Spongebob Squarepants holds up so well even after over 20 years that I think it might be even funnier now watching with the fresh eyes of an adult.
It's why we've decided to include it in our "who is the actual worst" series. (Or, in the case of It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, "who is the least awful.") For this exercise, we'll be examining the seasons that series creator Stephen Hillenburg was the showrunner (the first three) as they were the episodes generally considered the best, and also because they're the only ones I remember. Then, when we've picked whichever character is our winner, we'll cancel them straight to hell.
Or we can just laugh about it. I don't think anybody on Spongebob is actually cancelable mostly on account of it being a cartoon for children. I haven't seen the later seasons, so unless there's a plotline in season 13 where Squidward travels to Jeffrey Epstein's private island, then I think we're okay.
Right off the bat, I think it is pretty well accepted that Mr. Krabs is the most morally reprehensible character on the show. Krabs is unapologetically motivated by greed and self-interest to the point where he once enslaved jellyfish in order to make jelly. So if Krabs is our champion of horribleness, then I think you could make a case for Spongebob, Squidward, and Patrick to face off against him in the final round.
The Case Against Spongebob:
Spongebob is pretty well-intentioned for the most part, which makes it hard to label him as a bad guy. However, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and if you drive on that road like Spongebob drives his boat, then you have this:
Spongebob's crimes against aquatic life are numerous. He's poisoned his customers with "pretty patties." He once shrank all of Bikini Bottom due to his negligence with dangerous technology. The city once burned down because he thought a butterfly was evil, and everyone panicked.
And again, some of that might be excusable because he never meant to do anything wrong. (Except that time he hid a dead body.) But I'd also argue that Spongebob's consideration for others is at the most shallow of levels. Take his celebration of Squidward's birthday.
Never mind the fact that Spongebob and Patrick snuck into this person's house, and then subsequently crept into his bed, (we'll get to that later) it wasn't Squidward's birthday. Spongebob and Patrick aren't attentive to what Squidward actually wants. He doesn't want them waking up next to him for his birthday, and while could be that they are just too dumb to listen, it could also be simply because they don't care.
The Case Against Patrick:
Many of the grievances against Spongebob could be applied to Patrick and vice-versa as they do just about everything together. I think if you were to make a case against Patrick, though, over Spongebob, it would have to be on the basis that Patrick is the driving force behind their creepier adventures. I don't know whose idea it was to sneak into Squidward's house, but something is telling me it was Patrick and that something is this:
Patrick is awfully insistent that he and Spongebob go on a "panty raid," and while it's not clear if Spongebob and Patrick are aware of the creepy implications in stealing a woman's underwear, there's something about the tone of his voice that suggests this starfish isn't asexual.
Patrick and Spongebob admit that this is something they do all the time, so even if you were to remove all sexual connotations entirely, they still regularly engage in petty thievery. I'm docking Patrick more so than Spongebob here solely because Patrick feels more like the ringleader.
Patrick isn't quite the force of destruction that Spongebob is. He did get Bikini Bottom crushed once by a giant worm by convincing everyone to push the city under a giant cliff. His intentions were good, though. But Patrick does usually exhibit more malicious intent than Spongebob. He even once tried to steal Spongebob's grandma's love. So for that alone, I think you could choose Patrick.
The Case Against Squidward
Squidward is easily the meanest and most disgruntled of our contestants, but he surprisingly hasn't done much wrong in comparison to his happy-go-lucky tormentors. Generally, he kind of just takes heaps of Spongebob and Patrick's shit with every one of his tentacles. There is this one time though, where Squidward convinces Spongebob and Patrick that he's a ghost and that they should be his slaves:
Ooof, yeah, that's not great. He also once gave Spongebob a pie that was actually a bomb, and he once got so addicted to Krabby Patties that he broke into the Krusty Krab to eat more.
If there's one person that Squidward is mean to, it is himself. When Squidward imagines his hopes and dreams, he pictures a gravestone. He sticks his head all the way in the oven to check on his food. He seems suicidal and, I guess if you were to take a puritanical view on suicide, then maybe you could count it as a sin. But I don't think that's fair. In fact, this is a guy who desperately wants to be a musician, but finds himself working at a minimum wage job selling burgers. It's hard not to feel bad for him.
Okay, I kind of talked myself out of Squidward there, but I think if you were to still make the case for him, it would be that his actions are the most motivated by ill-intent. Squidward wants his rival Squilliam Fancyson to fail so that he can feel more like a success.
But Spongebob and Patrick have razed the city the ground with little remorse. My struggle is if they have the mental agency to be responsible for their actions. If they do, then I think you have to give it to Spongebob for just the sheer amount of horrible things he's done to Bikini Bottom. If they don't, then I don't know, this guy seems kind of like a jerk.
Yeah, let's go with that guy.
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Top Image: Nickelodeon
Special thanks to @BrianInciong.