This post contains sensitive material that may not be suitable for all readers. The material in question includes:

- Bad language
- Violence
- Suggestive content

So, with that out of the way, let’s move onto the zany shit!

“Balanced… as all things should be.”

Much of the show’s early success can be attributed to the mind behind the show. Stephen Hillenburg—God rest his soul—and his associates knew exactly what the show needed to work and appeal to a general audience, and its later fall from grace came due to (a) his decreased involvement and (b) the signing-on of new writers who didn’t understand the material. In its hay day, however, it knew how to land a first joke, and holy shit, does “No Free Rides” start off like an H-bomb. It opens with SpongeBob having another disastrous driving test with Mrs. Puff and Hans the French narrator announcing that this is his last test of the year. He continues on by saying that, should this test fail, he’d be in boating school for another year, a dire point that he screams frantically as SpongeBob drives the boat directly into him. When the naïve novice expresses his confusion to his instructor, Mrs. Puff shrugs, tells him he only hit another pedestrian, and subtracts twenty points from his score. So, here we are—barely ten seconds into the episode, and it’s already hit a home run with its comedy. This begins a running theme with the episode, which is how shockingly far it pushes the severity and maturity of its humor without disturbing its audience. Case and point, it doesn’t rely on pus-oozing splinters or toenail-ripping like the demented writers of Ren & Stimpy did with later episodes. Even though Mrs. Puff tells him the test is over, he tries to earn back his lost points with predictably destructive results. He yodels in victory upon learning that he’d earned six points out of six…


While SpongeBob cheers over the next year of boating school, Mrs. Puff is left dreading it until she comes up with the desperate… I mean, ultimate solution: extra credit. What follows is one of the episode’s most iconic moments, when she assigns him a mere ten-word essay detailing what he’d learned in boating school, and seven of those words are “What I learned in boating school is…” Just a few characters later, he breaks his pencil and takes about twelve seconds to sharpen it, taking very careful glances at the tip as Mrs. Puff stares on anxiously. He then breaks it again, goes up to sharpen it again, rinse repeat until Mrs. Puff takes it away and gives him a pen. After finally finishing, he panics and scribbles out his answer that he claims isn’t ready, driving his instructor half-insane.

His desk ultimately crumbles underneath him as Mrs. Puff tries to force the last three words out of him. The paper tears in half as she attempts to snatch it from him, but when she pauses to read both halves, she finds that absolutely none of what he’d just written is even legible. Yet, she tosses both halves away, decides that the answer doesn’t matter, and grants him his license, thus casting him out of her life forever. Her relief only dissipates when he proclaims that Bikini Bottom has a new driver on the road, after which a vision of the potential future flashes before her—one in which SpongeBob runs down pedestrian after pedestrian in blissful ignorance, eventually plowing through a wholesome birthday celebration and setting the entire city ablaze. The realistic fish head reporter (who isn’t voiced by Doug Lawrence, oddly enough) pins the blame on his instructor over the news before getting run down himself. What? Did I do an inadequate job of suggesting the utter lunacy that makes up this whole episode?

She skeptically shakes this nightmare away and returns home later that evening, only to meet SpongeBob and both his parents in front of a giant celebration cake. She stands scowling in chagrin, with the framed photo behind her capturing the very moment she walked through the door like the result of some catastrophic time paradox, as Mr. and Mrs. SquarePants unveil their son’s new boat. Realizing her mistake, she vows to get rid of his boat and revoke his license before it’s too late.

Before you can ponder time as a linear concept, the madness continues full-steam ahead.

Back at his place, SpongeBob is tucked into bed, but once his parents are gone, he slips out his bedroom window and into his new boat, thus commencing a strangely seductive moment where he notices his boat is cold and gives it his own two socks to warm it up. After he falls asleep in the driver’s seat, Mrs. Puff sneaks out of the brush wearing a ski mask and hopes she still knows “how to do this” while reaching into her pocket… but instead of anything that’ll let her ignite the engine, she makes a balloon animal, beams in satisfaction, and tosses it away as she starts up the boat and drives off. SpongeBob soon wakes up, realizes what’s happening, probes the thief on why she’s wearing a ski mask when she clearly isn’t skiing, and deduces her true identity: a boat jacker. Then, we get one of the funniest things to ever happen in a cartoon, which is when he pulls out a can of pepper spray and squirts it in the wrong direction, directly into his eyes. Despite being knocked out of the boat by the very well-disguised thief, he uses his unicycle to catch up with her, but when this fails, he uses both arms like rubber sticky hands to latch onto the windshield. He skids behind the boat on his shoes like he’s water-skiing, only to be dragged into three horrifying everyday street hazards that grind him down to a paste until he lets go entirely: giant clams, cheese graters, and worst of all, educational television.

Well… okay, I guess there’s at least one worse trap he could be dragged into.

“OH, NO!”

Seemingly in the clear, Mrs. Puff turns on the radio, with the DJ for the station KRUD (get it?) promising plenty of the biggest “YOU WON’T GET AWAY WITH STEALING MY CAR!” hits. Alas, SpongeBob emerges from the dashboard, wrestling with her over the boat until it goes diving off an escarpment, directly towards a parked police cruiser. Right before the crash, he tears off her ski mask and finds his instructor underneath, triggering a suitably bonkers reaction shot as both vehicles make impact. In the end, the two call each other over the phone, with Mrs. Puff apologizing for her irresponsible actions. SpongeBob understands that his license will have to be revoked, and Mrs. Puff recommends another instructor’s driving class that starts Monday morning. SpongeBob turns down the offer, however, now revealed to be visiting her in prison and letting her know that she’s been promised an early release under one condition: FREE DRIVING LESSONS! Say, you remember when these stories used to end with the right characters getting punished?

Thanks for leading me to the land that you understand, ocean man.

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