Animator and marine biology teacher Stephen Hillenburg passed away on Nov. 26. Hillenburg’s most famous creation was the Nickelodeon show SpongeBob SquarePants, where he served as director, producer, and writer. He was 57.
Currently the fifth longest-running American animated show, SpongeBob SquarePants has won many accolades, including four Emmys, six Annie Awards, and 15 Kids’ Choice Awards. Writers Ryan Mazalatis and Parker Houston share their favorite episodes of this beloved series.
Ryan: “The Paper” (Season 1, Episode 33)
While many may not remember this particular episode of SpongeBob, “The Paper” may have been my favorite both as a kid and today. The episode, with an incredibly short runtime of less than ten minutes, has a simple yet incredibly profound premise. After Squidward mindlessly throws away a bubble gum wrapper, SpongeBob begs Squidward to let him keep the wrapper, with Squidward promising to let SpongeBob have the seemingly worthless wrapper forever. For the next few minutes, SpongeBob plays with the wrapper in a variety of ways: using it as a cape so he can pretend to be a superhero, using it as a parachute to pretend to be an army trooper, and using it as a musical instrument. Eventually, Squidward becomes jealous of the fun SpongeBob is having with what used to be so worthless to him. He begs SpongeBob to let him have it, and when SpongeBob finally relents, Squidward is unable to recreate the fun SpongeBob had with the paper. At the end of the episode, Patrick comes by and takes the wrapper from Squidward, using it to dispose of his chewing gum.
The episode had a profound impact on me as a kid, speaking to the importance of imagination. Today, however, I’ve come to see this short episode through a new lens. Particularly, the episode speaks to the Buddhist notion of interdependence. At the beginning of the episode, the wrapper was only a wrapper for Squidward, a self-imposed identity that limited the paper’s function. SpongeBob, however, was able to see the inherent emptiness of the paper and its limitless potential unconstrained by an arbitrary identity constructed by the mind. Ironically, Patrick uses the wrapper for its intended purpose, reinforcing its identity as paper while perhaps acknowledging its inherent emptiness. The 9th century Zen Master Qingyuan declared that there were three stages in his understanding of the dharma: the first stage (Squidward’s stage), seeing mountain as mountain and water as water, the second stage (SpongeBob’s stage), seeing mountain not as mountain and water not as water, and the third stage (perhaps Patrick’s stage), seeing mountain still as mountain and water still as water. Whether or not Patrick Star is a Zen Master is certainly up to the viewer.
Parker: “Band Geeks” (Season 2, Episode 35)
I mean, guys, this is really not that hard. There’s a reason “Band Geeks” is the most referenced SpongeBob episode of all time. First of all, it spawned the most versatile and consistently well executed meme in the show’s history. Actually, these all deserve their own links somebody please help me I’m in too deep.
(Anyone who doesn’t watch every single one of the above videos belongs in the trash.)
This episode, other than its “Sweet Victory” moment, (two of the most iconic minutes in TV history) is filled with absolute haymakers—some of the best jokes in SpongeBob lore—the top 8 of which I will rank because this is Halftime:
- IS MAYONNAISE AN INSTRUMENT
- When the flag twirlers crash into a blimp and the trumpet player starts playing “Taps”
- Sandy wedging Patrick into a tuba off screen and how she somehow connects the slide (yes, that’s what it’s called, I just googled it) to Patrick’s lower jaw muscle like some sort of contraption that you’d see in one of the Saw movies
- “Squidward has always been there for us when it was convenient for him!” along with the rest of SpongeBob’s Hoosiers speech in which he gets people to empathize with Squidward by telling them to pretend that Squidward is a fireman or an ambulance driver
- The casual mention of Larry od’ing on tanning pills
- When Squidward walks into band class and the crowd chatter is revealed to be everyone literally saying “blah blah blah” to each other
- Plankton’s harmonica solo
- SpongeBob turning into a Twitter Civility Guy ™️ when Mr. Krabs wants to fight a fish who may or may not have voted straight ticket Sinn Fein in 2017
IN CONCLUSION, “BAND GEEKS” IS THE BEST EPISODE OF SPONGEBOB. YOU ALL KNOW I’M RIGHT BECAUSE PEOPLE WHO TYPE LOUDLY ARE SMARTER.