SpongeBob Reviews: Season 1 (Jellyfishing/Plankton!)

jellyfishing

Oh, Jellyfishing.

It’s hard to talk about this episode without also talking about post-movie SpongeBob and the way it’s influenced fandom consensus on this and other pre-movie episodes. Let me explain what I mean.

One of the most common criticisms of post-movie is that a lot of episodes (honestly I think it’s actually a lot less than people make out but I digress) are mean-spirited, in that they just have terrible things happen to one character (usually Squidward but sometimes others) without that character having done anything to deserve any of it. Fair enough, right? But it’s gotten to a point where people accuse every other episode of being mean-spirited and can’t seem to differentiate between slap-stick or comic misfortune and actual mean-spiritedness.

Listen, I don’t like mean-spirited humor either. I really, really hate it. It’s one of the quickest ways to get me to dislike something. And are there some SpongeBob episodes that I think can fairly be criticized for having it? Sure. Do I think it’s as many as people make it seem? No. I think people can get carried away, and I think there’s a bias toward certain characters and certain seasons.

The weird thing is, this obsession with calling out mean-spiritedness in post-movie episodes has retroactively affected the way people react to some pre-movie episodes. Did anyone criticize Jellyfishing or Club SpongeBob or The Camping Episode for being mean-spirited back when they were first released? Well, people are certainly criticizing them for it now. To some extent, this may be due to the fact that a lot of SpongeBob fans are older now and are able to think more critically and so certain episodes aren’t being held in the same regard as when we were kids. But I don’t think that’s entirely it.

How exactly does one define mean-spiritedness in a narrative anyway? It’s usually defined as when a character is treated terribly, by other characters or by the story or what have you, but that character has done nothing to deserve it and it ultimately serves no purpose. Theoretically, if the character has done something that would warrant punishment, there are no complaints. Except, I don’t know if that’s a very good definition, because I’ve seen people cry “mean-spirited” even in episodes where the character in question has done something to deserve a dose of karma. The Lost Mattress, for example. I’ve also seen people cry “mean-spirited” at episodes where it does actually have a narrative purpose.

Like, it’s kind of silly to me to accuse episodes like The Great Snail Race or Can You Spare a Dime? of being mean-spirited when the abuse the characters are put through actually has a purpose in the larger story. I mean, if The Great Snail Race is hard for you to watch because you don’t like seeing Gary put through so much, that’s fine. But it’s not like Gary’s being put through all of that for nothing. It’s framed very negatively and there’s clearly a lesson learned at the end of the episode. It’s not like A Pal For Gary, which has no moral or purpose or even much of a story. It’s just eleven minutes of shit happening to Gary. That’s something to complain about.

And does a character necessarily have to have done something bad in order for people to be okay with seeing something bad happen to them? Does it always have to be karmic justice, can’t it ever just be misfortune? How does one differentiate between the kind of misfortune that’s funny and the kind of misfortune that’s just uncomfortable and mean?

This is extremely confusing and I’ve barely talked about Jellyfishing at all yet. I like this episode. It’s not one of my favorites, probably not even for season 1, but it makes me laugh and I enjoy watching it.

So what is it actually about? SpongeBob and Patrick invite Squidward to go jellyfishing with them, Squidward very sarcastically replies that he would love to, that jellyfishing with them would be the “best day ever”, but he’s too busy. SpongeBob, who is terrible at picking up on even the most obvious sarcasm, thinks he’s being sincere. Then Squidward gets into an accident (ironically caused by a jellyfish) that renders him in a wheelchair and wrapped head to toe in bandages. SpongeBob and Patrick take it upon themselves to look after him and cheer him up, which includes taking him jellyfishing, and all they succeed in doing is making everything 300% worse for Squidward.

To be fair, I can see where people are coming from when they say they don’t like this episode. It is kind of based around Squidward’s misery. I’ve seen some defenses of this episode saying that Squidward deserved it here, but I don’t know if that argument really holds up. Really, what did he do that was that bad? He made some sarcastic comments and I guess he was mean to the jellyfish. He also didn’t accept SpongeBob and Patrick’s apology at the end of the episode, but I don’t blame him for that. Apologies are nice but no one is ever required to accept them. Besides, as far as this whole debate of when characters “deserve” punishment, I think it’s very, very arbitrary, especially when it comes to characters like Squidward who are characterized as being Not Very Nice in general.

And again there’s the question of whether a character has to have done something bad in order for us to be okay with something bad happening to them. That’s where it gets very confusing and even more arbitrary to me, because I greatly dislike mean-spirited humor and yet I do sometimes laugh at things that when I think about it fall under my own arbitrary definitions of mean-spirited. Why do I dislike, say, Good Neighbors so much but like Jellyfishing? What’s the difference? And it’s not post-movie bias because I can name plenty of post-movie episodes that I like, but I never have cared for Good Neighbors.

I think, in the end, it all comes down to the writing itself. Jellyfishing makes me laugh, Good Nieghbors doesn’t. Humor is an entirely subjective thing and can’t always be rationalized.

Another part of it, I think, is how the characters themselves are written. I find SpongeBob and Patrick unbearably annoying in Good Neighbors, but not in Jellyfishing. I think I don’t really care if SpongeBob and Patrick are unbearable to Squidward as long as they’re not unbearable to me, the viewer, because then I can just laugh at their shenanigans and at Squidward’s exasperation. But if I feel annoyed by them myself, well, it’s a lot harder to enjoy. And when exactly they’re being annoying in a way that’s funny and endearing and when they’re being annoying in a way that’s genuinely annoying is… also subjective and hard to rationalize.

BOY DO I KNOW HOW TO RAMBLE LET’S WRAP THIS UP SHALL WE

All in all, I understand why people are iffy on this episode, but personally I can’t bring myself to be too bothered by it, because I think it’s pretty funny.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Rating: 7/10

plankton

For a long time, this was my favorite episode from season 1. It probably still is, but it’s been a while since I’ve seen a lot of season 1 episodes so maybe I’ll change my mind when I rewatch some of the later ones. For now, let’s go ahead and consider this my favorite of the season.

As the title suggests, this episode is our first introduction to Plankton, the tiny evil genius who owns the unsuccessful Chum Bucket restaurant. It’s a pretty good introduction to the little cutie, and a really fun episode overall. Though can I just say how much I hate it when an episode is named after a character or location or something that’s mentioned in the show frequently? It can get confusing.

This episode has a pretty simple story. SpongeBob encounters Plankton for the first time, and Mr. Krabs explains to him (and to us) that Plankton has been trying for years to steal the secret Krabby Patty formula, so he can attempt to run the Krusty Krab out of business. Plankton makes SpongeBob the target of his next plan. He sneaks into SpongeBob’s head while he’s asleep and puts a device in his brain that allows him to control SpongeBob’s movements. Sometimes I don’t realize how weird this show is until I have to type out a sentence like that. Anyway, Plankton forces SpongeBob to bring a Krabby Patty to the Chum Bucket and drop it into a machine that will tell him the ingredients, except that last part doesn’t quite work. Before SpongeBob drops it in, Plankton can’t resist trying to take the Krabby Patty for himself and jumps out of SpongeBob’s head, landing in the machine himself and allowing SpongeBob and the Patty to go free.

There is some weird stuff in this episode, like that strange laugh SpongeBob has that sounds nothing like his usual laugh, or the fact that Squidward’s bedroom is randomly on the ground floor of his house (I suppose it needed to be on the ground floor for the whole crashing-through-his-house scene, but it’s still odd). There’s also Plankton’s size in this episode. In general his size tends to be a bit inconsistent, but it’s especially noticeable here. He’s absolutely minuscule in this episode. He can fit in the palm of SpongeBob’s hand with room to spare. It’s pretty cute how small he is here, though I can understand why they would need to make him slightly bigger in episodes after this.

As for what I like about this episode, for one thing it has two of my favorite moments/jokes of the entire show. One of them is the scene in Squidward’s house. The whole thing must look so weird for Squidward, who can’t possibly have any idea what’s going on. And of course I love that “Shut your mouth, you mediocre clarinet player” line and it’s probably one of my favorite lines ever, but I find it kind of funny that no one ever talks about the line Plankton follows this up with: “You pretentious little insignificant artist. Your snivelly creations are worth less than a protozoan’s waste.” Like?? That’s so savage?? And there’s no reason for it, they could have just kept walking and ignored Squidward completely, but Plankton decided to stop just so he could drag Squidward for the fun of it. I can’t be the only one who thinks that’s hilarious.

My other favorite moment from this episode is

That is one of the best jokes this show has ever come up with and I’ll fight anyone on that.

Plankton is a really fun character and this was a great first appearance. Plankton delights in being evil so much and he takes himself so seriously, but he’s really endearing. Partially because his size makes him non-threatening and adorable, but also because, well, despite his supposed genius intellect he’s rather incompetent. He’s very short-sighted and he gets so into his own grandiose schemes that he tends to miss the obvious flaws in them, most of which would have pretty simple solutions. He’s absolutely relentless, though. I’ll give him that.

Rating: 10/10

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