Posts Tagged ‘Stealing First Base


Compare & Contrast: Absent Teachers

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.

Brilliant Writing

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. 


Crazy Noises: Stealing First Base

Who Shot Mr. Burns Part 2b

“Now, let’s discuss the, um, moe-tive” – Chief Wiggum

In our continuing mission to bring you only the finest in low class, low brow, and low tech internet Simpsons commentary we’re bringing back our “Crazy Noises” series and applying it to Season 21.  Because doing a podcast smacks of effort we’re still using this “chatroom” thing that all the middle schoolers and undercover cops seem to think is so cool.  This text has been edited for clarity and spelling (especially on “gripe”).

Sometimes a Zombie Simpsons episode is so sloppy and meandering, so devoid of humor, that it’s nigh impossible to have a coherent discussion of it.  We started off talking about the montages, but there’s so many little things in this episode that just flat out suck that we ended up jumping around randomly, just like the episode did.  And I’m sure we didn’t get to everything.  The B-plot was three scenes, the finale of which was a helicopter landing at the school and three minutes of exposition.  The A-plot dropped its reason for existing halfway through.  The opening scene has literally nothing to do with the rest of the episode.  Homer just gets into a little adventure driving the kids to school, it’s never referenced again and has no bearing on what happens once they get to school.  And what few stabs at humor were contained within were, to put it mildly, clumsy.  I could go on, but we did that last night. 

Mad Jon: Ok then

  Shall we?

Dave: Only if we start with the first of several pointless montages

Mad Jon: Fair enough

Charlie Sweatpants: Yeah, that was about the worst of it.

Mad Jon: Was it Charlie who was pissing on the Itchy and Scratchy episode from last week?

Charlie Sweatpants: Oh yeah.

Mad Jon: Should have kept your mouth shut

  Look what wrath you brought on us this week

Charlie Sweatpants: I’d hesitate to call this “worse” since the last one was already approaching absolute zero, but this was awful.

Mad Jon: Hesitate not fair gentleman

Dave: Quite.

Charlie Sweatpants: Fine, you saw an artsy movie from the late eighties, I’m impressed. Did it really need to go on for, wait, let me check . . .

Mad Jon: We’ll wait here

Dave: I enjoy the “Qatsi” trilogy, but recognize that it’s fair game for a ton of ridicule. The I&S bit did none of that

Charlie Sweatpants: One minute and ten seconds, give or take. Wow.

That’s more than 5% of the episode.

  I’m not familiar enough with all of Zombie Simpsons, but that’s got to be up there for all time champion montage time waster.

Mad Jon: I&S is not for that kind of parody. I&S is supposed to be the 15-20 seconds of pure violent humor that reminds me that I am still not completely desensitized

Charlie Sweatpants: Which one next, the kiss montage or the skateboarding montage?

Mad Jon: The Kiss one

Dave: Skateboarding

Charlie Sweatpants: Jon got there first, kiss it is.

Mad Jon: Hooray for us

Once again I forgot the sarcasm emoticon

Charlie Sweatpants: It’s already been discussed in the comments, but the Alien/Critic one was terrible either way you slice it. The rest were just dumb. I mean, they did “Ghost”! If ever a movie was crying out to be parodied it was that one, but they just put it in straight.

Mad Jon: Good point

Dave: Parody takes effort, remember?

  It’s much easier to copy verbatim.

Charlie Sweatpants: There was what, like ten? And only two of them were even attempts at humor.

That’s just pathetic, especially when you consider the enormous number of famous movie kisses over the years.

Mad Jon: On the bright side the Lady and the Tramp one made me think of the parody Family Guy did with Michael Vick. That was the only time I laughed the entire 22 min.

Charlie Sweatpants: I think I remember that.

By the way, the kissing montage clocks in at about 45 seconds.

Dave: So close to 2 minutes of a 23 minute episode?

  Wasted on two montages?

Charlie Sweatpants: And we haven’t even gotten to the skateboard one.

And the episode is only 20:33 on WinAmp.

Dave: Sorry, 20 minutes.


Charlie Sweatpants: Before we move on, I would like to reiterate my point from earlier: this was a massively wasted comedy opportunity.

Mad Jon: That one had a bit of a scene from that Angelina Jolie movie “Wanted”. Which, btw, some schmuck decided would be a good idea to make a sequel of.

Charlie Sweatpants: Which one?

Mad Jon: The skateboard montage

Charlie Sweatpants: So that was from something?

Mad Jon: The beginning was.

But I don’t know about the rest.

Charlie Sweatpants: I did a quick scan of the No Homers thread on this episode but nobody mentioned that it was from something. On the advice of several people I have not bothered to see “Wanted”.

Mad Jon: You are a smart man.

Dave: Did that have something to do with the montage?

Charlie Sweatpants: Jon seems to think so.

Which part?

  Wait, lemme guess, sliding under the picnic table?

Mad Jon: Look, I think this doesn’t merit this level of discussion. All we are really doing right now is reminding me that I paid 8 bucks to see “Wanted” with a girl I was already sleeping with.

Charlie Sweatpants: You paid to see it? Oh, sorry. I figured you at least waited until it was on DVD or something. That is kind of embarrassing.

Mad Jon: I rest my case

Dave: Seriously embarrassing.

Charlie Sweatpants: Depending on how you want to count, the skateboard thing goes on for between thirty and forty seconds.

(Thirty if it’s just the music, forty if you start from when the joke-free skateboarding starts.)

Mad Jon: I don’t think we should provide any benefit of doubt

Dave: Let’s say 40 and round it up to a minute.

  Because it felt at least that long.

Charlie Sweatpants: This brings me to another gripe about this episode though, because there’s a skateboarding girl who goes to Bart’s school and he’s never met her before?

  They used to put some care into introducing new students.

Dave: This isn’t then.

Charlie Sweatpants: Alison Taylor skipped a grade. Samantha Stanky moved to Springfield from Phoenix. Jessica Lovejoy was expelled from boarding school.

  Girlfriend #8 was across the hall the whole time.

Mad Jon: Good point, now they are just like “whoops, how about another class of 4thies”

Charlie Sweatpants: While we’re on the subject of nonsensical school stuff, the opening needs to be dragged out back and shot.

The GPS thing was a complete waste of time that had nothing to do with the rest of the episode.

Dave: People should trust their GPSs, har har

Charlie Sweatpants: The GPS thing is classic Zombie Simpsons, because you can see the writers’ desperation right on the screen. Hey, we haven’t “done” GPS yet. But we can’t think of a way to work it into the rest of the episode, so we’ll just stick it here because we need to fill some time.

You can tell it has nothing to do with the rest of the episode because not ten minutes later Homer is shown working on a car, and it has nothing to do with the opening minute of the episode when he wrecked the car.

  It’s not even the same car.

Dave: But you didn’t enjoy the wonderful, contemporary humor therein?

Mad Jon: No, I didn’t

Also, the bit with Nelson’s blind friend. I still don’t like Nelson with feelings, it always reminds me of the scenes from that one episode where he thinks all the plant life is his father.

Charlie Sweatpants: Wait, what?

If I have seen that I’ve blocked it out.

Mad Jon: It was a running gag the entire last 2 thirds of the episode

Dave: I’m sure someone at No Homers found it brilliant though. So does that mean it worked?

Charlie Sweatpants: Ralph laughed when the flag on the mailbox was up. That doesn’t mean the mailbox was “working”.

Mad Jon: I occasionally look at No Homers and some of those people are ok. But for the most part I would listen to my dog’s suggestion to start shitting on the floor before I would take their advice on The Simpsons.

Oops, said the quiet part loud and the loud part quiet again.

Dave: I recognize that there are a few level-headed folks at NH – but they’re way outnumbered by the nutjobs.

Charlie Sweatpants: And while we’re talking about the opening, I’d also like to point out that the whole “chaos in the classroom” scene made less sense and had fewer joke than the ones when Skinner got fired.

  Oh, and they had the mouse fly out of the snake and cry “Freedom”. Where have I seen something similar?

Mad Jon: Why wasn’t Krabappel there again?

Charlie Sweatpants: Something about a cult. Might as well have given her Lyme disease and just been done with it.

Mad Jon: Did you forget the emoticon again?

Charlie Sweatpants: Forget? No. I thought it was pretty obvious what I was going for.

Mad Jon: Excellent.

Charlie Sweatpants: So what have we missed?

There was the awful Skinner/Willie kissing thing, that ate some clock. Lisa’s bizarre freakout. The pointless Angela Basset cameo, oh, and the pre-kissing montage thing where Skinner tried to stop Girlfriend #8 for some reason.

  Jebus there wasn’t a damn thing in this episode that made any sense.

Mad Jon: Oh god, I forgot about the kissing. That just kept going.

Dave: So true. But we can’t reasonably rip on everything.

Charlie Sweatpants: So you’re saying they’ve overwhelmed us with crappiness?

Mad Jon: It’s possible

Dave: Sure why not

Charlie Sweatpants: Well, I still want to bitch about the skit thing. I don’t think the length and stupidity of the kissing thing should let the rest of that scene off the hook.

Mad Jon: Bitch away

Charlie Sweatpants: There was Chalmers stupid exposition, the whole Homer strangling Skinner thing, and then there was Martin and Wendell dragging Homer off, which also sucked.

  Oh, and Chalmers sounded kinda like himself again, unlike last week when he sounded nothing like himself. Just bizarre.

Mad Jon: How bizarre indeed.

Dave: For some reason that just reminded me that Nelson was a complete fuck in this episode

Nelson, the estrogen-charged defender of the weak

Charlie Sweatpants: But he’s more sympathetic this way!

Mad Jon: Yeah, that sucked indeed as well

Charlie Sweatpants: Don’t you want all the characters to be nice? Why doesn’t Nelson share his pie, and then they would both have pie?

Mad Jon: Good reference.

Dave: No, Nelson’s better this way, you’re right.

  How dare I question any change in his character.

  This is who he should’ve always been.

Charlie Sweatpants: Yeah Dave, if you don’t like it, why are you watching?

Dave: I’m such a negative Nancy, ripping on others’ hard work

Mad Jon: It is pretty stupid that you would do that. Especially now that there are so many period references like iPods, GPSs and Josh Groban to make the show so much more watchable. Especially compared to season 17–18.

Charlie Sweatpants: It’s just sad that it’s not obvious to you that having a pointless guest character literally helicopter into the episode and then back out of it is just like teh classic Simpons!!!11!!!!1

Dave: Head hung in shame

  I’ll go now

Charlie Sweatpants: Can I go too? Recalling the various horrors of this episode is making me nauseous.

Dave: I’ll be in bed with a bottle of amaretto

Charlie Sweatpants: Well used.


Synergy Feasts on Crumbs

Girly Edition3

When it comes to “reviewing” Zombie Simpsons, IGN basically has two tools at its disposal: low standards and positive spin.  This week’s sycophantic drivel is heavy on the latter.  These aren’t recycled ideas that have been done much better in the past, they’re “variations of themes”.  Sarah Silverman’s character (hereafter referred to as “Girlfriend #8”) isn’t a one dimensional character who exists only to kiss and longboard, she’s a “female version of Bart”.  Skinner and Willy kissing for hours isn’t wholly unnecessary filler, it “was probably funnier on paper”.  It can’t be easy to suck stale crumbs off the floor and call them delicious, but IGN’s (still) on the job. 

As always, I’ve edited out all the synergy. 

March 22, 2010 – I have a soft spot particular dislike for episodes of The Simpsons Zombie Simpsons that center around the elementary school in some way. Of all the locations in Springfield, it’s the elementary school that has the highest concentration of great supporting characters should’ve changed the least. The nuclear power plant is a close second, but the variety of characters at the school edges them out in terms of sheer wasted comedy opportunities. And the kids are definitely more fun resistant to character drift than the gang at Moe’s Tavern. So when "Stealing First Base" established that it was going to be school-centric, it already had a lot going for itmassively aggravating” written all over it. And overall, it didn’t disappoint.

The storylines, as can be the is often the case with The Simpsons Zombie Simpsons after so many episodes, were variations of recycled themes we’ve seen a number of times before. Bart was once again struck by love and the results were quite entertaining pretty much the same as they always are. Mrs. Krabappel’s absence forced Principal Skinner to combine the two fourth grade classes at Springfield Elementary into one class for some reason. The setting that we never saw again gave us a number of great throwaway lines from some of our class favorites characters that used to be funny, including Milhouse, Martin, the twins and Nelson. Nelson had the best only minor storyline in the episode after getting paired with a blind student in the other class. Throughout the episode, we returned to the duo and saw how Nelson was taking the kid under his bully wing acting out a particularly hackneyed after school special. And this is precisely why I so enjoy loathe these school-based episodes. There’s plenty to work with to fill the episode with extra laughs The reanimated corpses of characters I used to enjoy acting nothing like themselves pisses me off all over again.

Doubling up at the desk introduced Bart to Nikki Girlfriend #8. Essentially a female version of Bart few lines of dialogue that happened to skateboard, Nikki Girlfriend #8 was the closest thing Bart has gotten to finding true love since Greta Wolfcastle.  [Ed Note: I’ll take his word for that.]  Voiced by guest Sarah Silverman, Nikki Girlfriend #8 turned out to be a fun and memorable one dimensional and rather boring character. And since she’s theoretically a regular student, the possibility remains overwhelming likelihood that we may see will never hear her again someday makes her nonsensical introduction that much stupider. After Bart stole a kiss, urged on by a banana-eating Grampa Simpson, Nikki’s Girlfriend #8’s parents threatened a lawsuit for some reason and were granted an "affection-free environment" on school premises never heard from again. Unfortunately Predictably, this concept was not played up as much as I had hoped it would be at all. Out Because of it we did get suffer through a "skit, or sketch" defining what was inappropriate, but watching Groundskeeper Willie and Skinner kissing for longer than they should be was probably hopefully funnier on paper because in execution it was boring and long.

Regardless of the affection ban, Bart continued a relationship with Nikki Girlfriend #8, who’s only purpose was to showed Bart that women are entirely impossible to figure out. My favorite line of the episode One of the hacktacular lines that would’ve fit better in a low budget romantic comedy came when Nikki Girlfriend #8 told Bart he should know what she wants: "I want you to act the same way two days in a row!" I also loved the The montage of famous "kisses" that played as Nikki Girlfriend #8 was giving Bart CPR (for some reason) also dragged on far too long. The clips started as you might expect, with some of the most famous, passionate kisses in cinema, but then added the unexpected that didn’t take enough time. So they added in The standouts for me were the alien smooching Ellen Ripley something they stole from “The Critic” and Sammy Davis Jr. laying one on Archie Bunker.

Meanwhile, Lisa was going through her 100th crisis of "being smart ain’t all it’s cracked up to be." It started with her suddenly becoming popular after receiving a failing grade on a test for some reason. But once that situation was cleared up (Ralph: "I cheated wrong. I used the Lisa name, but the Ralph answers."), Lisa went right back to being an outcast. In a very roundabout way, This was supposed to have something to do with First Lady Michele Obama came coming to the elementary school to give Lisa some support and herald overachievers. Angela Bassett was good as the voice of Obama, but the whole thing felt odd massively out of place and very forced. Still it It did give the opportunity an excuse for Superintendent Chalmers to state, "He’s our Joe Biden," about Principal Skinner.

Again, any episode set in the elementary school will always be worth your time remind you of how bad this show has become. Although "Stealing First Base" fed us some old very stale ideas, and it did so with a lot of great bits drawn out time filler (the Itchy and Scratchy 3-D movie, The Very Hungry Caterpillar) and some very strong utterly pointless guest voices.


Out of Frame, Out of Mind

 The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show2

“I have to go now, my planet needs me.” – Poochie

There is a lot to dislike about last night’s craptacular Zombie Simpsons.  But I’d like to draw your attention to what may be it’s most persistent conceit: the dropping of characters, sometimes right in the middle of a scene. 

First, consider the scene where Lisa is briefly popular before Ms. Hoover illogically shows up on the playground to hand back her corrected test.  Is there any reason for Hoover to be on the playground at that moment?  Was this so critical that she ran screaming out of the teacher’s lounge after realizing her mistake?  Of course not, but the episode needed Lisa to get the test back then and there and so Hoover appeared as if conjured from thin air. 

Then this callous disregard for the audience is compounded as the other children surround and taunt Lisa.  That seems like the kind of thing Hoover would’ve stopped.  Was she still there?  Was she helping the other kids taunt Lisa?  Did she vanish back into thin air?  The instant her presence was no longer required, she disappeared. 

This exact same thing happens numerous times in this episode.  The entire “other” fourth grade shows up, and then they all vanish for the rest of the episode.  Not only do we never see most of them again (including the teacher), but we never even visit the classroom where the kids are force to share their desks again.  Yet another example is towards the end, Ralph shows up wearing a swimsuit so the show can attempt to make a joke out of “flotus”, and then he’s gone.  No explanation, no reason, just gone.

If your plot got dropped without resolution, you'd be surley too. But the most egregious example are the lawyer parents.  Their threat to sue the school is theoretically the point on which the entire A-plot turns, and yet it’s over in one scene.  They show up in Skinner’s office . . . and then are never heard from again.  We see them briefly at that clock eating assembly, but they don’t speak.  We never find out if they’re satisfied with the school’s response, we never see them with their daughter again.  Just like Hoover on the playground and the other fourth grade class, they’re gone in a flash once they are no longer needed. 

Family Guy takes a lot of flak for putting many of its jokes in flashbacks that are unrelated to the plot, or even to the scene at hand.  But what Zombie Simpsons is doing here (and this is far from the only episode in which they’ve done this) is even worse than that.  A flashback is a relatively well understood concept, one that’s employed in a lot of narrative fiction.  It can be overused, it can be used poorly, but the concept itself is sound.  But having characters appear and disappear at random?  Even a comedy sketch with no outside plot whatsoever wouldn’t do that. 

Individual scenes should never require these kinds of desperate storytelling shortcuts.  Keeping things coherent for two minutes or more isn’t much to ask, and yet Zombie Simpsons continues to fail.  And, let’s face it, if you can’t write a coherent two minutes, you have no business trying to write an entire episode. 


Just Nitpicking

Chalkboard - Stealing First Base

“Wait, that did end in heartbreak.  Thanks for opening up old wounds, Mom.” – Bart Simpson

The irrelevant and drawn out couch gag is a good indication of the lack of comedy invention within.  The comedic growth of this show cannot even be charted.  It is treading water in a sea of recycled plots and derivative montages. 

The numbers continue to be awful, with this week’s shit sandwich watched by only 5.69 million people.  That’s not as bad as last week, but it’s still the fourth lowest number ever.  Unfortunately it’s looking more and more likely that Season 21 will eek out above Season 20 in terms of average rating.  Stupid 20th anniversary hype. 


Sunday Preview: “Stealing First Base” (Reprise!)

“How many times can you laugh at that cat getting hit by the moon?” – Marge Simpson
“It’s a new episode.” – Bart Simpson
“Not exactly… they pieced it together from old shows, but it seems new to the trusting eyes of impressionable youth.” – Lisa Simpson
“Really?” – Bart Simpson
“‘Ren and Stimpy’ do it all the time.” – Lisa Simpson

Note: We posted this last Sunday, but “Stealing First Base” finally is on tonight. Recycling the post seemed appropriate and further, laziness isn’t a crime.

The mercilessly unfunny Sarah Silverman guest stars on tonight’s next Sunday’s tonight’s “Stealing First Base,” which Simpsons Channel describes for us:

Lisa’s classmates ostracize her for being an overachiever but the First Lady Michelle Obama (guest voice Angela Bassett) comes to Lisa’s defense. Meanwhile, Bart’s crush Nikki (guest voice Sarah Silverman) sends him mixed signals when she surprises him with a kiss.

So faux-First Lady, love interest number 8,000,0005, and a humdrum plot. Sounds riveting. Get the popcorn ready.


Sunday Preview: “Stealing First Base”

The mercilessly unfunny Sarah Silverman guest stars on tonight’s next Sunday’s “Stealing First Base,” which Simpsons Channel describes for us:

Lisa’s classmates ostracize her for being an overachiever but the First Lady Michelle Obama (guest voice Angela Bassett) comes to Lisa’s defense. Meanwhile, Bart’s crush Nikki (guest voice Sarah Silverman) sends him mixed signals when she surprises him with a kiss.

So faux-First Lady, love interest number 8,000,0005, and a humdrum plot. Sounds riveting. Get the popcorn ready.

Correction: Looks like I jumped the gun a week early, but I still stand by everything else I wrote. Also.


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