After 13 years running, Fox's animated staple King of the Hill has run its last episode. "Last" being relative -- there are still four episodes Fox hasn't aired. These will either appear on Adult Swim or in syndication, but nobody knows when.
We may never see another show like it again, or at least not another show like it that lasts quite as long. The #1 concern of most modern cartoons is to be as loud and edgy as possible; something this quiet and honest wouldn't make it past pilot stage today. King of the Hill is funny and witty without being offensive or confrontational, and its absence has left a hole The Cleveland Show just isn't gonna fill. Now that we've reached the end, it's time to take inventory. Out of 255 available episodes to judge, here are 15 moments that stood out for me the best. They are the pros of propane, the bosses of Boggle, the mangiest of the Manger Babies....the KINGS OF THE HILL!
In the earlier seasons KOTH did a few two-parters, usually as cliffhangers that wouldn't be resolved until the next season. "Propane Boom" was the first of these, and was supported by a Fox/TV Guide/Some-soft-drink-I-forget "Who's Gonna Die?" campaign. KOTH was going to kill off a character in Part I -- the kind of stunt you rarely see a show pull this early.
Mega-Lo-Mart, the supermarket chain of the KOTH universe, is now stocking propane (and propane accessories), putting the squeeze on another small business -- Strickland Propane. Buck Strickland closes his Arlen branch and leaves Hank unemployed, who ends up having to work at Mega-Lo-Mart himself -- under the leadership of brainless teenager Buckley. Despite his twenty years of experience, he must wear a "Please excuse me, I'm a trainee" badge at all times, and he finds out other former small business owners are now working for the chain, "feeding the beast that killed" them.
That weekend, Mega-Lo-Spokesman Chuck Mangione prepares to give a concert in the front parking lot while Hank and the other disgruntled ones plot to crash said concert by playing kazoos (it was Hank's idea).
At the end of the episode, we found out why no supermarket in real life has tried stocking propane. Hank, Luanne, Buckley and Mangione were all in the vicinity of a gigantic gas explosion. You were to mark down which of the four you thought most likely bit it onto a TV Guide index card, and send it in for possible neat prizes. WHO WAS GONNA DIE?? ...well, obviously nobody on the regular payroll, which narrowed it down to two. When the show came back, it revealed the dead one was Buckley (who, as Hank pointed out, was barely alive as it was).
Part II is fine, but Part I is stronger. This kind of issue wouldn't get massive public attention until years later, and at that point plenty of other shows would air their own "Evil Walmart-Alike Store" episodes. But King of the Hill was first.
....Although technically, Garfield and Friends was even earlier, covering the issue all the way back in 1991.
This is Hank, Bill, Dale and Boomhauer at their looney best. The firefighters in Arlen are on strike, so the quartet sign up as volunteers -- and botch everything up, 3 Stooges style. The only fire they ever see is the one that burns down the station, and the entire episode technically takes place in a police questioning room as the sergeant tries to figure out what really happened through flashbacks. The antics are delightful, the bickering banter is sharp, and we even see the world through Boomhauer's viewpoint (where, naturally, everybody else speaks incomprehensibly except for him). The Season Three DVD set would be a good buy just for this, but it also includes the episode below....
This is my favorite episode of King of the Hill. Ever.
Hank must drive his mother, and all her equally octogenarian friends, to the island of Port Aransas so they can visit a museum full of porcelain miniatures (for several days). The grannies are mentally decayed, mostly bitter, have hideous tastes, and blame Hank for everything even when nothing's happening. Just when you think things can't get worse for him, several trucks with "MTV SPRING BREAK" on the sides pull up behind his back. That very island, at that very time, has been picked for Spring Break and it becomes loaded with partying, boozing, screaming teens and twentysomethings within minutes. All the old ladies are completely oblivious to everything that's going on, and Hank isn't quite sure what's happening either, he just knows he hates it.
When I first saw this, I thought it was genius. It makes fun of youth, middle age, and senility all at the same time, instead of pretending one is better than the other. Hank is at his best when he's antagonized, and here every single person he meets is antagonizing, from both sides of life. There's an added layer of tension as Hank tries against the will of just about everything around him to get off the island before the last ferry leaves and traps him in the insanity. In the end, he ruins his tires, but the painful sacrifice had to be made.
Just when we thought we'd seen the last of Buckley, he made an encore appearance towards the end of the third season in celestial form. The Hills get Buckley's old trampoline, and the entire neighborhood wants to bounce on it, even the original owner from beyond the grave. Luanne walks out to the backyard one evening and sees, to her surprise, Buckley in his Mega-Lo-Mart uniform with tiny little wings.
Buckley's angel?" Luanne breathes out, wide-eyed.
"Hey." Buckley just points to his nametag, which now says "Buckley's ANGEL" on it.
just a hallucinogen of my mind..."
"Uh....you have a birthmark on your butt in the shape of a Honda key."
"YOU REALLY ARE A REAL ANGEL!!!"
For a show that was deliberately as down-to-earth as possible, this was quite a different kind of storyline, but it was setting the tone for almost every Luanne-centered plot to follow. It would soon be made clear that Luanne lived in some kind of bizarre separate world, where she ran into cults and was wooed by pork-processing tycoons. This is to say nothing of her eventual pick for husband.
Luanne was studying to be a hairstylist at the Arlen Beauty Academy, but wasn't too good at it. She's convinced the visits from Buckley mean something, but isn't sure what. Hank tries to steer her in the "it means you should leave my house" direction. Peggy steers her in the "keep trying" direction, reciting her own proverb "Education is the sleeping pill that makes dreams happen. Peggy Hill!" As Luanne drowsily drives to take a test, Buckley appears again and tells her "you suck at beauty school, you should drop out." Luanne gets so furious with Buckley she almost hits a truck, and after she awakens in a ditch, some students from the Arlen Community College come to her rescue.
"Whoa, are you all
"Yeah, I was up all night studyin', and....OH NO!!" Luanne spies herself in the side mirror.
"I LOOK TERRIBLE AN' LOOKS ARE TEN PERCENT OF MY GRADE!!"
"Ten percent? What class are you taking?"
"I bet it's Statistics with Professor Rutledge. He's such a pig."
"No, no, it's....wait, you thought I was....in college?"
Having grown up in a trailer, Luanne never pictured herself as a college girl, or that she'd ever fit in as one. She now realizes what she must do. Later that evening, Luanne excitedly runs into the Hills' house and announces she dropped out of beauty school, but just enrolled for her first college semester!
Sadly, this development went nowhere. In a few more seasons, Luanne would decide she liked hair better and switch back to styling, making the whole arc (and religious experience) meaningless.
All the Bill Dautrieve-centered episodes are about how needy, gross and pathetic he is -- except for this one, where he suddenly has three -- count 'em, three beautiful girls fighting over him. Hank wins an Alamo Beer contest that sends the lucky winner all-expenses-paid to New Orleans, and it turns out Bill's extended family lives there. They all talk in exaggerated southern-rich mannerisms ("Dinner, like youth, will be served") and it's revealed Bill is the only remaning Dautrieve capable of continuing the bloodline. Three widows staying at the mansion all attempt to seduce Bill, and the only thing keeping him from enjoying the ride is that one of them is his cousin, but he doesn't know which. He eventually gets the answer, but is shooed off the grounds.
Bill....were you planning to till the soil and nurture the
vines.....or were you just playin' in the garden?"
"I think it would be best....if you took your leave..."
"Can I say goodbye to the girls?"
As for Hank's side of the story, the contest entitles him to throw a football into a hole in a giant Alamo Beer can to win a million dollars, or he can have former Dallas Cowboy Don Meredith throw it instead for $100,000. Hank practices throwing the ball a lot, and seriously ponders going for the million, but in the end decides to play it safe and let Don try.
Don completely flops. No college for Bobby...
"Pimai" is the Laotian New Year, which occurs in April. King of the Hill was that rare show which did its research when it came to foreign cultures, instead of hacking out lazy stereotypes.
Bobby's attends the Pimai Party because Connie Souphanousinphone is his girlfriend. This connection was dropped in season six, and afterward, Connie became scarcer than a red moon. With no DVD special features after season two there's no answer for why the producers got rid of her, and it's a real pity, because this was a great episode that hinged entirely on Connie's relationship with Bobby.
The Wassonasongs, the family the elder Souphanousinphones are always kissing up to, attend the party and bring along a group of Buddhist monks who believe the reincarnation of one of the Lamas happened in Arlen. They lay out various items on a mat and tell people the reborn Sanglug will recognize the one thing on the mat that is his. Bobby picks up a cane -- Sanglug's cane, it turns out -- and starts dancing with it, leading them to believe it's HIM.
Kahn and Minh are jealous, and Peggy is pleased -- when she sees an "Honor Student" bumper sticker, she pulls up aside the car and screams "OH YEAH?? WELL, MY CHILD IS GOD TO BILLIONS OF ASIANS!!" Bobby thinks being a Lama is pretty keen too, until he finds out Lamas can't ever marry or even date. If he's confirmed, it'll drive a wedge between him and the Buddhism-practicing Connie forever! Bobby says in that case he'll just never take the second test, but Connie needs an answer or she'll never be sure. Her parents are thrilled: "You just dodged one chubby white bullet!"
The sun rises next morning. There's no way out of it. Bobby is once again asked to pick from another rugful of things.
"I can pick whatever I see
on this rug?"
".....Then I choose Connie. In the mirror."
Bobby's failed the test, but technically played by the rules. Connie tearfully embraces him. It's the sweetest ending of any KOTH episode.
Also: technically, since the mirror was Sanglug's, Bobby didn't fail, but picking Connie instead was enough of a technicality. Monk: "It's a tough call. But it's mine, and I made it."
Contrary to most in-your-face animated programs, King of the Hill was committed to portraying a slice of life, and few slices were more accurate than their Thanksgiving episode, which takes place entirely in an airport. The entire show's cast is there, preparing to take plane trips to visit relatives (except for Bill, who's just there because he's lonely). But delay after delay, compounded with aggravating mistakes, ice storms, and one smoked turkey mistaken for a terrorists' bomb, create a miserable experience anyone can identify with. As the half-hour ends, it's close to midnight and Thanksgiving is ruined. Everyone is sitting around a table, beaten, haggard and hungry. But some leftover pizza, warmed to perfection through the Power of Propane, may be just enough to dry those tears. This is a very therapeutic episode to watch -- I sometimes pop it in after an especially trying day.
Yes, that's the actual title.
As the summer winds down, Bobby visits his grandmother (on Peggy's side) and her new Carl Reiner-voiced husband. Bobby brags that he's about to turn 13, breaking the cardinal "no aging" rule of cartoons. Reiner tells him in his religion, turning 13 makes you a man and there's a big ceremony called a Bar Mitzvah ("That's Jewish for Big Party.") Bobby really latches onto the idea that he's a MAN now, and since his friend Joseph won't turn 13 for another few months, he can't wait to be the big kid in the friendship.
But something happened to Joseph while Bobby was away.
Joseph has mutated, violating an even bigger cardinal rule of cartoons! In the process he becomes a more interesting character, a confused stuttering train-wreck of hormones. Being the kind of kid Bobby is, he still thinks of himself as the dominant one despite the obvious, and promises to use his natural-born charisma to hook Joseph up with girls at his birthday party.
The show's second half is even better, turning into a parody of a bad teen soap starring children who barely understand what they're doing. Joseph goes out of control, kissing Connie and then HER MOTHER, resulting in one of my favorite lines in KOTH history: "Whoa yeaaah! You rocka ma worrld!" Bobby punches Joseph, breaks up with Connie, breaks up with Connie again, and Joseph steals Dale's van. Connie jumps inside, Bobby comes after Connie, and the ensuing chaos causes them all to crash the van into a pole....a crime they later claim was committed by "teenagers."
The most common formula in the KOTH writer's bin was "Bobby embarrasses Hank by doing something un-macho." There must be fifty such episodes in existence, but "Bobby Goes Nuts" is the best of them.
After Chang Wassonasong and his fellow bullies force Bobby Hill to eat dirt, Hank thinks Bobby should learn to defend himself. He sends him to the YMCA for defense lessons. The only class open at the time, though, is women's self-defense. Bobby is in a hurry to learn as much as possible before he has to face Chang again, and takes the class anyway. There, he learns the quickest way to dispatch any male adversary: to yell "THAT'S MY PURSE!! I DON'T KNOW YOU!!" and kick him in the Happy Sack.
Back at school, Bobby applies what he's learned on Chang. It's super effective!
Pretty soon every bully at school is fearful of Bobby, and Hank is initially proud, until he learns why. "You can't hit below the belt line!" Hank exasperates. He puts some boxing gloves on Bobby and tries to teach him more honorable methods of battle, but Bobby isn't very good at it, and decides to end it the easy way by crotch-kicking his dad.
For the rest of the episode Hank is in excruciating (yet hilarious) pain. Bobby is grounded for his actions, and has to wait on him hand and foot. He heads next door to Connie's for a break -- only to meet her dad instead. Kahn tells Bobby, "You kick Ted Wassonasong's son in testicles! That was bad! But you kick your father Hank Hill's testicles! That was good! So I conflicted!" Bobby gripes about having to obey Hank and Kahn retorts with, "Whaa? You don't have to take that from him anymore! He been defeated!" Bobby realizes he's right.
Bobby whips out his Game Boy in the middle of the house where Hank can hear. "You're grounded, mister, no vidya games!" Hank dictates, but Bobby waves him off. Hank tries to catch Bobby, but it's a painfully slow walk he just can't win. That's when Peggy throws off her glasses, steps into the yard and takes matters into her own hands. Bobby suffers a shameful defeat at the hands of his mother, and his groin-kick has no effect!
"That's right, Bobby. Unlike your father, you will find that
I have NO testicles."
Kahn, watching from the fence: "SHE BLUFFING! FINISH HER!!"
I don't know why the FCC has a law requiring every adult animated series to make one episode where a central character gets his finger cut off, but there have been a lot of them -- and surprisingly, some aren't that bad. The Simpsons' finger-loss episode was "Trilogy of Error," regarded as the last great episode made, and King of the Hill's was this.
As the show begins, a hole opens up in Hank's kitchen floor! It was the fault of Dale, who had the bright idea to dig a "secret tunnel" between his house and Hank's. Hank is furious because he knows the hollow space Dale has created in the foundation will make his house unstable and unliveable until it is filled -- and until then, the Hills have to stay somewhere else. Their options are either with the Gribbles, or with Hank's dad. There's no way Peggy will suffer the latter choice, so Hank must now live with Dale. Sharing living space drives Hank nuts and strains their friendship, especially when Dale wants to watch TV in Hank's room at 3 AM. "Nancy won't let me watch TV in the bedroom; it keeps her up."
As the feud escalates, Hank has rented a power saw and the boys are taking turns wasting wood just to use it....except for Dale, who Hank won't let near him. Dale approaches anyway, distracts Hank with his complaining, and then looks down to see his finger is gone. "EYAAAAAH!"
Dale is convinced Hank did this deliberately, and presses charges against him. Hank is given a restraining order to stay fifty feet away from Dale at all times, making the repairs to his house impossible to complete on his own. In addition, to get the restraining order lifted, he must take and pass a humiliating anger management class.
By now, Hank is so angry he truly looks like he needs the class. He's encouraged to pet imaginary bunnies and imagine people's heads as giant bowls of chowder. One bald, surly-voiced person in the class (who truly needs to be there) backtalks to every lesson he's given -- and Hank latches onto him for support. When Dale stops by Hank's house to harass him again, he gets an earful from the man. "I LIKE TWO THINGS...BUILDING DOLLHOUSES, AND KICKING ASS! AND I DON'T SEE ANY DOLLHOUSES AROUND HERE! DO YOU? DO YOU SEE ANY DOLLHOUSES?? HEY, DON'T YOU EYEBALL ME! DON'T YOU EYEBALL A JUNKYARD DOG!! RUFF! ROWFF!! ROARFFEAAAGGGHHHUUULLLLLL....." From that point, he strokes out and dies on the pavement.
Witnessing the incident makes Hank think that perhaps he has been too angry lately, and that he'd better learn to cool off, or else wind up like that guy. He starts taking his lessons seriously. The teacher passes Hank with flying colors, but has to give an F to the absent man. "I hate to fail anyone, but I mean, he died from anger. My hands are tied."
Hank returns to the alley to find Dale has dug a huge tunnel, even bigger and more dangerous than the first one. It runs right under the street, and a heavy garbage truck is coming to crush his friends! "Keep your cool, keep your cool......Um, uh, I think you should leave now!" His light suggestions are ignored. The truck crawls closer! Hank runs in front of it to stop the driver, but he doesn't believe Hank when he warns of the danger.
He only has one option left. He summons all his anger and rage and explodes. "GET OUTTA THAT GOT-DANG RAT HOLE RIGHT NOW, OR I'LL COME DOWN THERE WITH THE SAW AND CUT OFF ALL YOUR FINGERS AND TOES! NOW MOVE MOVE MOVE!!" They obey as quickly as possible, and come out just in time to watch the truck collapse into the hole.
Dale looks at the truck, where his game of cards used to be. He then looks at Hank and yells, "So WHAT was so important??"
This is listed mostly for the image of Kahn as "Dr. Quarters," which I can't show you, because I only started saving first-run KOTH episodes in 2007 when I realized the DVDs weren't going to get past season six. Bah.
Hank's cousin Dusty is coming to Arlen, and Hank is distraught about it. Bobby asks why, and Hank brings out a videotape and makes Bobby swear not to tell anyone about what's on it, since it's so embarrassing. Hank being embarrassed by relatives is nothing new, which is what makes that video one of the best surprises in the series' history:
RELATED TO ZZ TOP???" exclaims Bobby.
"Whatever you do, don't ask him what time it is," instructs Hank. "He always says it's (with a sigh) 'time to rock'."
Dusty wants to stay for a couple of days, but mostly because he's having his reality show "Behind the Beard" filmed, which Hank knew nothing about until he showed up. After going through a day's video footage, the producers in Dusty's mobile trailer decide nothing much in Hank's neighborhood is interesting....except for when Hank gets mad. Dusty is encouraged to pull as many pranks on Hank as possible, including burying a gold record somewhere in his lawn and telling the neighborhood, who all show up with shovels and pitchforks (and in Joseph's case, a cigarette lighter).
Bobby's PE class now includes "Virtual PE," where children play video games instead of exercise. Expectedly, Hank doesn't like that. When he confronts the principal, he confesses it's a joint agreement between the school and the software classes at Arlen Community College. The kids are testing and debugging the students' games for free, at the expense of new computers (which the school needed and would give anything for). Hank mouths off at the snarky students, who retalite by basing their next game around Hank. Joseph comes home a few days later with the game.
"Go figure, they spelled 'propane' wrong," Hank sighs. Buck Strickland orders Hank to play through the game, since he considers Hank his intellectual property and the game might constitute a sueable violation. The game itself is one of the funniest notions in the whole show. Hank is a lawless maniac, growling "I TELL YOU WHUT" and "TASTE THE MEAT....AND THE HEAT!" as he throws exploding propane barrels at random pedestrians.
Eventually, Hank figures out that in a sandbox game you can also enforce the law, and he starts having fun. Too much fun. He begins neglecting his work and his home, and even his lawn. Peggy protests. "I read Parade Magazine; I know an addiction when I see one! Ask Marilyn says that people who own fancy electronics are called 'technosexuals'." She pleads, "I married a MAN, Hank! Not a...GAMER!!" He still plugs away at the screen.
Peggy turns to the game creators for help. "Only two things will stop a man from gaming. Boredom, or humiliation. Though two percent stop because of seizures." Humiliation, Peggy can do. During an online session against the whole neighborhood, Hank's tricked-out, leveled-up avatar trashes all challengers -- until he meets an indestructible one who can survive everything he throws at it. After a crushing defeat, it turns out to be Peggy using the creators' debug mode.
Hank apologizes to his wife. "I didn't realize killing a man with my bare thumbs would change me so much."
Bobby takes a sudden and uncharacteristic interest in watching football. Hank is determined to make it stick, and he and the buddies decide being at an actual game is just the trick to make it permanent. Unfortunately Hank lets Dale purchase Texas vs. Nebraska tickets, which turn out to be counterfeit. They end up in the nosebleed section, and only then because of a scalper.
Hank hands Bobby $20 and tells him to get some snacks. Bobby doesn't come back. Dale's binoculars reveal he went into one of the empty skyboxes and is watching, relaxed, from there. That boy ain't right!
Hank goes after
Bobby, but after observing how Bobby is enjoying himself, he
decides maybe he can get away with it if he keeps quiet. "If
Bobby doesn't have a good time today, he will lose interest in
football! And if he loses interest in football, he'll want to do
something else! And if he does something else, he'll be
miserable! And then he'll DIE!"
Dale: "Wow, Hank. You've really thought this through."
The phone in the skybox rings, and Dale answers. He tells Hank, "It's the coach for Nebraska, and he needs a quick play. And you're somebody named Jake Middleton." Hank seizes the opportunity, and gives the coach a completely dumb play to ensure Texas's victory. Then the joke is on him when it works. Then the mud is on him when the real Jake Middleton arrives and tells the entire media some anonymous person in the exact skybox Hank is currently in made the play, not him. Now every single Texan in the stadium is after their blood, and they must escape before they're identified!
My favorite piece of background dialogue: "Violence IS the answer!"
Cotton Hill has to be one of the single worst dads in TV history. Sexist, racist, insensitive, cruel, self-absorbed -- you name a negative personality trait and Cotton had it. I say "had" because after this episode, he becomes past tense, and presumably goes to the place he was destined for.
Hank, Peggy, Luanne and Lucky are going out for the evening sans Bobby, who's being "watched" by Cotton. There's frozen lasagna in the fridge for their dinner, but Cotton won't eat anything frozen, or heat up anything because that's "a woman's job," so he's headed to the restaurant the others are at. Bobby points out he's not supposed to drive. Cotton picks the keys off the top of the refrigerator and says "We'll SEE who can't drive his grandson to a restraunt at night without glasses or a license using a mop to press the pedals!"
The other Hills are at some kind of Benihana knockoff, watching Japanese cooks perform acrobatics with food. Cotton has no idea what kind of place it is, and being a senile WWII vet who killed fitty men, he's horrified to see a dozen Asians with weapons. "You look like a man I killed....or did I?" Cotton growls at the chef, who gulps nervously. Cotton rises to attack the man, but trips on grease, burns himself on the cooking pan, and accidentally swallows shellfish, of which he's allergic to. All the injuries add up and push Cotton's body over the edge. His doctor tells Hank Cotton has about a day left.
While Cotton lies in the hospital, Hank distracts himself with building a new shed; typical Hank behavior to avoid dealing with his feelings. Peggy eventually convinces him to face up to reality and have one last chat with his father, before he no longer can. Hank enters the room and tries to tell Cotton he loves him, which isn't easy for Hank OR Cotton. After Hank finally spits it out, Cotton mocks him, calling him a "sissy." Hank yells "I HATE YOU" back, and then Cotton flatlines.
Hank is devastated, but for some reason Cotton comes out of it. In fact, he keeps dying mini-deaths throughout the day, claiming he taught himself how to temporarily die as a war survival technique or something. Even in his last hours he remains hard-boiled and vicious, calling Hank a horrible son to his face on his own deathbed, and he's proud of it. Hank leaves the room again in frustration, but Peggy's at bat.
"I reckon it's time for me to leave anyhow; I've accomplished all I wanted to do. I successfully burned all my bridges!" Cotton brags.
know what?" Peggy says. "I hope you DON'T die. I hope
you keep coming back to your isolated life, to the people you've
abandoned, to the HELL you've created. I HOPE...YOU LIVE
"OH YA DO, DO YEH??" smirks Cotton. It's what he wanted to hear. He leaves his body for good.
Hank then runs
into the room and sees his dad expired once again.
"WHAT'D HE SAY? WHAT'D HE SAY?"
"He said....he loves you, Hank," Peggy fibs.
"Really? He said that? Well, all right then!"
It's as close to a happy ending as it can get.
This episode was from late in the series' run, and at this point, surviving World War II vets were getting rarer and rarer. Kudos to the KOTH staff for having the guts to give an established character a definitive closing episode. It paid off.
This episode was nominated for an Emmy. It lost to whatever thing The Simpsons offered that year.
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