The Big Picture
- “I Was a Teenage Gary” is a disturbing episode of SpongeBob SquarePants that stands out among the show’s lighthearted content.
- The episode showcases the darker, edgier side of Nickelodeon’s animation from the 90s, which pushed the boundaries of what kids could see.
- The transformation scene in “Teenage Gary” is reminiscent of werewolf movies, adding to its disturbing and unsettling nature.
SpongeBob SquarePants is a show that is full of all kinds of messed up moments, but no episode is more disturbing than “I Was a Teenage Gary.” This Halloween special aired during the first season of the show, when audiences were still figuring out what old Sponge (Tom Kenny) and the gang might get up to from episode to episode. Rather than carve out the show’s lighthearted sensibilities, “Teenage Gary” paints one of the most upsetting episodes of SpongeBob in the game. While it isn’t the head-scratcher that is “SB-129” and not as disgusting as “The Splinter,” this episode managed to find a middle ground. “I Was a Teenage Gary” is as pure of a monster story as we’ll ever get from this happy-go-lucky kid’s show, coming straight out of an era when the series’ sense of humor managed to ride the line between being for both children and adults.
By the time SpongeBob SquarePants first aired in 1999, Nickelodeon was already a decade deep into its most bodacious age of animation ever. These shows didn’t give a rip about what was too much for kids to see, nor did they care about following in the footsteps of the watered-down, uninspired animated programming of the 80s. Sure, there were good shows like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Transformers back in the day, but you wouldn’t ever find shows like those on Nick. There, you’d find the slimy, hairball-covered show CatDog, the warped and fever-dreamy world of Rocko’s Modern Life, and the absolute madness of Ren and Stimpy. These shows weren’t quite South Park, but for a channel that was supposedly aimed at kids, these shows definitely took general audiences’ senses of humor to the next level. SpongeBob would eventually help lead Nick into a more kid-friendly direction, but its first season remains deeply rooted in the channel’s ways of old, and “I Was a Teenage Gary” is definitely evidence of that.
‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ Overlooked Halloween Special
This Halloween special was delivered as the second half of a greater package. Ahead of “Teenage Gary,” audiences had their appetites whetted with “Scaredy Pants.” This episode wasn’t nearly as off-putting as the one that followed it. Instead, “Scaredy Pants” follows SpongeBob after being pushed around by the citizens of Bikini Bottom all throughout early Halloween Night, and with Patrick’s (Bill Fagerbakke) help, the little Sponge has decided that he’s going to get everyone back with one good scare. Our boy has his head shaved into a round shape, crashes the Krusty Krab Halloween Party in a Flying Dutchman outfit, and is eventually met with the real ghost of the Flying Dutchman (Brian Doyle-Murray). It’s revealed that SpongeBob had the entirety of his head shaved down to his brain, scaring off the Dutchman and everyone at the party. It’s not a gross-out episode by any means, but the brain reveal feels like a bit much (in a good way) by modern SpongeBob standards, and it has a fun Halloween vibe throughout. A solid episode from Spongebob‘s “Golden Era,” for sure, but if we want to talk about SpongeBob and horror, then the one to follow definitely takes the cake.
“I Was a Teenage Gary” Is the Most Disturbing Episode of ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’
“I Was a Teenage Gary” is about as simple of an episode as you can imagine. This is the one where Squidward (Rodger Bumpass) has to watch Gary while SpongeBob goes out of town for the weekend for a jellyfishing convention. Squid is overjoyed by the opportunity, abandoning Gary immediately to go tan out in his front yard for the next few days. Once Sponge comes home, Squidward realizes that he hasn’t looked after Gary at all, who is now all shriveled up and on death’s door. Squidward and SpongeBob freak out and call a snail doctor, who hands off a shot of snail plasma to be given to Gary. Squid tries to give it to Gary but misses, injecting it straight into SpongeBob’s nose. Squidward assures SpongeBob that he’ll be fine, and Gary gets all better after drinking a little bit of water. All is well now… right?
Later that night, SpongeBob starts to crave Gary’s food and even begins meowing a little bit — something is clearly off. A moment later, Sponge goes upstairs to his bathroom, where he falsely tries to reassure himself, saying, “Look at me, never better!” His voice echoes in his head with an eerie delay as he says so. Then, in one of the strangest scenes in the entire series, SpongeBob begins to morph into a snail right in front of our very eyes. Sponge’s body starts to swell and return to normal, creaking like the sounds of battered, wooden floorboards. His eyes bulge up, then rocket out of his head by their optic nerves, standing up far above his head like Gary’s eyes do. Then, his body forcibly leans him over onto all fours, where his left arm shrivels up into his body. Sponge tries to stay calm, saying “That’s okay, I’m a lefty anyway…!”, but he groans even more so as his legs recede into his lower torso. In one final disturbing touch, SpongeBob’s back rigidly contorts and raises up into a shell-like pose, as he finally exclaims “Something is wrong with meeeeee-OW.”
The snail transformation scene in “Teenage Gary” is one of the most out-of-left-field moments in the entire series. That said, it lines up perfectly with loads of scenes in classic werewolf movies. That horror subgenre is best known for its shaggy beasts, but they’re always their most fun during their transformation scenes. And while this episode evokes many werewolf-isms by having SpongeBob be given a supernatural ability that he didn’t ask for, go into denial, then be met full-on with his new state, the movie that it harkens back to the most is An American Werewolf in London.
“I Was a Teenage Gary” Pays Homage to Werewolf Movies
If anything, An American Werewolf in London and this SpongeBob episode line up the most just for the way that their protagonists shape-shift in front of their audiences. In most werewolf movies, the protagonist quickly changes from one form to another, but in American Werewolf and “Teenage Gary,” the processes are way more drawn out. We see every last inch of both characters’ bodies as they go from one form to the other. Not only that, they both take place in well-lit rooms, where no aspects of the transformation can be concealed. Their changes aren’t painless either. Both David Kessler’s (David Naughton) and SpongeBob’s monstrous developments bring them heaps of shock and pain. American Werewolf‘s very matter-of-fact and elongated transformation scene makes it the greatest in the entire werewolf subgenre. As for “I Was a Teenage Gary”… well, it isn’t the best episode of SpongeBob, but it is the most disturbing!
The episode goes out with Squidward tucking himself and his clarinet away for bed, only for someone to ring the doorbell. Without even looking, Squid knows who it is and answers the door completely fed up. On the other side is a totally snailed-up SpongeBob, sending Squidward into a panic. In a moment of disbelief, he touches Sponge’s new snail eye, which reacts by shriveling up and slowly pulling back in towards his body. By SpongeBob standards, this is nasty! It’s totally in line with a show like Ren and Stimpy, but SpongeBob‘s a whole other story. Squidward boards up his house as SpongeBob harasses him, meowing around every corner of his house. After running all over the place, Squid’s house ends up flipping over onto itself in total cartoony glory. Squid comes out of the wreckage with the snail plasma syringe stuck in his nose, changes into a snail off-screen, and meows in song along with SpongeBob and Gary to close out the episode — but not without taking a boot to the face from Patrick.
“I Was a Teenage Gary” might not be the greatest episode of SpongeBob (shoot, it’s not even the best episode of Season 1), but it absolutely pushed the boundaries for the kind of horror that you might show in a kid’s cartoon. While shows like Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark rode mostly off of the atmosphere and a general spooky tone, few shows up until this point presented the type of body horror that’s on display here. I mean, this is like SpongeBob meets David Cronenberg. Its general downbeat tone and nasty transformation scene are probably the reasons that it has not only fallen out of a regular re-rerun rotation but also hardly airs during the Halloween season. You’d think this one would be a staple around then! Hopefully “I Was a Teenage Gary” not only gets more air time around Halloween, but let’s hope that it also earns a better reputation with fans as one of the wildest and most disturbing episodes in all of SpongeBob SquarePants.