The concept of a deaf child born to a gifted musician is sadly tragically ironic. This itself is sublimely parodied by having Bleeding Gums discover the disease because of a clumsy drunken drummer. The episode features the show’s first-ever use of ASL and deaf actors.
Monk teaches at The Sky’s the Limit, but his ability to lip-read would be a bit cliche if it wasn’t faster than having Lisa learn sign language. The animators draw the characters with four fingers to reduce production costs, but accurately render the signs with a missing digit and cleverly foreshadow the auditory challenge with subtle cues, like hanging a doorbell from a light. Also, for unexpected comic subversion. Monk hits enough lottery numbers to make a lot of people happy, and Bart walks away with a win.
The central commentary on the exploitation of African-American music is done in deft broad strokes. Music companies are parodied with names like “Check is in the Mail Publishing”. The simpsons note their longstanding commitment to the cause as they look back on Bleeding Gums’ first appearance, with Kevin Michael Richardson dubbing Ron Taylor’s original lines, enthused by how Lisa performs for someone with no real issue.
The episode is filled with clever musical moments. The lyrics catch the old The Simpsons magic of the musical but, because it’s a jazz episode, sometimes go on too long. The scatting is funny, for a while, but the melodic punchlines land with more immediacy. Most of the episode’s humor comes at the expense of the largely redundant jazz. “Keeping the Money Out of Jazz” began when the first blue note slipped into an improvisation. It predates the riffs on “My Favorite Things”. It’s time Lisa learned that jazz doesn’t help anyone.
The episode is loaded with quick visual jokes thrown into the backgrounds. This could be the end of another beloved minor character. There’s a sign in hospital admissions promising “We finally fired Dr. Nick.” We also hear a reference to Will Smith’s “Bagger Vance”. What are the chances?
Lottery fever is well captured, especially when Reverend Lovejoy gives in to temptation. He presents the Bible as “the original book of numbers”. It also gets the best line, about Jesus saying a lot of weird things after turning water into wine. He may as well speak of continuity. Kent Brockman once won the lottery in the 1992 episode “Dog of Death.” Bleeding Gums told Lisa he didn’t really have a family in previous seasons.