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ONE PERFECT EPISODE / SpongeBob SquarePants: "Band Geeks” / Kyle Lundberg

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It was the show that launched a thousand Internet memes, but it didn’t start that way. Twenty years ago, SpongeBob SquarePants, Stephen Hillenburg’s downright bizarre Nickelodeon cartoon was a clever and quaint oddity; however, its brilliant dialogue and memorable characters soon shot it into the stratosphere, marking it as the new gold standard for how to create an enduring show that both kids and adults could love.

As is the case with many television shows, most fans look back on the early seasons of SpongeBob SquarePants as its best, and it’s hard to argue with that. There are a handful of episodes I considered for this column. But, when I look at what makes SpongeBob such an enduring classic, I can’t think of a better example than “Band Geeks.” If you’re seeking a flawless eleven minutes of animation, I say look no further.

The episode, written by Aaron Springer, C.H. Greenblatt and Merriwether Williams, stands out for several reasons. One of the most important is that it is the rare episode which casts Squidward Tentacles as the main character. Maybe it’s the inner cynic in me, but I’ve always identified with Squidward. Sure, he can be rather rude, but there’s still a soul of an artist and a dreamer in his heart. He only appears to be a pessimist because of the hand life has dealt him: a dead-end job at a fast food restaurant as his aspirations of being a professional clarinet player or dancer struggle to take flight.

Squidward is frequently cast in more of an antagonistic role, and he is often needlessly cruel to his next-door neighbors SpongeBob and Patrick. But what gets lost in the emotions is the fact that what Squidward wants is completely reasonable: a quiet Sunday afternoon with no noises or distractions. If you had a neighbor as loud and obnoxious as SpongeBob, you’d have a short fuse, too.

In “Band Geeks,” Squidward is challenged by his unibrow-sporting rival Squilliam to have his band play at the Bubble Bowl in a week. The impossibly wealthy and successful Squilliam is everything Squidward wants to be, and so Squidward accepts the challenge, even though he and Squilliam know that no such band exists.

Caught in another lie and in a state of panic, Squidward frantically searches for candidates to fill his band. Much to our delight, the ones who show up to practice are all utterly talentless and inexperienced, but Squidward tries his best. This rehearsal results in some brilliant visual gags, such as the diminutive Plankton attempting a “harmonica solo” even though he can only blow air into one hole at a time, or the clueless drummers blowing on their drumsticks to produce a sound. There’s also Patrick’s classic line “Is mayonnaise an instrument?” which, like the show’s best moments, is both gloriously dumb and kind of brilliant.

The episode also isn’t afraid to go dark, as, when practicing a marching routine, the flag twirlers spin their flags so fast they are launched into the air and crash into a plane, resulting into an impromptu playing of “Taps.”

As the band’s patience grows thin, the members get into an all-out brawl, forcing Squidward to leave the rehearsal. Feeling responsible, SpongeBob pep talks the crowd into making Squidward proud (“Squidward’s always been there for us when it was convenient for him,” he says).

The next day, Squidward arrives at the Bubble Bowl to admit defeat, but the band shows up anyway, wearing astoundingly nerdy marching attire. Squidward reluctantly steps up on a platform with the band, which raises into a football stadium populated by actual humans. “Those are some ugly looking fish,” Patrick says, echoing the shocked sentiments of his bandmates.

But the show must go on, and much to the surprise of Squidward and viewers, the band puts on an amazingly kick-ass rock performance. SpongeBob begins belting out the lyrics to David Glen Eisley’s “Sweet Victory” as Patrick plays drums, Sandy rocks the bass and Mrs. Puff memorably shreds a guitar solo.

And Squidward, so often hapless and defeated, gets to experience a rare moment of triumph, while the smug Squilliam gets to finally eat crow.

This is such an iconic scene that fans petitioned Maroon 5 to perform the song during the halftime show of Super Bowl LIII earlier this year. Although the whole song wasn’t played, the same animated fanfare that opens the Bubble Bowl performance introduced this year’s halftime show. This was an especially emotional tribute, to series creator Hillenburg, who passed away last November due to ALS.

Any episode of a kids cartoon that can have enough cultural impact to be referenced during the biggest U.S. sports event of the year is clearly something special. Sweet, sweet victory, indeed.


Kyle Lundberg is an English teacher from Phoenix, Arizona. He received his B.A. in Journalism from Point Loma Nazarene University. His reporting and writing have appeared in The Press-Enterprise and The San Diego Union-Tribune, but his favorite writing moment was when one of his tweets was feature in Wired magazine. His (very) occasional musings on film and pop culture can be found at entertainmenthunter.com.