By now, a good chunk of the episodes on the newly released SpongeBob SquarePants Complete Seventh Season DVD have been covered through the multiple single-disc “soccer mom” releases over the past year or so (“Legends of Bikini Bottom,” “The Great Patty Caper,” and “Heroes of Bikini Bottom”). As a result, I can’t say that season 7 had many surprises in store, partially because I’d seen many of these episodes already and partially because the show just doesn’t seem terribly fresh any more.
My complaints about the earlier SpongeBob DVDs still holds true now. It’s not a bad show as much as I feel like it’s uninspired and not as funny as it ought to be. A lot of episodes spend too much time establishing the skeleton of a plot, which is too-often substituted for genuine comedy. The remainder have a lot of energy and frantic motion, making even the worst episodes fun to watch from technical perspectives, and one can tell that the actors are having a lot of fun with the material, but none of that really adds up to very many laughs. The best episodes on this disc are still pretty funny, and most of them are also the ones that don’t weigh themselves down with the need to carry a real story. Episodes like “I Heart Dancing,” “Stuck in the Wringer,” “Model Sponge,” and “That Sinking Feeling” just take a simple idea and then spin out endless variations on that theme. This usually means someone will be driven crazy in the process (usually the ever put-upon Squidward), but that engine has driven comedy for decades for a reason. I’m also still tickled by the superhero parodies involving Mermaidman and Barnacle Boy, especially “Back to the Past” for the way it insists on going surreal early and thoroughly. There are also two surrealistic gems to be mined from this set: “Squidward in Clarinetland” and “Enchanted Tiki Dreams,” although the former takes a bit too long to get to the weird bits. Unfortunately, too many of the rest of the episodes on these discs have little inspiration to start with and end with whimpers long after that small inspiration has petered out.
I certainly can’t complain about the presentation of these episodes. The whole set is contained in a single-width DVD case, with all episodes presented in their original full-screen format and stereo sound. All the episodes look and sound pristine. As with older SpongeBob DVDs, there aren’t any chapter stops within an episode, but since they tend to run only 10 minutes each, there really wouldn’t be much point to them. Each DVD also defaults to “marathon play” mode, running the opening credits at the very start and then playing all the episodes one after another before running all the end credits together at the end. The only bonus features are interstital shorts that ran from “Back to the Past,” “SpongeBob’s Last Stand,” “Legends of Bikini Bottom,” and “The Great Patty Caper.”
Perhaps it’s that there really is little inspiration to SpongeBob SquarePants these days, or perhaps its that the show’s spiritual successors such as Chowder, The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack, and Adventure Time have recalibrated my surrealistic humor meter to put SpongeBob’s particular brand of hilarity below my minimum acceptable threshold (and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a lot of the better animated comedies of recent years were created by SpongeBob alums). In any event, if you’re still a fan or know someone who is, this season set is certainly a better choice than the individual releases for a bunch of reasons. If you’re not, I suspect you might do better with one of the earlier discs or the “first 100 episodes” DVD set.