So I have a longer post about SpongeBob in the pipeline, but that’s still in development. Anyway, I just remembered this scene my siblings and I always thought was a fourth wall break or metacognitive brag.
Season 3, Episode 53a, titled “New Student Starfish,” follows SpongeBob and Patrick at a day in boating school. Initially, Patrick was eager to go jellyfishing, but SpongeBob had to attend class. Patrick is upset, so SpongeBob decides to allow Patrick to shadow him for the day at school. Mrs. Puff greets Patrick when they arrive and encourages him to introduce himself to the class, Nervously, he blurts “twenty-four!” The class laughs, but the lesson quickly resumes. SpongeBob, meanwhile, is still amused, and retorts to Patrick in a mock-whisper. “Hey, Patrick. I just thought of something even funnier than twenty-four…. Twenty-five!” Patrick, who’d already been snickering at his pride for his funny remark, then laughs harder, and SpongeBob follows.
I’m sure everyone is familiar with the scene, but I wanted to explain why I thought there was another layer to this joke. Twenty-four is pretty random for Patrick (although in a deleted scene this isn’t quite so, his eyes wandered around the class when he saw the page in the daily calendar was turned to 24). The other students laugh for their own reasons. Probably as background characters, they don’t give much thought of how they fit into this narrative. SpongeBob, however, does. He’s the titular character and wants to ascertain his dominance. In some metacognitive, denting-the-fourth-wall kind of way, I felt he knew 24 was the number combo used to select Disney Channel on our television remote. Of course, he too, still laughed at 24, because some Disney Channels shows are decent. He is a friendly competitor. However, he had to literally one-up this. He had to bring in a number that was better, funnier, and had more program selection. Thus, 25. But what is 25? Why, it’s the number combo used to select Nickelodeon on our TV remote!
I thought this joke was a shot at Disney Channel, how it’s comfortable and gives sizable amusement, but Nickelodeon outlasts this.
But as I got older, I realized the writing crew would never really do this purposely. When the episode was released, and increasingly more so today, the TV channel numbers vary widely. Disney Channel and Nick might have been 24 and 25, respectively, in my household, but they could have been 39 and 42 at my friend’s house only a few blocks away. They are programming details; writers don’t give them much mind. I don’t even know how vast my particular channel numbers spanned, but I know it wasn’t very much. I don’t think this joke was written specifically for viewers in this tiny suburb just south of Boston. Not to mention in this suburb with our particular cable package, providers, wiring, brand, or whatever other variables.
Still, at the same time, I like to think the hidden meaning was written just for us. This little coincidence made me think we were acknowledged.