Eugoogly: King of the Hill
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 19, 2008
All right, so I’m pretty late with this, since it’s already been a couple weeks since FOX announced that it would be cancelling King of the Hill after the end of its 13th season. But then again, King of the Hill never was a show of particularly much urgency. The show’s pace was generally as lethargic as its down-home locale and conservative bent would dictate, without much in the way of major plot arcs, unforseen character transformations or mutations in the show’s style. Similarly, after its 1997 debut, it never really peaked or waned in popularity, just trucking along like the rapper Common–never dominant, but always in the discussion. I imagine the reaction of many to the news that King of the Hill would be removed from the FOX lineup–if indeed, it could even really be considered news–was something along the lines of “that show is still on the air?”
Not to say that there isn’t a place for King of the Hill on TV–there is, and it’s called syndication. I probably say this more than I should, but like no other show in the past 20 years, the Hill family were made for re-runs. It should be played eight times a day on three different channels, and it is–I couldn’t even tell you what times and channels they’re on, but there’s rarely a week that goes by that I don’t up flipping past at least one episode. Meanwhile, the show’s been long enough that you could conceivably watch every episode that’s aired for about half a year without catching a repeat. I’ve probably seen over a hundred, hundred fifty episodes of King of the Hill, but unlike peer shows like The Simpsons and South Park where there are episodes I’ve seen enough quote beginning to end, I doubt there’s a single episode of King of the Hill that I’ve seen more than three times. Consequently, I’m not sure if you could really say that there are any “classic” King of the Hill episodes–the kind that rise above the rest to have a reputation all of their own–the way you would with those shows.
But the flipside to that sort of lack of classic material is that, unlike with Simpsons or South Park, there are no cringeworthy episodes of King either. In fact, whereas I can barely make it through a modern day episode of either of those shows, I don’t think I’d even realize it if I was watching a King of the Hill episode that had been made in the last few years. You’re not going to find people who say things like “Oh, the fourth season of King of the Hill, that was the real peak of the show, it was all downhill from there.” There’s no real way to tell the difference between seasons of the show, except that the early episodes were maybe slightly cruder (though not to the degree that early SP or Simpsons eps were), and occasionally when watching re-runs of the early episodes, I actually remember watching them when they were on the first time around.
In any event, despite a consistency that should bely averageness, there’s no real denying that King of the Hill was a great show. Most live action attempts at King of the Hill‘s general plot line would probably look disarmingly close to The Bill Engvall Show, but Beavis and Butthead mastermind Mike Judge was brilliant at making simple plots work on multiple levels, and pulled off the tricky act of making the Hills’ behavior often mockworthy without ever actually seeming like it was mocking them. Meanwhile, it was a show whose numerous pleasures were so subtle that they could only really be identified in retrospect. It was a show that spawned catch phrases without you even realizing it, that had countless guest stars without ever really drawing attention to their presence, and that built rich, involving characters, even though if hard pressed to actually describe them, you could probably only identify a couple defining characteristics.
There was a tremendous supporting cast, from Hank’s friends (mumblingly brilliant Boomhauer, paranoidly clueless Dale and loveably miserable Bill) to his neighbors (I always secretly suspected that Khan Souphanousinphone was the show’s greatest achievement, especially in the episode where he sings “She Blinded Me With Science”) and his family (the story of how Hill patriarch Cotton lost his shinsin the war was a definite high point). But the heart of the show to me was always about Hank and Bobby. It’s a cliched set-up–conservative father doesn’t understand modern son–but it wasn’t so much that Bobby was just too young for Hank to understand him, he was an unintentional threat to just about everything Hank stood for with his lazy disposition, foolish antics and ultra flamboyant demeanor. Hank clearly loves and wants to get along with Bobby, but is so perplexed by everything about him that it usually takes him a while to figure out how. IITS friend Victor Lee says the relationship is virtually identical to the one he has with his father, which to me at least says everything that needs to be said about the show’s brilliance.
At the very least, I always appreciated that Peggy was a world-class Boggle player. Very underrated game, that.
R.I.P. King of the Hill, 1997-2009