpongeBob thinking he stole it, which is me when I drunkenly eat leftovers then angrily question why they've gone missing the next morning.
This episode is all about what happens when you've waited until the night before a paper or article is due to finish it -- definitely not representative of me writing this ranking whatsoever. You know it, that disorienting experience of completely losing your sanity when pulling an all-nighter, hyped up on adrenaline and panic, when suddenly when your pants come to life and your household objects yell at you for procrastinating.
The very first SpongeBob episode (also the origin of "I'm ready!") is the ideal introduction to the endlessly ambitious and hopeful yellow sponge who will do any and every thing to get his dream job. Determined as ever, SpongeBob becomes a fry cook by finding a high-tech spatula Mr. Krabs completely made up. Question: Is SpongeBob a Capricorn?
Mrs. Puff goes to jail for the hundredth time, but actually loves it because it means she doesn't have to deal with SpongeBob ever again. Except SpongeBob and Patrick try to break her out of jail, sneaking into a pot of soup and causing her to get sent to solitary. But wait, it's actually a dream... within a dream... that isn't actually a dream! Mrs. Puff is by far SpongeBob's most abused character.
SpongeBob uses Mermaid Man's belt to do what any sensible person would: use the shrinking device to make a tiny Krusty Krab for... roaches. Things reach peak weird when he accidentally shrinks all of Bikini Bottom and everyone climbs inside his holes to destroy his organs. The episode ends with the entire city shrunken, so I guess every episode after this is about a microscopic Bikini Bottom.
There's never really been an episode like this one, where the entire 11 minutes are a video new employees must watch. It's a clever departure from the rest of the series' usual scenarios and formats. Oh, and the Krusty Krab's training motto is POOP.
SpongeBob tries to get into a hardcore biker bar by faking a fight with Patrick and giving himself a disguise to prove he's tough. As soon as he gets in the bar, he slips on an ice cube and is rushed to the hospital.
My number one favorite SpongeBob oddity is his ability to absorb liquid and do increasingly odd things when releasing it from his porous body. When he takes Pearl to prom, awkwardly navigating the dance on stilts, he falls in the punch bowl and serves it to high schoolers via his nose. To be honest, way better than my prom.
This marks the very first friend fight between Patrick and SpongeBob when Patrick becomes best friends with Squidward. But this episode is actually a disturbing warning for what may happen if you drink too much seltzer too quickly.
After SpongeBob and Patrick see fancy homes in a lifestyle magazine they decide to become entrepreneurs, which translates to selling chocolate bars door-to-door. What follows is a series of classic SpongeBob shenanigans, like getting swindled twice by the same salesman and running from their top customer. This reminds me of the time in middle school I decided to start my own business by going door-to-door offering to wash people's driveways with a "magical cleaning liquid" I made by pouring a bunch of cleaning products into a bucket. Not recommended!
SpongeBob and Patrick decide to raise a baby clam. Embracing domesticity, they fully live as the queer couple they've always been, except it's super heteronormative as Patrick becomes a distant paternal figure to SpongeBob's overworked housewife.
Usually it's SpongeBob driving Squidward crazy with a trivial activity or object (i.e. "The Paper," "Bubblestand"), but here it's Patrick. He has a cardboard box with a secret inside, leaving an ever-curious SpongeBob desperate to find out. In an excellent bit of physical comedy that echoes Buster Keaton and the Looney Tunes -- and genuinely makes me laugh out loud as an adult -- SpongeBob sneaks under Patrick's rock to steal the box, trying to be as silent as possible while absurd mismatched sound effects (a car alarm, a train crashing, etc.) go off with each step.
SpongeBob pulls the golden spatula out of a pile of ancient grease at the Fry Cook Museum. He's challenged to a fry cook-off against King Neptune and beats him. But really this episode is further proof Patrick is a ride-or-die BFF, even if friendship means his face gets transplanted onto his ass.
When a customer claims SpongeBob forgot to put pickles on his Krabby Patty, SpongeBob has a massive existential crisis and feels like a complete failure, therefore making this the most relatable episode of the series.
The first of many jellyfishing excursions is mostly an exercise in How Much Physical Torture Squidward Can Endure. SpongeBob and Patrick drag him to a day of jellyfishing gone wrong. Most triggering, though, is SpongeBob's excessive slobbering before playing the clarinet, aka everyone's high school boyfriend.
This episode is all about loving yourself despite your differences, especially when that difference is the fact that you smell like absolute garbage. Patrick convinces SpongeBob he's ugly and should be proud of it, when in reality SpongeBob just ate a gnarly sundae made of ketchup, onions, and a rotten peanut plant.
In another desperate attempt to not be neighbors with SpongeBob, Squidward moves to a squids-only community where everyone does exactly what Squidward likes (playing clarinet, interpretive dance, etc). But the monotony of it all reminds Squidward how much he secretly loves the spontaneity of SpongeBob. Also, this is easily the 15th time Squidward's house has exploded in this show so far; how does he rebuild it so quickly?!
Patrick becomes a fry cook for the Chum Bucket so he can compete against SpongeBob in the fry cook olympics. In one match, SpongeBob turns himself into a fudgsicle covered in almonds, while Patrick counters by becoming a strawberry ice cream cone dipped into chocolate. Things turn real weird when they both become disturbingly ripped and wrestle on top of a burger bun.
Who needs protein powder and HIIT routines when you can buy inflatable buff arms? SpongeBob tries to impress Sandy and all of Mussel Beach (wow that pun just clicked for me) by convincing them he suddenly got swole AF overnight.
"Hooky" opens with clipart of real people fishing on the ocean, which is an ominous reminder that this show takes place in a setting where sea creatures die for humans' culinary pleasure. Patrick and SpongeBob get addicted to the thrill of a new game that involves sitting on the end of fishing hooks and riding them to the top. Does "hooky" count as a kink in Bikini Bottom because Patrick is really into hook-play.
After Mrs. Puff reluctantly makes SpongeBob hall monitor, the power of authority consumes him and he wreaks havoc across Bikini Bottom. Most enjoyably, "Hall Monitor" is a delightful showcase of Patrick in all his pure, beautiful stupidity.
There are few things as satisfying as watching the jovial and harmless SpongeBob completely lose his sh-- and go off on a tantrum. I love moody, ticked-off SpongeBob on the verge of a breakdown, especially as he tries to trick Gary into taking a bath. The most innovative attempt of all is when he absorbs the bath then chases Gary around shooting water at him.
This is kinda like that Twilight Zone episode where an astronaut lands on an asteroid and kills his entire crew in order to survive only to realize they never left Earth and were actually in Nevada the whole time. Here, SpongeBob and Patrick take Sandy's rocket to the moon, only it never stops and lands back under the sea. Still, they think it's the moon and kidnap all of Bikini Bottom, convinced everyone is an alien clone.
The second ever SpongeBob episode is a brief two minutes and 50 seconds long, and probably forgettable for most casual viewers. But the dialogue-free episode is the perfect example of how Hillenburg's series manages to be such classic entertainment for both kids and adults, relying on physical comedy and visual gags like the best of silent film. It's Laurel and Hardy inside the body of a talking yellow sponge as he sucks up the entire ocean with a reef blower. Simple, yet timelessly funny.
SpongeBob and Patrick have to paint a room in Mr. Krabs' house without getting paint on anything. After a series of near-disasters they paint it perfectly, except for a tiny drop on Mr. Krabs' first dollar. Turns out the paint comes off with saliva so all their panic was for nothing. Most amazingly, Patrick grabs one of the time passage title cards -- has he been holding them the entire time?!
In Mr. Krab's latest attempt to rake in more cash, The Krusty Krab is now open 24 hours. To pass the time, a bored Squidward tells SpongeBob a scary story about the Half Slinging Slasher. What I love most about SpongeBob is how dedicated it is to finding the most hilariously bizarre ways to demonstrate emotions, like when a terrified SpongeBob expresses fear by pulling out 15 of his own arms, then nervously eats them out of a popcorn bucket.
This is Sandy's first episode, but most notably it's the classic "waaaaaterrrrr" episode. SpongeBob dries up and nearly dies from being inside Sandy's house sans liquid, but mostly his stubbornness is to blame as he continues to suffer without asking for help. Is SpongeBob's biggest weakness his inability to ask for what he needs, or is he secretly a masochist? Definitely not psychoanalyzing myself through the lens of a talking sea sponge...
How weird is this episode, you ask? It opens at an amusement park called Glove World. From there, Patrick and SpongeBob descend (literally) into a disorienting nightmare after the wrong bus takes them to the eerie town of Rock Bottom where the primary language is blowing raspberries. I love the utter weirdness of this episode, which introduces a whole new level of darkness to the show -- "advanced darkness."
"The Paper" is the epitome of who SpongeBob is -- a creature with a vast, infinite imagination. He can literally entertain himself with anything, even a piece of trash. But it also perfectly captures Squidward, who has zero self-control and sells all of his possessions just to acquire the aforementioned piece of paper.
Squidward gets to play at the Bubble Bowl and holds band tryouts in Bikini Bottom. Everyone sucks, Squidward loses his temper, but eventually it turns into an epically awesome performance where SpongeBob transforms into a Steve Perry-esque frontman and totally kills it. Quick question, though: "Is mayonnaise an instrument?"
SpongeBob gets made fun of for getting a kiss from his grandma, so he does what any reasonable person would: grows sideburns and tries to be an ambivalent adult who refuses to eat cookies and listen to stories. This has some of the best SpongeBob waterworks action when he sobs and wipes it up with his body, recycles tears by crying into his own mouth, and then cries like a lawn sprinkler.
Loneliness is rough, so thank god for sentient liquid soap. In this one, SpongeBob creates a new friend out of a bubble who ends up pissing off all of Bikini Bottom, holding up the bathroom line, and contributes to the death of a fish. Random thought while rewatching this episode: who the hell works the grill at the Krusty Krab on SpongeBob's day off?
There's no SpongeBob without surrealism, and "Sleepy Time" takes the series' mind-bending surreal storytelling to new heights when SpongeBob's subconscious takes a trip into his friends' dreams one night. The highlights: Gary is actually an eloquently-spoken British snail who reads books and wears a purple robe; SpongeBob turns into a clarinet for Squidward to play. Oh so weird, oh so good.
The SpongeBob destroying Mrs.Puff's life plots are some of the series' best, even if they can be a bit redundant. The very first of them remains a classic, and an oft-referenced episode in my life where I wonder how much easier things would be if I could have a friend coach me through difficult situations (you know, like first dates) via a radio shoved inside my head.
Every so often, SpongeBob takes a characteristically absurd premise and turns it into something, dare I say, startlingly emotional. SpongeBob, being the sentimental weirdo he is, gives Squidward a gift: a handmade sweater made of his own eyelashes. In return, Squidward buys SpongeBob a pie, but it's actually a bomb. So after he eats it, Squidward spends the entire day being exceptionally nice to SpongeBob before he dies. Heavy shit.
SpongeBob and Patrick order a big screen TV just so they can play inside the box, another incident where their vivid imaginations piss off the literal-minded Squidward. As a kid who once spent an entire Christmas playing inside a pair of refrigerator boxes with my brother, decorating the insides as spaceships to go on imaginary space missions, I get it.
SpongeBob, Patrick, and Squidward get trapped on the Flying Dutchman's ship and are forced to scare people for the rest of their lives. But they suck at it, so he gives them three wishes to escape with. Of course, they screw up the wishes and get turned into fruits, which the Dutchman puts into a blender to drink... and that's the end. They remain fruit and die. Does every episode after this one take place in the afterlife?!
The recipe for the most enjoyable SpongeBob episodes? Absurd physical comedy mixed with surrealism. This finds SpongeBob and Squidward in an epic competition for the title of the Krusty Krab employee of the month award, which turns into an all-night charade of ridiculous boobie traps. It's like a hilarious Laurel and Hardy short on mushrooms.
What starts as a relatively typical episode with SpongeBob and Patrick nagging Squidward to go jellyfishing turns into the series' -- and one of Nickelodeon's -- most ambitious 11 minutes of animation. In an insatiable desire to be alone (relatable), Squidward hides in the Krusty Krab freezer, accidentally freezing himself for two thousand years. He wakes up in the future, travels back to primitive times to accidentally invent jellyfishing, then is shot into another dimension where he must confront the paralyzing reality of utter isolation and loneliness. Some real existential shit.
If there's a singular SpongeBob episode I've referenced and reenacted the most in my life, it's "Bubblestand." The "bring it around town" episode is also the beginning of one of my favorite SpongeBob scenarios: the SpongeBob Drives Squidward Insane Over A Ridiculously Dumb Activity one. Here, SpongeBob showcases his intricate bubble-blowing ability, which Squidward imitates in a festering rage, blowing the biggest bubble ever. It's all in the technique.
There are silly SpongeBob episodes, there are the surreal ones, and then the clever; "Frankendoodle" is a mix of the latter two camps. When a pencil falls into the ocean, SpongeBob and Patrick draw DoodleBob, a barbaric 2D incarnation of SpongeBob who goes mad with power and threatens to erase his creators. It's like The Twilight Zone's "Mirror Image" meets every A.I. takeover narrative.
If you've ever worked in the food service industry, this episode captures the deep-seated annoyance you feel when a customer puts in a complicated order moments before closing time. Unless you're SpongeBob, who gleefully goes on what is no doubt the greatest journey of the series to deliver a pizza with Squidward. Why is it deserving of the top spot, though? It's a perfect display of what makes SpongeBob so enjoyable no matter your age. From the pizza parachute to the mystical rock car and the mismatched pair encountering a series of preposterous misadventures, this is SpongeBob at its finest.
(Disclosure: TV Guide is owned by CBS Interactive, a division of ViacomCBS.)