What y'all mean talkin' 'bout those dang ol' quid pro quo, habeas corpus, verdict, man, blabbin' like Judge Bryan Pope, goin' on and on about King of the Hill?
Peggy: I'm really not much of a bowler.
Dale: This shirt would beg to differ. Look at yours, Hank: "Flamer," for the propane man. I guess I could have gone with "Propane Man."
Hank: No, "Flamer" is cooler.
What does it say that the only television series in history to flat out nail contemporary Texas culture is a cartoon from the creator of Beavis and Butthead? Of course, critics and audiences now realize that Beavis and Butthead itself was a razor-sharp satire of youth indifference and generational disconnectedness. So it stands to reason that its creator, Mike Judge, would once again undermine our expectations of cartoons by giving us yet another animated series with a little meat on its bones. The result this time was an offbeat sitcom that casually and affectionately lifted the skirt up on a fictional Dallas suburb.
Facts of the Case
As we head for the Hills in season four, perennially square Peggy triumphantly defies her approaching middle age by plummeting from an airplane. Her elation dissolves into horror when she realizes she's diving with a bum parachute. It's not giving much away to say that Peggy's life is spared by a hard rain and some soft soil.
Peggy's recovery (made possible by an unlikely ally) is only the beginning of a tumultuous year in the life of the Hill family. This season, Hank deals with his guilt over Peggy's crash landing, is fingered as a murder suspect in a homicide at Sugarfoot's (make that Peggy's Sugarfoots), wins a chance at a million bucks, and muddles through a turkey of a Thanksgiving while stranded at D/FW International. And then there's young Bobby, who ponders a career as a rodeo clown, heads up a comedy troupe called The Propaniacs, tastes the life of a Louisiana dandy ("I do believe I'll give room service a jangle and have them send up some etouffe."), learns a lesson in sacrifice when a friendly raccoon contacts rabies, endures a visit from girlfriend Connie's "Aunt Flo," and discovers that he could be the next Dali Lama. Meanwhile, there's Nancy Gribble's crisis of conscience over her past indiscretions, the town's Y2K panic, a full-frontal Luanne Platter (as Hank's Laotian neighbor Kahn might say, "Boy howdy!") and an ill-intentioned Randy Travis. And did I mention Peggy dipping her toes into online fetish sites? Mm, Peggy's been a bad, bad girl.
Welcome to Arlen, y'all.
In a way, the clock represents what is oh so right about King of the Hill. I'm talking about the crudely fashioned, Texas-shaped clock that hangs in the Hill's living room. Or maybe it's Bobby's school, which proudly bears the name of a certain famous former Dallas Cowboys football coach. While we're on the subject, notice how high school football easily knocks out Christmas as Arlen's most sacred tradition? Or how Hank is most at home in a white t-shirt and blue jeans? How about the pride Peggy takes in her Brown Betty dessert and Boggle skills? And don't forget the sawdust that coats the floor of local barbecue joint Sugarfoot's. Wait, better scratch that last one. I'm a native Texan, and I've never seen sawdust on the floor of my favorite barbecue establishment. We have peanut shells instead (also, all the best places in my neck of the woods give their dishwashers a break by serving their meats on butcher paper with a huge knife). But whether it's shells or sawdust, plates or paper, the point is that King of the Hill gets Texas and Texans, and, for several seasons now, it has laid out the Lone Star state in breathtaking detail, right down to the kickin' rockabilly soundtrack.
Like the best comedies, King of the Hill relies heavily on minute details, using them as the springboard for the lion's share of its humor. Where else are you going to find a story that spins water rationing and low-flow toilets into a suspenseful and gut-bustingly funny story about greasing-the-palm, city council politics ("From now on, no one will flush a toilet in this town without thanking Hank Hill.")? How about a story that explores neighbor Bill Dauterive's loneliness and Peggy's naïveté while at the same time tackling pyramid schemes ("As the brochure describes it, it is not a pyramid, it is a triangle. And it is not a scheme, Hank, it is an opportunity.")? And who would have thought propane and improvisational comedy could work together to peel away yet another layer in Hank and Bobby's increasingly complex relationship?
Smart and sneaky, but also sweet and sincere, King of the Hill has invested a lot in its stable of characters, and they're a loveable bunch of folks, right down to resident crackpot and conspiracy theorist Bill Gribble. But the heart and soul of the show often rests largely on the shoulders of Bobby Hill. Short, stocky (at one time even under contract as a model for H. Dumpty's line of husky clothes), and a constant puzzle to his father, Bobby understands the rewards of just being yourself, and he provides some of the season's finest moments. It's hard not to cheer at a portly 13-year-old rodeo clown risking his life to save his best friend, or taking his girlfriend to the community college's student union so she can explore her Buddhist faith with other students.
If the show missteps, it's only in occasionally overplaying Peggy's naïveté (it's a sad state of affairs when a substitute schoolteacher can be duped into participating in a fetish web site). Still, it's easy to forgive such lapses in characterization when the character is written and portrayed with such charm and warmth. Besides, it's not until season five that Peggy's flaws become borderline offensive.
It's also worth noting that season four is when the series really began roping in guest voices. Kathleen Turner and Reese Witherspoon shine in an episode that tips its hat to '80s soap staple Dallas, while Meryl Streep and the Dixie Chicks lend their pipes as the lusty ladies of a Louisiana plantation. Other celebrities stopping by are Teri Garr, Don Meredith, Drew Carey, Andy Dick, Vicki Lewis, Maura Tierney, Sydney Pollack, Randy Travis and C&W duo Brooks & Dunn. Quite a lineup, and most are used to hilarious effect.
Like the previous season sets, King of the Hill—The Complete Fourth Season is given a terrific transfer. Colors and bold and true, and each episode looks clean and crisp. The Dolby 2.0 surround is just fine (although a bit unnecessary for a show whose greatest strength is its plainspoken dialogue). Like the third season set, this package is devoid of extras. No behind-the-scenes docs, commentaries, early character designs or really cool features like the second season's "do-and-don't" guide to animating King of the Hill. Hell, not even an archive of the season's television spots. Hang your head in shame, Fox.
Even without extras, the show itself makes this package worth the purchase, and the decent video and audio is just icing on the cake. You'll be able to find King of the Hill—The Complete Fourth Season for around $30, making this package a sweet deal.
Man, what y'all mean talkin' 'bout those dang ol' quid pro quo, habeas corpus, verdict, man, blabbin' like my mama's cousin Stu, goin' on and on about Law and Order, dang ol' Sam Waterston, man, I tell ya whut, good ol' boy Hank Hill, not guilty.
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