The Simpsons has been on the air for over 30 years, but there are still common forms of storytelling it hasn’t explored. As Variety first reported, the upcoming April 10th episode will be its first to include American Sign Language (ASL), and in casting John Autry II, it will also be the first time the show has used a deaf voice actor.
The episode is titled “The Sound of Bleeding Gums,” and it finds Lisa Simpson meeting Monk, the deaf child of the late jazz musician Bleeding Gums Murphy. Murphy first appeared in the Season 6 episode “Moaning Lisa,” and died that same season in “‘Round Springfield.” In “The Sound of Bleeding Gums,” his son Monk hopes to get a cochlear implant, and Lisa’s enthusiasm to help may not turn out to be very helpful.
The teleplay comes from Loni Steele Sosthand, who joined The Simpsons’ writers room in 2020. “I’m mixed race; my father’s Black and jazz was big in our house,” she said. “We grew up in the suburbs, and it was a way for my dad to bring in that aspect of our culture. But when I think about music, I also think about my brother, who was born deaf. When we were talking about this Bleeding Gums character in our initial brainstorms, we thought, wouldn’t it be cool if Lisa discovers this whole other side of his life. That led to him having a son, and then we based that character at least somewhat on my brother. And the story grew from there.”
The integration of ASL proved a challenge for The Simpsons because the characters only have four fingers. “That was a little tricky, especially because the one thing we’re translating is Shakespeare,” Southsand revealed. “But I think we pulled it off.”
“It’s so incredible,” Autry, whose credits include Glee, added. “It’s life-changing equality and participation. This can impact change for all of us. It’s about hard of hearing and hearing characters coming together. It’s a part of history.”
“The Sound of Bleeding Gums” joins a wave of new representation for the hearing-impaired community, led by Academy Award winner for Best Picture, CODA. The Apple TV+ film also netted Troy Kotsur an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, making him the first man and second thespian — following his CODA co-star Marlee Matlin — to take home a trophy.
Other recent notable Simpsons episodes saw The Weeknd guest star and Waylon Smithers find true love.