I've heard, listened to, and entertained the various arguments of the alternative interpretations of Ferris Bueller from Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Zach Morris from Saved by the Bell. You know the arguments I'm talking about: The ones that place them in a more sinister light, which argue the world is strictly their own personal playgrounds that the rest of us just happen to live on. Morris in particular can be argued as the mad dictator of his own little personal dimension, a place where he is the sole possessor of the ability to call timeouts which he can use to manipulate the surrounding scenery. But for everything which can be argued wrong about those two, they have their redeeming qualities. Hell, Bueller's world can't even be safely called his own; he is merely the manipulative instigator to everyone else's reactionary. Morris proves himself capable of at least being able to learn a handful of decent lessons his planet has to teach him.
If you ask me, both of those characters bow before the all-time king of the black hole dimension, that little storytelling place where everything, no matter how farfetched, is bending and shifting to meet the whims of its ruler: Hank Rutherford Hill. Hank is the unquestioned master of the universe of the old Fox TV show King of the Hill, and it's exactly what it says it is: Hank Hill is the ruler of all. He knows it, too.
King of the Hill is a thoroughly missed opportunity. The brainchild of Beavis and Butt-Head creator Mike Judge, King of the Hill revolves around Hank and his little kingdom of Arlen, Texas. Hank lives with his family: His wife, Peggy; son Bobby; and niece Luanne. When he isn't playing up the virtues of propane and propane accessories at his job as the assistant manager of Strickland Propane, he's fussing over his lawn or his dog, Ladybird. He also spends frequent free time in the alley in his backyard with his friends Bill Dauterive, Dale Gribble, and Jeff Boomhauer, drinking beer. King of the Hill is about Hank's everyday life in suburban Texas. Not quite suburban America, but suburban TEXAS, and it proves to be an important difference because Hank is always obsessing over the greatness of a country which he knows almost nothing about. Yeah, the man is a big-time flag-waver who glosses over or makes ridiculous excuses for the worse things about the country. You find those people everywhere. What makes Hank a step above them is that he is in denial over the fact that there are people who think and believe things that are different from what he thinks and believes himself. Okay, actually he isn't really in denial over it; he just believes that all those radicals live in New York City or Los Angeles.
This is where King of the Hill misses its golden opportunity. Hank is a stereotypical hoser straight out of the 1950's and proud of it. His head is in the sand about virtually everything. He dances right on the border of bigotry when he's not crossing it. This is a perfect setup for a show about a character slowly learning to open his mind to the possibilities of the outside world. The de facto formula of the show involves Hank flipping out over some new trend or interest, going nuts, letting everyone know that 'Mericans aren't into that! His victim goes nuts trying to explain that it's not so bad, and it's not causing any harm. Now, I give a lot of shit to family-oriented shows for the way they present their saccharine Lessons about the non-urgent issues faced by well-off suburbanites. In this respect, I'll give King of the Hill a little bit of credit for not being so sick-sweet or cute. However, the problem is that Hank Learns the square root of nothing throughout the course of the series. Everything he rails against is proven to be conclusively bad, and much of the time the bad doesn't even reveal itself through a justifiable accident - there are episodes where the other characters just change their minds. Hank is proved right, and can go back to being a hoser without the nasty interruption of reality.
This wouldn't be so bad, but as I said, Hank is stuck in the 50's and hell-bent on molding his boy, Bobby, into a clone of himself. Bobby is twelve years old and his main interests are in girls and stand-up prop comedy. These aren't met with approval by the all-knowing Hank, of course, and so Hank keeps trying to make him over. He tries various times to get Bobby interested in football; Hank himself was a star running back in high school, and it's frequently implied that he could have gone to any major-conference college with a stop in the NFL not out of the question. You can guess what happened. I think it was his knee. There's are various scenes in the series showing him disapproving of what Bobby does. In one, after Bobby and Peggy paint clouds on Bobby's wall, Hank gives it a new paint job for no other reason than, and I quote, a boy's room should be blue. One wonders if he would still have that opinion if Bobby's wall decorations of choice features the Dallas Cowboys or Texas Longhorns, Hank's two favorite sports teams. In another scene, Hank takes all of Bobby's things, and in yet another, he takes Bobby to a record store to get some good music for his son. Bobby's into rap, and of course Hank believes that the only music on Earth are the three minutes of stories set to music known as country. When Bobby goes on a faith kick, Hank - a devoted Methodist Christian - can't even accept that, because Bobby's not being Christian in the way he personally approves of.
Hank's wife, Peggy, is supposed to play the role of the foil. She's not a BAD foil, but she also comes across as a straw PC nut who can't even get the PC part right. She is unquestionably the smartest and hottest person on Earth, at least in her own imagination. No one has the nerve to tell her that her smarts - book or street - are suspect at best. As for looks, characters will give her that at times when she cleans up. She's a career substitute Spanish teacher, a job for which she was given an arbitrary award exclusive to the school she frequently subs at. I guess the school didn't have much choice, because Peggy's spanish isn't nearly as fluent as she thinks it is. She doesn't speak spanish. She destroys it, a fact which is conclusively proven in one episode where she takes students on a trip to Mexico, ends up lost, and inadvertently kidnaps a young Mexican girl.
Bill, Dale, and Boomhauer (the characters only refer to him by his last name) help keep Hank at least a little bit grounded, but that's only because Hank also spends so much time returning that favor. Dale is a conspiracy theorist so convinced that the government is after him that he frequently resorts to using an alias, Rusty Shackleford. He can't see that his wife, Nancy, is having an affair with her therapist, John Redcorn, right under his nose. Bill fell from grace since his high school days. He was once a football hero right on par with Hank, and had a competent head. By the time the series begins, he lost all that and has no sense of worth, at all. Boomhauer is the most sensible of Hank's friends, and the most modern, and the most likable character in the series along with Bobby. The Hills live next door to an Asian couple from Laos, the Souphanousinphone family, otherwise known as the Kahns - called after the father and daughter, who are both named Kahn - because their last name is such a mouthful. They don't act very neighborly toward each other, although the daughter - who everyone calls Connie - is one of Bobby's best friends.
Although King of the Hill is animated, it's hyper-realistic in its animation and has a firm grounding in the real world. Despite all the bad, insufferable aspects of most of these characters, most of them do have real nuances. It's just that they tend to not show up very often, and many of the times they do appear, the characters try like hell to conceal them. That makes the appearances of genuinely heartwarming moments a truly special thing, and King of the Hill is at its best when it's doing that. King of the Hill's reset button is limited-use. The few times an earth-shattering event does change the show or a character, it tends to stay in canon, even if the characters don't age very much through the 13-season run.
When people talk about the way King of the Hill respects the culture of suburban Texas and southerners, that only means the show itself isn't outright mocking them Family Guy-style. I never got the sense the show was being that outright respectful because it tends to see its characters as dim - not dumb, mind you, but dim - and always trying to make interruptions of their small little world fit into their predisposed views of it. King of the Hill appears more dumbfounded at its characters' actions than laughing at them, and it lacks the outright contempt. Between the stubborn rigidity of the characters and their nuances, this makes for an interesting formula, and when this show is good, it's funny, touching, emotional, and sometimes even whimsical without even the slightest hint of melodrama. But when it's bad, you want to reach through your screen and strangle even the more likable characters on it.
To the credit of even most of the many bad episodes I've seen, King of the Hill frequently decides against taking the easy way out. Neat little wrap-ups with a truthout moment and stern talking-to very rarely happen. In one episode, Bobby joins the school's quiz team as the pop culture guy and begins to cave under the pressure. Instead of letting him quit the team or receive an awakening pep talk, the episode ends with Hank and Bobby sitting together watching TV, with Hank riddling Bobby with little pop culture factoids so Bobby can forget the pressure. In another, Hank and Peggy visit a marital therapist, end up fighting over the motorcycle they buy, and finding the romance they first sought when Hank's glasses break and he's forced to let Peggy pilot the rest of their cross-country ride. Unfortunately, more often we get grade-A shit like soccer - a very athletic sport requiring incredible stamina - being called unmanly, and the show is so forceful about its stance on football that it portrays the soccer coach as being afraid to go for a win because he's afraid of hurting peoples' feelings. Hank thinks dogs are the only good pets, and his notion is reinforced when he offers to take care of a veteran's pet: A cat, which of course is a snarling and vengeful beast, never mind that real cats are loving animals. There's one episode in which Bobby is ostracized by the entire fucking town because he refused his initiation ritual as a mascot, which was to let the opposing football team beat him up. For the love of god, I can't understand why everyone is so comfortable with that idea! The whole routine looks illegal and immoral, and it's extremely dangerous, yet Bobby was supposed to lay down and embrace the whole idea! Even in the world of sports politics, this is absurd - teams never let opponents desecrate each other's mascots.
Maybe I have to be a southerner or a Texan to get this thing, but if this is the south or Texas, I'm not going to particularly WANT to get it. Let Hank rule over his kingdom. If I get there, he'll be a deposed ruler before you can say "assassination."
"Thanks dad." Hank Hill would also get a thank you from me for being the part of a truly original, offbeat and slightly eccentric little show about a Texas clan's everyday work and school lives. In Mike Judge's hands the show which could have been ruined so badly had a quiet charm with a slightly bent personality. It would have been way to easy to take a show about a Texas family and turn them into nothing but racist, beer swilling redneck stereotypes. … more
I admit that when King of the Hill first premiered in 1997 I was not a big fan. I couldn't always put my finger on why. It was not so much that the show wasn't funny or anything like, but mostly because at the time, King of the Hill came out when shows like The Simpsons and Southpark were pretty big. In short, my expectations led me away from King of the Hill. The Simpsons and especially Southpark were a bit more whacky. You also have to understand I … more