King of the Hill: It ran for 13 seasons and had 259 episodes. There had to have been quite a following and fan group of it to have ran for that long; however, in the realm of long-running, successful and great cartoon series – why is not mentioned much? Mike Judge’s animated series about the everyday life in suburban Texas goes down as one of the most well-crafted and relatable animations of the past two decades, and it is one that actually took a great deal of effort in terms of research to do as well.

With such a seemingly low profile, its cancellation might have gone unnoticed even by the fans. This had to make room for the introduction of the Cleveland Show (I tried watching an episode and gave up quickly; it was crap).

At least as far as I know, King of the Hill was often shown in FOX8’s animation block with along the Simpsons, Family Guy, Futurama and American Dad thus it appeared to be misplaced. Most people who watched the other four series probably were not the target audience for King of the Hill. Instead of going for the soundbite kind of comedy (e.g. catchphrases) and the belly laughs this show was more subtle and observant.

Thus, the fact it was animated may have been its biggest downfall; on the other hand since animation is often more budget-friendly they could choose to have more settings and a bigger “universe” with no worries.They also got a very good voice cast , some even doing multiple characters. I say this albeit being just too aware that it was Tom Petty voicing one of the prominent characters in the latter seasons. But I digress.

Some critics have even gone so far as to call this show “a documentary of Texas”, with the creator doing annual road trips to and around the state for inspiration and to keep in touch with the spirit of the show. Also, this show has made much satire and discussion about real issues within regional American and quite adult issues as well without using them as a cheap joke. From a long-running adulterous affair to divorce to obesity and the take-over of small businesses by mega-stores to generational conflict to lack of pride in American patriotism to being unsure about voting there was a whole slew of issues to look at and observe. While the characters may not have always dealt with it in such a delicate manner, this was good because

  • it kept within the realm of realism, and
  • it never came across as pandering or insulting to the audience’s intelligence.

Then there is the cast of characters:

Above is only a selection of the great and colourful characters that the show had to offer. To name a few examples:

  • Immoral bosses – Buck Strickland (who is not pictured above)
  • Disdainful yuppies who double as Laotian immigrants – Kahn and Minh Soupanousaphone
  • my personal favourite character, the paramoid conspirasist – Dale Gribble
  • John Redcorn, who starts off as merely eye candy, but develops a deeper character with choosing a career path that suits him at a later age.
  • real kids. Remember Bart Simpson in the early 90s? Well, Bobby Hill is more the anti-Bart having more of a goody-two shoes persona, but not without complacency to important aspects like homework and pursues his interests instead.

Then there is the main character – Hank Hill – who has the most to discuss. That does not mean he hogs the spotlight, as some episodes focus on other characters even going to secondary and tertiary characters – even a co-worker of his gets an episode focusing on him.

Hank is unlike a lot of other characters in other shows in his position – animated or live action. Instead of being juvenile, or stupid, or sex-crazed he is ground, erudite as he would believe, and could be seen as a boring, introverted stick in the mud. This is part of his charm. At times he appears to be  intolerant (often it is not without justification) but there are surprises in the hidden depths of him – what other show would portray a Texan with even slight environmental leanings and actually shuddering at the stereotypes? In many ways, he works as the grounded one amongst a number of eccentric folk – just take his neighbour Dale.

Many fans of this show and Mike Judge’s previous effort Beavis and Butt-head have noted similarities between him and Tom Anderson. They are correct, as Mike based the two characters on the same influence growing up. Many say it is the same voice, but I can detect a subtle difference in pitch and voice clarity between the two (Hank’s is higher and speaks more clearly than Tom).

A lot of these characters will definitely remind viewers of people they know from slightly to uncannily seeing the person on the screen. Also amongst the characters is that there are story arcs that stretch from a few episodes to across seasons – not going back to square one or “what can we do this week?”. I noticed that in the early seasons they had a good amount of continuity with some events.

Much with the humour, while the over-the-top antics come from the right sources, a lot of the humour is either subtle or played straight – as with a gravely-voiced gasman calling everyone “honey” like it is nothing. It also works into the characters’ personalities, such as when Hank will not leave with this friend ten minutes early on a Friday for a weekend trip. All that was done was the camera panning to the clock and changing to ten minutes later before zooming out to show Hank in the same position. There was probably the implication that nothing happened in those ten minutes. That is one example of a cleverly done joke within this show.

Final Thoughts

This show took an ironic turn, by becoming less of a cartoon than most live action sitcoms throughout the years. It almost felt like a real place with actual familiar characters as opposed to the characters being gambits just to deliver the jokes for each episode.

I have not been to Texas (or anywhere in the United States) so I cannot say how representative it is about the state/former country for myself but the fact that so much of it was familiar to a suburban Australian says a lot about its universal feel. It was very set as Texas without forcing the reminder on you with every mention.

The show grew and might have had a few dud episodes but the good far outweigh the bad. Its ending episode was appropriate and it bowed out at the right time. I would have like to see more anecdotes with the denizens of Arlen, Texas but there is enough here to suffice. It is a pity that I only am noticing its brilliant genius after it’s gone – but sometimes that is a necessity for the art to be shown.

What are people’s thoughts on this show and does it represent Texas correctly?

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