TV Review: King of the Hill

King of the Hill.

Oh man, is there anything more impressive than voice actors? I’m using a bit of a rhetorical flourish here, but I’m only slightly exaggerating on how impressed I am by them. Voice actors will never, ever get their due in Hollywood or maybe even by the general public, but I am so amazed and impressed by them. Oh, and what if the voice actor co-created and wrote the show? And, oh, what if he did so after already creating one of the most iconic animated duos in American cultural history in Beavis and Butt-Head? That’s Mike Judge (and his co-partner in the endeavor, Greg Daniels), and the sitcom, King of the Hill. And if all of that wasn’t enough to impress you, Judge also taught himself how to animate. Yeah, the animation on the show isn’t some Pixar-quality animation, but still, self-taught! Plus, it works as the aesthetic for the vibe the show is bringing.

Now, I had obviously known about King of the Hill for years. It’s impossible not to, but I had never actually seen it. No joke, I’d never even seen a short clip from the show. Nothing to go off of. But, it’s on Hulu, and I decided to give it a whirl recently. I already finished the 12-episode first season, which debuted in 1997, in a matter of days, and am beginning the second season. There’s even a throughline with this sitcom and Beavis and Butt-Head I learned about watching this hilarious clip:

If you’ve seen King of the Hill, you recognize Tom Anderson from Beavis and Butt-Head as the voice of Hank Hill. Also, isn’t it so jarring to see the actual person behind the voice of these animated characters for which you associate the voice with the animated character’s face on the actual human being doing it? Especially when they’re able to jump from one to the other?

The premise of the show is similar to quite a few live-action sitcoms of the 1990s, such as King of Queens or Home Improvement, where the “every man” has to navigate every day life. Here, Hank Hill, who likes to tell us he’s a salesman of “propane and propane accessories,” his wife, Peggy, and his son, Bobby, are just normal, average Americans living in a fictional town in Texas, trying to navigate that life. A lot of the comedy centers around a classic of comedy: a man trying to be a “man,” but trying to “appease” his wife, and build a relationship with his son, but feelings and such. That makes for some of the hallmarks of jokes about traditional gender roles and such, but also, a chance for something interesting subversions of those tropes.

My favorite is when they’ll just be like, “Yep. Yep. Yep. Yeeep.” Also, of his friends, Bill cracks me up the most. He’s so insecure and unsure of himself, but obviously, tries to portray himself as a traditional man.

Hank also has friends, Dale, Bill, and Boomhauer. Even having never seen the show, the image of all four of them standing out in the yard drinking beer and Boomhauer’s mumbling voice talking nonsense is something I’m quite familiar with. In fact, because of that image, I assumed most of the show centered on those relationships, but it’s more so (so far) about the family dynamics. Another one of the lines I know of just because the show is so ingrained in the culture is, “I tell you what,” in the Hank Hill southern drawl. He says that a lot and it always cracks me up.

The origin of the Boomhauer voice cracked me up, too:

So, yeah, the show is hilarious. I’ve been cracking up through these episodes. Yes, I’m not going to be the first person to say it’s refreshing to see something that feels like a honest-to-god reflection of middle class America, and not Hollywood’s idea of what middle class peeps would be like. The word for that is authentic. Hank trying to be a loving husband, but also wanting to be what he thinks a man should be in front of his friends makes for authentic, funny, interesting television. And for those who are meh on animation, just because animation is the vehicle doesn’t mean it can’t be funny and certainly doesn’t mean it can’t be touching. There are lot of touching moments! Those usually come when Hank tells Peggy and/or Bobby how much he loves them, even if he has to drag his feet and make mistakes through the whole episode to get there.

The second episode, “Square Peg,” might be the most hilarious episode of the first season, where the Hills deal with a classic problem: Teaching sex education to children. Peggy is a substitute teacher and is tasked with the objective (after Dale hilariously threatens the original teacher, and then tries to threaten Peggy, even though everyone knows it’s Dale). She’s mortified. Hank is mortified, and there’s a nice inversion here because Hank thinks the government should have no business in teaching their kids sex education, but is mortified to do it himself.

Also, I can’t not mention how weird Bobby is. He’s a goofy little critter. He falls in love with the queen of a red ant farm in one episode, a plastic beauty school head in another, and in general, is just a goofy kid. But that dynamic works up against the straight-laced personas of Hank and Peggy.

Yeah, it’s fun watching pretty people like those on Friends, and I love that show, and The Office is hilarious, and even my favorite sitcom, King of Queens, which is similar in a lot of ways to this, is fantastic, but I’m digging how — to use that word again — authentic King of the Hill is so far. Also, it’s nice to have a short, funny sitcom to turn to when you’re not feeling like an hour-long dramatic episode of something or a full-on film.

I know I’m many years later to it, but are there are other King of the Hill fans here?

Another hilarious episode is the pilot episode itself where Child Protective Services thinks Hank is beating up Bobby.

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