The Simpsons Learn Jazz Never Solves Anything

Lisa misses a few notes on The Sound of Bleeding Gums, as The Simpsons features ASL and deaf actors for the first time.

The Simpsons Season 33 Episode 17
Photo: Fox

This The Simpsons review contains spoilers.

The Simpsons Season 33 Episode 17

Lisa almost learns a lesson on The Simpsons’ “The Sound of Bleeding Gums.” When the Springfield lottery uses a song from local saxophone legend Bleeding Gums Murphy in their commercials, Lisa decides to help her musical idol’s son Monk, played by John Autry II, by any means possible.

Once again, the writers are talking about the show, and how The Simpsons are cited for social justice warrior product placements at the expense of laughs. Homer nails the criticism on the head, advising Lisa not to try to save anyone or anything, and making her promise not to waste her time on lost causes. Like the lottery, there are no winners.

The self-referential setup climaxes with a gag showing 3-second versions of old cartoons which are now politically incorrect. This, and a bit about airing shows even Peacock rejected, pre-cancels cancel culture, setting up the real punchline. The joke is on everyone expecting Lisa to get her comeuppance. “The Sound of Bleeding Gums” is a spin on her I-told-you-do episodes. While the self-awareness works somewhat as a buffer, Lisa still comes across as entitled. 

Ad – content continues below

The concept of a deaf child born to a gifted musician is morosely sad in its tragic irony. This itself is sublimely parodied by having Bleeding Gums discover the malady because of a clumsy drunk drummer. The episode features the series’ first-ever use of ASL, and deaf voice actors. 

Monk teaches at The Sky’s the Limit, but his adept ability to read lips would be a tad clichéd if it wasn’t quicker than having Lisa learn sign language. The animators draw the characters with four fingers to save production costs but accurately render signs with a missing digit, and artfully foreshadow the auditory challenge with subtle clues, like hooking a doorbell to a light. Also, for unexpected comic subversion. Monk hits enough numbers in the lottery to make a lot of people happy, and Bart comes away with a win.

The central commentary on the exploitation of African American music is done with deft broad strokes. Music companies are parodied with names like “Check is in the Mail Publishing.” The Simpsons note their long-standing commitment to the cause by flashing back to Bleeding Gums’ first appearance, with Kevin Michael Richardson dubbing over Ron Taylor’s original lines enthusing over how well Lisa plays for someone with no real problems.

The episode is filled with clever musical moments. Lyrics catch the old Simpsons musical comedy magic but, because it’s a jazz episode, occasionally go on too long. Scatting is funny, for a while, but tuneful punchlines land with more immediacy. Most of the humor in the episode comes at the expense of jazz, much of it redundant. “Keep money out of jazz” started when the first blue note slipped into an improvisation. It predates riffing on “My Favorite Things.” It’s about time Lisa learns jazz doesn’t help anybody.

The installment is loaded with quick visual jokes thrown into the backgrounds. This might be the end of another beloved minor character. There is a sign at the hospital admissions promising “We finally fired Dr. Nick.” We also hear a reference to Will Smith’s “Bagger Vance.” What are the odds?

Lottery fever is well captured, especially when Reverend Lovejoy gives in to temptation. He hawks The Bible as “the original book of numbers.” He also gets the best line, about Jesus saying a lot of weird stuff after turning water into wine. He may as well be talking about continuity. Kent Brockman already won the lottery in the episode “Dog of Death,” from 1992. Bleeding Gums told Lisa he doesn’t really have a family in earlier seasons.

Ad – content continues below

The episode proves Lisa has a very active imagination. Some might say proactive. She even gets usable information from her wish-fulfilled Bleeding Gums conjuration, a figment of her imagination which only tells her what she wants to hear.

“The Sound of Bleeding Gums” is sweet, but not cavity-inducing. Homer is never prouder of Lisa than when she’s ready to quit, and even more so of Bart who never even tried. There is always dubious hope. The Simpsons’ latest season has seen a lot of character development liberally scattered throughout Springfield, much of it lateral.


3.5 out of 5