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The Simpsons Is Once Again Breaking New Ground On TV

Few television shows have been as culturally influential as "The Simpsons," and even fewer have been animated sitcoms. But after more than three decades on the air, it's hard to imagine American culture without Matt Groening's yellow ensemble of Springfield residents. From a public feud with former president George H.W. Bush to uncannily predicting future events like the Disney acquisition of Fox, "The Simpsons" has often made — and been a part of — history.

"The Simpsons" has not always been on the most progressive end of such history — look no further than the damage done to the Indian community by the stereotypical presentation of the character Apu, for which voice actor Hank Azaria eventually apologized. However, it has also broken ground with characters such as Lisa Simpson (Yeardley Smith), who is often used to address issues of gender representation and has been regarded by many as a feminist icon (via Vanity Fair). And, over the years, the show has boldly lampooned numerous social and political issues with varying degrees of incisiveness.

Now in Season 33, "The Simpsons" looks to break new barriers once more, and an upcoming episode will feature a first in representation for the beloved animated series.

The Sound of Bleeding Gums features The Simpsons' first deaf voice actor

A new episode of "The Simpsons" will introduce the first deaf voice actor and incorporation of American Sign Language in the show's decades-long history. Titled "The Sound of Bleeding Gums," the Season 33 episode finds Lisa Simpson (Yeardley Smith) discovering that her deceased jazz mentor, Bleeding Gums Murphy, has a son named Monk who was born deaf. Monk is voiced by deaf actor John Autry II (via Variety). 

Of the role, Autry said, "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 episode will also feature the first use of ASL, no small feat for an animated series since each gesture must be illustrated. Episode writer Loni Steele Sosthand told Variety, "It was a little tricky, especially because one thing we're translating is Shakespeare. But I think we pulled it off." Sosthand, whose brother Eli Steele is hearing impaired, based the story off their own lives. Sosthand brought Steele in to voice a part in the episode and to consult on the script. A number of other deaf or hearing-impaired entertainers, including comedian Kathy Buckley, also voiced various roles for the episode.

"The Sound of Bleeding Gums" airs April 10 on FOX.