WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
Paramount's release of SpongeBob SquarePants: The Complete 2nd Season leaves me both very happy and very frustrated. Let me state up front that I adore this show. I get a total kick out of watching it with my 4-year-old daughter. We laugh uproariously at SpongeBob's adventures and I'm helplessly reduced to a boy about her age as I beam and giggle at the screen. We both love that the show is now coming out in season sets, but wait—we've also been collecting most of the lame SpongeBob "theme" discs that Paramount has been releasing. And now that two season sets have come out, we have many, many duplicate episodes, as well as a bunch of theme discs that we'll never watch again. Perhaps that's exactly what Paramount was hoping for—gullible consumers who buy stuff twice. Here I am, bending over.
As you'll see below, only 2 of the set's 40 episodes are newly available on DVD. (At least in the Season 1 set, 14 of the 40—about a third—were new to DVD.) Two episodes! Woo hoo! As I watched with my daughter, we found very little fresh material to enjoy. That does take a little of the delight away from this second-season set, and indeed, it might provoke a little justifiable anger toward Paramount. If you've been purchasing the theme sets, you need to think long and hard about purchasing this season set. Frankly, I wouldn't even recommend it, it that's been your course. I'm sure those two episodes will show up on forthcoming theme DVDs, which Paramount continues to churn out.
But what a great show. SpongeBob SquarePants follows the nonsensical adventures of a hopelessly "square" sea sponge as he and his goofy friends immerse themselves in astoundingly silly and juvenile adventures under the sea. Bikini Bottom, their ocean-bottom town, is a seascape in which characters can draw breath, light fires, and even befriend a squirrel in a wetsuit. SpongeBob is a study in type-A behavior, running the gamut from manic cheer to crushing sadness to seething anger to spastic excitement, and he's forever prone to misadventure. There's also SpongeBob's best buddy Patrick, a slothful starfish, and the ornery Squidward, a six-tentacled octopus who's endlessly frustrated by a shared existence with the well intentioned but blissfully unaware SpongeBob and Patrick. And over at the Krusty Krab (a local In-n-Out-inspired burger joint) is money-grubbing owner Mr. Krabs (Clancy Brown), who employs both SpongeBob and Squidward. Rounding out the gang is Sandy, the aforementioned squirrel, who hails from Texas but has for some reason decided to join the crazy sea dwellers in the town of Bikini Bottom.
Season 2 is a terrific extension of Season 1's promise, offering many episodes that manage to remain fresh, as the characters embark on new adventures, and only a few that fall flat. I have a particular fondness for the manic humor of Pre-Hibernation Week, the spooky wonderfulness of Graveyard Shift (the one SpongeBob episode that freaks out my daughter), and the juvenile weirdness of Wormy. But frankly, episodes like The Fry Cook Games have the pall of a show that's really reaching for ideas. It's one of the later episodes in this season, and I hope it's not an omen of things to come for Season 3. Another trend I just don't like in SpongeBob is the peppering of live-action material through some of the episodes. These awful little bits often star Tom Kenny (voice of SpongeBob) and occasional crew members. In one case, a segment uses embarrassing props to stand in for our characters as they venture onto an island. These pieces are out of place and really cheapen the show. But overall, the animation and zaniness of Season 2 is a whole lotta fun.
SpongeBob SquarePants is a strangely compelling and unlikely success. Mostly, I attribute the show's groundswell popularity to just the right combination of silliness and full-on-assault marketing, but there's also something elemental about that little sponge. Maybe he speaks to a generation just coming into society: He's fun and silly and enjoys a good time and really wants to do the right thing, but he's fantastically naïve about his world, so ignorant of the mechanics of reality that he's firmly entrenched in his own little world, as surely as there's thousands of tons of water over his head. He's the everyman of Generation Zzzzz, the boys and girls coming up into the world who know only video games and sitcoms, arcades and role-playing games, iPods and TiVo. They don't care about the world around them. They just want to be silly, have fun, engage in the occasional psychedelic experience, and eat burgers. And sure, maybe that's reading too much into SpongeBob, but I do think he's speaking to a generation that finds a lot in common with him. SpongeBob is the ultimate escape from reality, and I guess that's why I love the little dude. In moderation.
The DVD set presents Season 2's episodes in the following order. The airdate is in parentheses. As you can see, the episodes appear on the DVDs in production order. For the benefit of those who (like me) have already collected some or all of the previously released "theme" sets, I've included information about which discs some of these shorts have already appeared on.
Your Shoe's Untied (11-2-00)—Lost at Sea
Squid's Day Off (11-2-00)—Seascape Capers
Something Smells (10-26-00)—Nautical Nonsense and Sponge Buddies
Bossy Boots (10-26-00)—Tide and Seek
Big Pink Loser (11-16-00)—Tide and Seek
Bubble Buddy (11-2-00)—Lost at Sea
Dying for Pie (12-28-00)—Nautical Nonsense and Sponge Buddies
Imitation Krabs (12-28-00)—Halloween
Wormy (2-17-01)—Nautical Nonsense and Sponge Buddies
Patty Hype (2-17-01)—SpongeBob Goes Prehistoric
Grandma's Kisses (3-6-01)—Seascape Capers
Squidsville (3-6-01)—Tide and Seek
Pre-Hibernation Week (5-5-01)—Lost at Sea
Life of Crime (5-5-01)—Sea Stories
Christmas Who? (12-6-00)—Christmas
Survival of the Idiots (3-5-01)—Christmas
Dumped (3-5-01)—Tide and Seek
No Free Rides (3-7-01)—Sea Stories
I'm Your Biggest Fanatic (3-7-01)—New to this release
Mermaidman & Barnacleboy III (11-27-00)—Tide and Seek
Squirrel Jokes (11-27-00)—Tide and Seek
Pressure (3-8-01)—Spongeguard on Duty
The Smoking Peanut (3-8-01)—Seascape Capers
You Wish/Shanghaied (3-7-01)—Sea Stories
Gary Takes a Bath (3-7-01)—Sea Stories
Welcome to the Chum Bucket (1-21-02)—Halloween
The Secret Box (9-7-01)—Halloween
Band Geeks (9-7-01)—Halloween
The Graveyard Shift (9-6-02)—Nautical Nonsense and Sponge Buddies
Krusty Love (9-6-02)—Seascape Capers
I'm With Stupid (11-30-01)—SpongeBob Goes Prehistoric
Sailor Mouth (9-21-01)—Sea Stories
Artist Unknown (9-21-01)—Seascape Capers
Jellyfish Hunter (9-28-01)—Spongeguard on Duty
The Fry Cook Games (9-28-01)—Seascape Capers
Sandy, Sponge & the Worm (10-12-01)—New to this release
Squid on Strike (10-12-01)—SpongeBob Goes Prehistoric
HOW'S IT LOOK?
Paramount presents SpongeBob SquarePants: The Complete 2nd Season in a very nice fullframe presentation of the cartoon's original 1.33:1 TV presentation. This is the first season of SpongeBob to use digital coloration, and perhaps as a result, the colors are absolutely brilliant and vivid. That being said, I noticed some inconsistency in SpongeBob's yellow coloring. It varies from brilliant sunny yellow to pale blandness. Detail is outstanding, although not perfect: Aliasing is present but improved from the previous season and, in fact, less noticeable than in most TV animation I've seen.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
The disc's 2.0 stereo track is pleasing and occasionally dynamic. I noticed nice directionality across the front soundstage. Dialog is clean and natural sounding, and sound effects are crisp. This is a fine translation of the TV show's audio presentation to disc.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
The set includes an array of extra features, and primary among them are eight Audio Commentaries. I'll talk about each one individually, since the participants vary. In general, I was disappointed by the lack of any real information in these tracks. Their focus on writing and animation sounds interesting on paper, but the participants here just aren't terribly exciting. They just don't have much to say. There are quite a few silent periods throughout, enough to assume that the participants are simply sitting there enjoying the episode. I wish Stephen Hillenberg and some of the voice cast had found the time to contribute to this season, as in Season 1.
The Commentary for Something Smells includes contributions from storyboard artists/writers Aaron Springer and Carl Greenblatt. These two guys are pretty animated (forgive the pun), commenting with nice energy about the film's jokes and artist trivia. But there's nothing terribly illuminating here. Mostly stuff like, "That joke turned out pretty good" or "Nice lighting effect."
The Commentary for Big Pink Loser offers extremely informal contributions from animation director Sean Dempsey and storyboard artist/writer William Reiss. Very illuminating comments here, such as "Patrick's so stupid." With comments like this, it's a wonder the show is actually entertaining. This commentary is very frustrating and borders on commentary self-parody.
The Commentary for Pre-Hibernation Week includes contributions from storyboard artists/writers Aaron Springer and Karl Greenblatt, and they're a little more interesting than the contributors on the previous commentary. That being said, it's still a below-average effort, with many silences and bland shout-outs.
The Commentary for Survival of the Idiots includes comments from storyboard director Aaron Springer, animation director Larry Leichliter, and storyboard artist/writer Carl Greenblatt. And guess what? You're in for more of the same. But the three men have a little more to say than the two-person commentaries. A highlight is the participants discussing their bellybutton lint.
The Commentary for Shanghaied includes comments from storyboard director/writer Aaron Springer, animation director Frank Weiss, and storyboard artist/writer Carl Greenblatt. Here come some more insightful comments, such as "That was good" and "Ah, a little French humor" and "I like that joke." Thanks, guys.
The Commentary for Welcome to the Chum Bucket includes comments from animation director Andrew Overton and storyboard artists William Reiss and Eric Weise. The gem of this episode? "That's where Plankton works. He's the bad guy." Also: "Seahorses are fun." A plus is that the three participants go into the show's writing process.
The Commentary for Sailor Mouth includes contributions from director Andrew Overton and storyboard artists William Reiss and Eric Weise. It essentially starts out with one person saying, "This is probably my favorite Spongebob episode," and then the next few minutes are broken only by laughter and interjections such as, "That's my favorite line." Yeah, thanks. The guys mostly come across as fans, but there are a few interesting facts, such as particularly challenging things to draw. But, as with all these commentaries—yawn.
The Storyboard for Christmas Who? lets you watch the entire episode with rough sketches and a raw dialog-only track. It runs about 17 minutes. You also get a Storyboard for Mermaidman & Barnacleboy III that runs about 13 minutes.
Around the World with SpongeBob SquarePants is a brief look at the opening theme song played in different languages around the world. It's mildly amusing but annoying edited. This is labeled a "featurette" on the packaging, and frankly, I was expecting something a little more informative.
There's also a Nic DVD Game Demo and some DVD-ROM features.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
Even more than with the first-season set, you really have a tough decision to make if you've been purchasing the theme sets. Personally, I think it's kinda rotten that Paramount has continued to release the awkwardly thrown-together theme sets after the release of the Season 1 set. It appears to be an obvious cash-grab, to sell as many SpongeBob sets to the unaware consumer. Only two episodes on this set are new to DVD, but if you're a big fan of the show, you'll have to pick this up. The extras on this set are new, although the included audio commentaries are downright boring. However, because I like the show so much, I can't see any way around giving this one a recommendation.