Although the show’s characters only have four fingers, they will use American Sign Language in the groundbreaking episode. And no, the episode wasn’t written after “CODA,” the movie about the hearing daughter of two deaf parents, won best picture at the Oscars last month.
The episode is titled “The Sound of Bleeding Gums”. It centers on Lisa Simpson, who discovers that her role model and favorite musician, the late saxophonist Bleeding Gums Murphy, has a deaf son who needs a cochlear implant. Lisa gets a little carried away trying to help her son, Monk Murphy.
Bleeding Gums Murphy died in Season 6.
The episode’s plot is loosely based on the life of Loni Steele Sosthand, its head writer.
“Loni proposed to turn Bleeding Gums Murphy’s son into a man who was born deaf and could never hear his father’s music,” Jean told CNN.
Sosthand told CNN that the show’s producers consulted two ASL specialists about the signs that the characters do in the episode. The sign language specialists reviewed the animations (rough versions of the show’s footage) to ensure that, despite the characters’ fingers being missing, the meaning of the words was conveyed correctly.
Sosthand said the episode was personal to her and a labor of love. Her brother Eli is hard of hearing in a family that loves jazz music.
“Having a brother, who is only a year older, who was born deaf, really shaped who I am as a person. So it is a story not only close to my heart, but also to my identity,” he said.
“There are a lot of autobiographical themes in the episode about the tension between love of music and loved ones who are deaf – themes also present in ‘CODA’, but very much related to my own life,” he added.
Deaf actor John Autry II, whose credits include “Glee” and “No Ordinary Family,” plays Monk. In a statement, he called the role “life changing” for him.
“It’s about hearing-impaired and hard-of-hearing people coming together,” he said. “It’s part of history”.
The episode will also feature three children, Ian Mayorga, Kaylee Arellano and Hazel Lopez, from No Limits, a non-profit organization dedicated to deaf children. Watching them record “Happy Talk,” a song from the musical “South Pacific” and featured at the end of the episode, was emotional for Sosthand.
“The song says: ‘If you don’t have a dream, how can you have a dream come true?’ As I watched them record, I had tears in my eyes the whole time, and I realized that this is a dream come true for all of us,” she said.
The idea for the show was in the works long before the movie, said Jean, the executive producer of “The Simpsons.”
“Some of this is based on events that happened many years ago,” he said. “Of course, we are very happy about the success of CODA.”
Jean looks forward to sharing Sunday’s episode with viewers and said she smiles every time she thinks about it.
“I’m a sucker for a happy ending,” he said, “although it’s not exactly what you’d expect.”