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"Sponge For Hire" Isn't Exactly Made to Order

Just in time for the upcoming Spongebob film, yet another TV show compilation DVD arrives. Sponge for Hire puts together eight episodes which primarily focus on Spongebob’s beloved job as a fry cook at the Krusty Krab restaurant. This fortunately means a starring role for the Krab’s owner, Mr. Krabs, whose wild and hilarious eccentricities may be second only those of the title character. The episodes themselves are of the usual hit or miss variety, but there are some solid laughs.

ImageMr. Krabs has always been a favorite character of mine. He’s a funny spin on legendary penny-pincher Uncle Scrooge, only nuttier. Clancy Brown has created a highly distinctive voice rich with character and one of the most memorable laughs on television. Spongebob has a number of fun characters, but most of them are fairly predictable. Mr. Krabs and Spongebob himself are uniquely entertaining because, although their basic motivations remain the same, there are no limits on what craziness they might get up to.

On this set the fan favorite seems to be “Krusty Krab Training Video,” which is an inspired send up of corporate training films, right down to the cheesy music (a fun riff on “Eye of the Tiger” in this case). The episode also draws on the patronizing tone of 50s educational films, introducing an acronym for stellar customer service in the form of POOP. Although the episode is very creative, it fell rather flat for me. One of the few bright spots comes in the hygiene segment. The camera slowly moves back to reveal an enormous zit on Spongebob’s nose, and Spongebob nonchalantly lops it off with scissors.

The other standout episodes are “Mid-life Crustacean” and “The Camping Episode.” In the former, Mr. Krabs is depressed that he might be getting old and joins Spongebob and Patrick for a wild night on the town to reassure himself of his youthful vigor. To Krabs’ great disappointment but little surprise to the audience, Spongebob’s idea of a wild night involves doing laundry and picking up litter. Just when it seems as if Spongebob has redeemed himself by leading a panty raid, Krabs finds to his horror that he’s been caught red-handed stealing his own mother’s underwear.

In the latter episode, Squidward is conned into joining Spongebob and Patrick on a camping trip to show he’s as tough as they are. Unfortunately Squidward is not as trusting of tabloid news scoops as Spongebob and Patrick, and as a result he ends up having numerous painful encounters with a legendary sea bear. In a great scene, an awestruck Spongebob frantically exhorts Patrick to take notes on Squidward’s tent building technique even as his woefully incompetent idol completely destroys his tent.

The remaining five episodes are just average by comparison, perhaps indicating that the vault of unreleased episodes is running a little low. They are “Can You Spare a Dime?,” “Missing Identity,” “Krabby Land,” “Wet Painters,” and “New Student Starfish.” Of course they’re not without their moments. In “Dime,” the hopelessly optimistic Spongebob insists on guessing what fantastic career the dejected Squidward has begun after leaving the Krusty Krab, despite finding him living in rags and a cardboard box. “Missing Identity” has a lot of fun with film references, touching on film noir, Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon, and Star Wars. The latter comes when Spongebob expresses revulsion at the taste of Gary’s pet food and miles away one of the manufacturer’s executives senses a “disturbance.”

As with the other compilation DVDs, special features are very spare. This time there are only storyboards for four of the episodes and something called Nick recipes, which I didn’t bother to explore. Sponge cake with tartar sauce maybe? I would really be interested in some commentary on the writing process. Hearing how they decided when they needed to inject an enriching moral into the story and how far they could push the standards of decency on certain jokes would add a lot of value to the disc.

In the end Sponge for Hire doesn’t quite measure up to the best of the compilations, but still delivers plenty of spongy humor for a reasonable price. However, now that Spongebob season sets are being released, the market for these would seem to be limited to diehard collectors. A Spongebob movie ticket probably would have been a good inclusion. At least it comes with POOP.

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