By Staff Writer Seth Tamarkin.
Nearly twenty years after its premiere, King of the Hill has finally found a streaming home in Hulu and that should be cause for celebration. The cartoon has managed to become one of the most relevant and unique TV comedies ever despite first airing in 1997.
What makes King of the Hill so unique and beloved is that it deals with social issues with a different point of view than most other sitcoms. The titular show follows propane (and propane accessories) salesman Hank Hill and his family’s life in the small suburb of Arlen, Texas. While Family Guy and most other sitcoms focus on a suburban family in the north, Hank Hill’s family and everyone else in their town are proudly conservative, so it’s funny and interesting to see their reaction to issues that otherwise garner similar responses on television.
In Arlen, Texas, Hank’s friend Dale saying that “guns don’t kill people, the government does” isn’t a controversial statement. A reference to Reagan causes Hank to lament “I miss voting for that man”, and there’s nothing more earth-shattering to Hank than the reveal in the episode “Yankee Hankee” that he was born in Yankee Stadium and not Texas. The news gets to him so much that he goes on a rant towards his parents that it was their “fault I was born in New York and I can’t drive my truck and I tried a bagel and actually liked it. No, no more lies — I loved that bagel!”
Hank’s traditional values extend to more than just New York though. One of the driving forces behind the show is Hank’s strained relationship towards his young son Bobby due to preconceived notions of masculinity, a popular topic nowadays. While Hank’s crowning achievement was his high school quarterback days and wears his traditional views on masculinity on his sleeve, Bobby would rather grow roses and do prop comedy than ever play a sport.
More so, Hank cannot emotionally relate to Bobby due to an aversity to affection, which makes their interactions more hysterically awkward. The series doesn’t just offer the awkward, dry comedy that fuels many comedies nowadays though. Emotionally resonant scenes are intertwined with the comedy quite regularly, and flow seamlessly into each other so the emotional aspects don’t come off as forced.
Another character that highlights the cartoon’s originality is Hank’s wife Peggy. The standard setup in sitcoms is to have a loud, schlubby husband with a sexualized housewife, but the show never treats Peggy the same way. Instead, she is loud and obnoxiously prideful, like when she reminds any and everyone how she won Substitute Teacher of the Year two years in a row, and the writers finds endless hilarious situations that humble her hubris like a Greek tragedy.
A great example is season 6’s “Lupe’s Revenge”, which sees Peggy’s “fluent” Spanish skills come back to haunt her when she accidently kidnaps a Mexican girl. The only reason a Mexican court doesn’t send Peggy to prison is after Hank easily shows the jury how awful her Spanish is by asking her basic questions in the language.
But more than anything, the most important reason why KoTH’s return to streaming is welcome is that it may be the only television show that exhibits a realistic conservative experience grounded in reality. When the only programs on television that reflect conservativism are Roseanne reboots and FOX News, it’s easy to believe that all conservatives are, well, crazy. King of the Hill rejects that narrative though by having complex characters that don’t shy away from their traditional values. You don’t have to agree with everything Hank does, but you can understand where he’s coming from and ultimately relate to his family.
Thanks to unusually well-written characters and thirteen quality seasons, King of the Hill conveys that it’s okay to have wildly different views from someone else and still be likable. In these divisive times, that is why it is the perfect show to begin watching.