There were a lot of recycled ideas, gags, and scenes in “Stealing First Base”. Besides the narrative repetition of Bart getting another girlfriend and Lisa feeling unloved, there were a few specific things as well. The most direct of these came near the beginning, when Bart walked into class to see chaos in Mrs. Krabappel’s absence. Of course, this is extremely similar to the opening of Season 2’s “Lisa’s Substitute”.
In “Stealing First Base” the opening chaos in the classroom runs for twenty seconds before we have any dialogue. It includes Nelson spitting in books, Lewis putting a firecracker in the pencil sharpener, and the school snake puking up a mouse who enjoys stealing lines from space ants. Skinner finally arrives and spends the next twenty seconds telling (not showing) why Krabappel isn’t there and then expositing another fourth grade into existence.
By contrast, in “Lisa’s Substitute” we move immediately to dialogue, with the kids speculating that Ms. Hoover drank drain cleaner or fell down a well. Less than ten seconds in, Hoover and Skinner appear, with Hoover crying. That prompts Lisa to say, “My god, she’s been dumped again.” (That one single line, just six words, tells us volumes about both Hoover and Lisa.) The episode then moves immediately to Skinner’s detailed description of the horrors of Lyme disease, while a terrified Hoover looks on. The entire episode set up is shot through with jokes, we are shown what’s going on instead of told, and there’s no need for improbable plot leaps.
Both of those sequences take forty seconds. But when placed within the larger context of their respective episodes, the one from Zombie Simpsons looks even worse by comparison. Not counting the opening or the credits, “Stealing First Base” clocks in at 19m:5s, “Lisa’s Substitute” clocks in at 21m:13s. In “Stealing First Base” we don’t even get inside the school for more than a minute (on account of a GPS scene* that is never referenced for the rest of the episode). On the other hand, “Lisa’s Substitute” starts at the school immediately. The very first shot is of the classroom clock showing 9:15, so we know Hoover is late. Add all that up and “Lisa’s Substitute” has three and a half minutes more screen time left to play with after the initial set up. So not only is Zombie Simpsons shorter, but it has to drag its feet right from the opening just to fill its abbreviated time.
Zombie Simpsons, clearly still a “writer’s” program.
What we can see here, in simple terms of screen time, is the way Zombie Simpsons has to huff and puff to fill its quota. And while it’s not exactly news that Zombie Simpsons is shorter, if you subtract out the more than two minutes “Stealing First Base” spent on dialogue free montages you get an episode that’s almost 20% smaller than “Lisa’s Substitute”. (Not only is this food terrible, but such small portions!) I’ve said this before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again: this is not the same show as The Simpsons. It’s not even close to the same show. If you took the “Stealing First Base” script to a network as a pilot, it would never get made. This is low quality television masquerading as a long-lived classic, nothing more, nothing less.
*Lest you think I’m being overly harsh about the GPS thing, consider that “Marge vs. the Monorail” opens with Homer doing his own version of the “Flintstones” opening. That too ends with a car crash is never referenced again, but it takes half as long, involves a genuine parody, and is never played for action/suspense, only humor.