(originally aired April 30, 1995)
Bleeding Gums Murphy really does have an iconic presence as an all-time classic character, despite only appearing in two episodes (and the opening titles every week.) He’s this kindred spirit to Lisa, a mentor in the ways of music and life. Though being voiced by guest star Ron Taylor probably hindered it, I almost wish we had seen him a few more times before now, his grand reintroduction… where they kill him off. Hm. Well we do get an interesting look of Murphy’s life before he goes, his days working in jazz clubs, his big break performing on the Tonight Show with Steve Allen, and his only cut record “Sax on the Beach.” Lisa is fittingly thrilled to have her mentor back in her life again, and even though we only get a few scenes with them, the level of connection really gets across between the two characters; Lisa sees Murphy as her musical idol, and a family-less Murphy is touched to have a fan. Even to someone as wise and learned as Lisa, death hits hard, and with someone as powerful to her as Murphy, she’s absolutely crushed. Yeardley Smith deliver a powerhouse performance here, wringing every bit of emotion she can from her scenes. There’s something about Lisa crying that garners the utmost sympathy.
We also have our other story, Bart accidentally swallowed a jagged metal cereal prize from a box of Krusty O’s and gets a meager cash settlement from Lionel Hutz. I’m a little conflicted as to how this sillier story meshes with the tone of the main one, but they mainly stay separated. It’s most of the first act which leads us to Lisa reuniting with Murphy in the hospital, and is mostly dropped following his death, until Bart gets the check, which leads to the sweet moment where he buys Murphy’s album for Lisa (reasoning that she was the only one who spoke up for Bart at the breakfast table.) I more have a problem with some of the jokes taking place within the serious storylines, like both instances of the hot dog vendor showing up. First Homer acts incredibly cavalier at Bart’s operation, then the hot dog guy shows up, which feels wrong given the situation, which is the point, I guess, but still didn’t sit right. Then we have the second act break with the hot dog guy at the cemetery; it’s almost like they felt nervous to maintain the serious tone, when you can just as well get your jokes from the story itself (Lovejoy misreading the eulogy is funny, and fits to inspire Lisa to maintain Murphy’s legacy.)
Despite a few off-tone jokes, the episode maintains its meditative tone with each family member attempting to help, all within character: Homer starts off strong, until he completely blows it (“All we have to do is go down to the pound and get a new jazzman,”) Marge remains supportive of course, and Bart reveals his theories of reincarnation, and wanting to come back as a butterfly (“Because nobody ever suspects the butterfly.”) As mentioned, he gets Murphy’s album for Lisa to play on the local jazz station, which gets ramped up frequency thanks to divine intervention zapping the radio tower. The final scene between Lisa and a ghostly Murphy is incredibly touching, and we get a great play-off for the character in “Jazzman,” which is well performed by Smith. This is another episode that I saw rerun a lot, but as many times as I saw it, I’d never turn it off. It may not be the funniest, but it’s got a lot of heart, and I really enjoy it.
Tidbits and Quotes
– Great bit of Krusty’s show, who seems to be having a particularly bad set, thanks to a new court-ordered side kick, Ms. No-Means-No, in response to his sexual harassment suit. He’s quickly ganged up on by her and Sideshow Mel, and tries to defend himself (“It wasn’t my fault, it was the Percodan. If you ask me, that stuff rots your brain. And now a word from our new sponsor… Percodan?! Aw, crap!”)
– Bart claims he’s all set for his history test. Marge tests him, “Who was George Washington Carver?” “Umm… the guy who chopped up George Washington?”
– I like how abjectly cruel Krabappel is toward Bart here (partially warranted thanks to the many pranks he’s pulled), bringing his attention to the school charter (“”No teacher shall be held accountable if Bart Simpson dies,”) and the great scene where she hums and buffs her nails for an extended period before letting Bart be excused.
– Second appearance of Lunchlady Doris as nurse, who can only offer Bart chewable Prozac for kids, either Manic Depressive Mouse, or the Bluebird of Unhappiness. I also love the animated bit where an unconscious Bart is motionless, save a single leg twitch.
– Quick, classic scene of Willie teaching French. His line “Bonjoooooouur, yah cheese-eating surrender monkeys!” strangely got new life in the actual media at the advent of the Iraq War when France opposed the United States’ efforts. It’s even got its own Wikipedia page, for God’s sake.
– I love love love Bart’s mooning bit (“Hello, I’m Dr. Cheeks. I’m doing my rounds, and, uh, I’m a little behind”) and the timing of it as the act break.
– Hibbert seems to have a lot of estranged relatives, first the orphanage director, now Bleeding Gums Murphy. I love how they wax nostalgic about their brothers who match each other’s descriptions perfectly… and nothing.
– More great timing with Blind Willie Witherspoon, who after thirty years of a stalled jazz career, gives Murphy his old saxophone… which is actually an umbrella. Willie asks why no one told him, Murphy says they all thought it was funny, and laughs. Quick beat. Unamused, Willie responds, “That’s not funny.”
– Brilliant performance by Dan Castellaneta as Bill Cosby in an episode of The Cosby Show guest starring Murphy (“You see, the kids, they listen to the rap music which gives them the brain damage. With their hippin’, and the hoppin’, and the bippin’, and the boppin’, so they don’t know what the jazz… is all about! You see, jazz is like the Jello Pudding Pop… no, actually, it’s more like Kodak film… no, actually, jazz is like the New Coke: it’ll be around forever, heh heh heh.”)
– Krusty really is a corrupt businessman; at a press conference he contends “those tourists were decapitated before they entered the KrustyLand House of Knives.” Also, why the hell would a jagged metal “O” be a cereal box prize, without wrapping, inside the box of cereal? It’s the dumbest thing, but we get the great scene where Krusty stumbles and writhes in pain after eating what he’s told is just a regular Krusty-O (“It’s poison…”)
– I like how Murphy gives Lisa his saxophone, like he knows he doesn’t have much time and bestows one last gift to her.
– Again, we have the unflinching, uncaring Springfield mob, who’s quick to violently boo the performance of three eight-year-olds five seconds into their music (even Grampa yells, “This sucks!”) Of course the crowd turns when Lisa does a great solo piece.
– More great advice from Homer, to get a tattoo to preserve the memory of one’s loves. He then notices his own (“Starland Vocal Band? They suck!!”)
– Great bit with Hans Moleman as the KJAZZ morning man (“Hello. This is Moleman in the morning. Good Moleman to you. Today, part four of our series of the agonizing pain in which I live every daaaaaayy.”)
– Nice bit with Comic Book Guy who is quick to raise the price on Murphy’s record upon hearing of his death. I also like his immediate suggestion on how to blow Bart’s money: the Ultimate Pog! With Steve Allen’s face on it. Not only the most worthless purchase one could make, but a call-back to the previous scene with Allen.
– The humorous bits at the end scene weave themselves in and don’t feel intrusive; Murphy appearing in the clouds apes off of The Lion King, so we see Mufasa crop up (“You must avenge my death, Kimba… I mean, Simba,” a great reference to the Kimba the White Lion controversy,) then Darth Vader, then James Earl Jones himself as the CNN announcer. Murphy tells the others to get lost. Then we have “Jazzman” over the credits, a great way to end, with a great capper joke (“One more time!” “Oh, come on, Lisa! I got a date with Billie Holiday!”)