“Help Wanted” is the pilot episode of SpongeBob SquarePants, and as such, it is also the first segment of the very first episode.
A narrator with a French accent introduces SpongeBob SquarePants, an anthropomorphic sea sponge who, as stated in the theme song, lives in a pineapple under the sea. SpongeBob’s foghorn alarm clock rings, waking him up in the morning. He tells his pet snail, Gary, that he must be in good shape because this particular day is important. He runs outside and down the street to the Krusty Krab, repeatedly saying, “I’m ready” while his neighbor and best friend, Patrick Star, cheers him on.
SpongeBob arrives at the Krusty Krab restaurant and sees the “Help Wanted” sign in the window. He then declares that he is ready to obtain the job, which he has dreamed of for years; however, he briefly loses his confidence when he nears the restaurant. Patrick convinces him to go for the job, and so SpongeBob does so, thereby declaring he is ready three more times. Squidward Tentacles, the head cashier who happens to be SpongeBob and Patrick’s neighbor, is cleaning the window when he sees that SpongeBob wants the job. Frightened by this idea, he tells the owner of the restaurant, Eugene H. Krabs, that SpongeBob is not qualified for the job. SpongeBob walks into the Krusty Krab and asks for the job. To get rid of him, Mr. Krabs tells SpongeBob that he can join the “Krusty Krew” if he passes a “test”, in which he has to obtain a “Hydrodynamic Spatula with Port and Starboard Attachments and a Turbo-Drive” (essentially sending SpongeBob on a form of snipe hunt), believing that there is no such thing and that SpongeBob will never come back trying to find it.
As soon as SpongeBob leaves, five buses drop off a large crowd of hungry Anchovies. They barge into the Krusty Krab, demanding Krabby Patties. Attempting to keep things in order, Squidward complains about their behavior, then requests that there be a single-file line in front of the cash register. But the anchovies angrily protest, forming a riot of angry anchovies set to resemble a stormy sea. This forces Squidward and Mr. Krabs to climb up the “mast”. Just in the nick of time, though, SpongeBob returns with his “hydrodynamic spatula with port and starboard attachments and a turbo-drive” (according to SpongeBob, the Barg’n Mart only had one in stock). Mr. Krabs is flabbergasted at the fact that SpongeBob actually passed the “test.” SpongeBob flies into the kitchen and as fast as he can, satisfies the needs of the angry anchovies.
When the last anchovy gets his Krabby Patty, Mr. Krabs, delighted at SpongeBob’s performance, hires him, to Squidward’s disdain. Squidward tries to protest this, but Mr. Krabs does not listen to him because he wants to go and count the money he just made in his office. At the end, Patrick walks in and asks for a Krabby Patty. SpongeBob races into the kitchen and makes a huge stream of Krabby Patties which hit Patrick and send him flying out of the restaurant. Worried, Squidward calls Mr. Krabs to come see what his new employee is doing.
While pitching the cartoon to Nickelodeon executives, Hillenburg donned a Hawaiian shirt, brought along an “underwater terrarium with models of the characters”, and Hawaiian music to set the theme. The setup was described by Nick executive Eric Coleman as “pretty amazing”. When given money and two weeks to write the pilot episode (“Help Wanted”), Derek Drymon, Stephen Hillenberg, and Nick Jennings returned with, described by Nickelodeon official Albie Hecht, “a performance wish had on tape”. Although described as stressful by executive producer Derek Drymon, the pitch went “very well”; Kevin Kay and Hecht had to step outside because they were “exhausted from laughing”, making the cartoonists worried.
SpongeBob SquarePants aired its first episode, “Help Wanted / Reef Blower / Tea at the Treedome,” on May 1, 1999, following the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards. The series later made its “official” debut on July 17, 1999 with the second episode “Bubblestand / Ripped Pants.”
This pilot was made and recorded in 1997, so it has many differences to the rest of the series. However, the original version of the episode had many other minor differences corrected later. For example, this is the only episode where SpongeBob’s bed is on the right (excluding Pickles and Employee of the Month), and his blanket is solid blue, as opposed to purple with flowers. Differences in voices are another example. SpongeBob’s voice is slightly lower and Patrick’s is deeper. Designs and colors are also different. For example, SpongeBob has fewer holes than in newer episodes, Mr. Krabs’ eyelids are bright pink opposed to red, Patrick’s pants are in a slightly different color, Squidward’s complexion is paler, his laugh is different, the comedic “splat” sound is different, and his nose does not puff in and out when he laughs. Gary’s eye pupils are red dots and his irises are smaller, he lacks eyelashes, and he has a lower tone of voice in the “meow” (although Tom Kenny claims to use a new “meow” for each episode (where Gary is shown meowing). Squidward also appears to have rows of bamboo poles behind his house. Differences in SpongeBob’s house are also present in this episode, but not in others, such as there is only one window in the front. Also, SpongeBob and Patrick are a little bit fatter. Also, SpongeBob’s alarm clock has a different ship horn sound than his alarm clock in later episodes. The changes were made when the series officially aired.