When in doubt, pinky out!
One of the things I always wanted to do when I created this blog was have a long running segment reviewing or discussing older or classic TV episodes. I’d always thought I’d start with Breaking Bad, because I seem to be the only person on the planet who has yet to watch the show. I never got around to it, though, partly because Breaking Bad is by no means old enough to be considered either old or classic and mostly because I didn’t want to write about Breaking Bad. And then I forgot the idea altogether.
Recently, however–as recently as two hours ago, in fact–I discovered that SpongeBob SquarePants was available through Amazon Prime’s video services. I agree with the internet’s consensus that the first three seasons of SpongeBob and The SpongeBob SquarePants movie are essentially comedy gold; this period of SpongeBob might even be considered classic. Just like that, the fire was lit. I’d discovered the show I would start writing about. There will be two reviews a week, on Sunday and Wednesday. I’ll be reviewing from the first episode through the end of the third season and concluding with The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie.
(Best way to watch alongside me? The first two seasons of SpongeBob are available freely to Amazon Prime members; I feel as though almost everyone today is signed up for Prime. Season three is available digitally at $19.99 for the whole season or $1.99 per episode–which ends up being twice as much as just purchasing the whole season–as are the first two seasons if you don’t have Prime. They’re well worth the investment, I feel.)
The premiere episode of SpongeBob is different from all of the subsequent episodes in that it is comprised of three, not two, segments. Its first segment, “Help Wanted,” introduces us to titular hero SpongeBob SquarePants, he who lives in a pineapple under the sea, his neighbors Patrick, encouraging but dimwitted, and Squidward, glum and sardonic, and his boss Mr. Krabs.
“Help Wanted” is about SpongeBob applying for the Krusty Krab’s open fry cook position. Squidward, the cashier at the KK, warns Mr. Krabs against hiring him. In an effort to simply send SpongeBob on his way, Mr. Krabs tells SpongeBob the job is his if he can return with a “hydrodynamic spatula, with port and starboard attachments and a turbo drive.” Of course, no such thing exists, or so Krabs and Squidward believe. As soon as SpongeBob leaves, the restaurant is overrun with an army of anchovies demanding to be fed. Squidward and Mr. Krabs are swept up in literal waves of the fish, crying and pleading for help. Enter: SpongeBob, using the turbo drive on his new spatula to fly over the sea of anchovies and enter the kitchen. SpongeBob whips up hundreds of burgers in a flash and feeds all of the anchovies, rescuing Krabs, Squidward, and probably the Krusty Krab itself.
As an introduction to the series, “Help Wanted” isn’t terrible. It establishes the characters fairly well–SpongeBob is jubilant and gullible, Squidward sucks, etc. Much of the sea based comedy works fairly well, specifically the cartoon’s ability to play with physics. Watching SpongeBob trip upon entering the Krusty Krab is funny by itself, but watching him bounce all around because of his buoyancy is even funnier. The scene where SpongeBob is pelting burger after burger into the anchovies’ mouth is perfectly paired with Tiny Tim’s “Livin’ in the Sunlight, Lovin’ in the Moonlight.” It’s a good example of how the right soundtrack can really heighten the comedy of a scene.
My favorite line reading of the episode is also found in this segment, when Mr. Krabs detects the presence of the anchovies outside the restaurant: “Do you smell it? That smell. The kind of smelly smell. The smelly smell that smells… smelly. Anchovies… anchovies!!” Kudos to Clancy Brown, who completely nails the delivery. The short monologue is made all the better by the slow zoom in on Mr. Krabs’ twitching eyes.
The episode’s second segment is its shortest, and also its funniest. “Reef Blowers” runs just under three minutes, but it managed to make me chuckle fairly consistently throughout its runtime. The short is dialogue free, focusing on SpongeBob’s efforts to clean his lawn. “Reef Blowers” elicited its biggest laugh from me when, after accidentally piling up more sand on his lawn, SpongeBob points at it and subtitles for nonexistent dialogue appear on the screen, as intense action music starts playing.
Considered a classic by almost everyone I grew up with, “Tea at the Treedome,” the episode’s final segment, holds up surprisingly well, even seventeen years later. It serves as our introduction to the karate-loving, Texan squirrel, Sandy Cheeks. We first meet Sandy as she battles a fierce giant clam, which she bests–twice.
For some reason, it amuses me to no end that Sandy first refers to SpongeBob as “little square dude” after he is eaten by the clam she’s battling.
After the clam is defeated, SpongeBob and Sandy formally meet, bonding over a love of karate. Sandy explains her helmet is necessary for her to live, as she needs the air provided by it to breathe. SpongeBob tells Sandy that he loves air as well, and then later confesses to Patrick that he has no idea what air is. Unfortunately for SpongeBob, he has agreed to come over for tea at Sandy’s treedome, which is totally devoid of water.
Watching SpongeBob slowly deteriorate as he goes without water in the treedome is incredibly funny, as is watching him continually stick his pinky up as a misguided effort to look cool and polite. The following exchange is utterly hialrious thanks to SpongeBob’s shriveled appearance and his strained way of talking:
Sandy: You know, you’re the first sea critter to ever visit!
SpongeBob: I can’t imagine why.
Sandy: Can I get you anything?
SpongeBob: Water would be nice.
As SpongeBob slowly dies, he refuses to leave and return to water, repeating “I don’t need it,” over and over again. This leads to one of the biggest laughs of the segment when, staring at a vase of water with ice, he finally breaks and screams, “I NEED IT!”
But perhaps the best moment of not just this segment but the whole episode comes when Sandy stumbles upon a completely dehydrated SpongeBob and Patrick, and we are shown an image of an actual real life sponge and model starfish.
That’s the kind of humor that set SpongeBob apart during its first three seasons, and it’s quite encouraging to find that sort of thing as early as the very first episode. That blend of hand drawn animation and real life might not have been invented by the show, but SpongeBob utilized it in unique and unexpected ways.
There’s a lot to love in this pilot episode. The jokes get better as the runtime goes on. Some of the nautical humor we all love in SpongeBob hasn’t yet fully developed, and neither have most of the characters. But, if the series starts this good, I’m excited to watch more and see how the seasons buildup Bikini Bottom and its residents.