How to Fire a Rifle Without Really Trying/Texas City Twister

In Season Two, King of the Hill both found its creative groove and hit its peak of popularity. Acclaimed by critics and heavily promoted by Fox, KOTH enjoyed a brief cultural moment as one of America’s most watched and talked-about shows. Sadly it didn’t last, even though the quality remained consistent for several seasons. Who can ever account for a network’s fickleness?

How to Fire a Rifle Without Really Trying (Season 2, Episode 1)

How to Fire a Rifle Without Really Trying

All this being father and son is finally going to pay off!

Original air date: September 21st, 1997

Writer: Paul Lieberstein

Director: Adam Kuhlman

KOTH always rested on Hank and Bobby’s relationship. From the Pilot onward, their differences drove the show, masculine but emotionally guarded Hank searching for common ground with his eccentric, creatively-oriented son. “How to Fire a Rifle Without Really Trying,” KOTH’s first truly great episode, brilliantly subverts their dynamic for both humor and pathos.

Hank discovers that Bobby has a knack for target shooting. He buys Bobby a hunting rifle and thrills that his son’s finally latched onto a masculine interest: he enters them in a father-son shooting contest. To his embarrassment, Hank isn’t able to shoot. He enlists sports psychologist Philip (Wallace Shawn) to overcome his inhibitions. Still doubting his aptitude, Hank drops out of the contest, until realizing how much it means to Bobby.

Season Two improves immensely upon its predecessor. While maintaining Judge’s faux-realistic style, the character designs are much smoother and the animation less crude. Judge starts to mellow Hank’s vocal delivery and his costars follow suit. More importantly, showrunner Gary Daniels hones the character development and cultural satire that made KOTH so appealing.

“How to Fire a Rifle Without Really Trying” dives headlong into Texas culture. Writer Paul Lieberstein both lampoons and celebrates gun ownership. Bobby takes an absurdly easy safety course, run by a maimed instructor. He finds his rifle in the “children’s gun section” and asks for a gun rack on his bike. We get our first glimpse of Dale’s gun club, with rebellion notices and mice heads mounted on the wall. The contest is a hootenay with beer, bikini-clad women and convoluted obstacles, like Bobby and Hank blasting a simulated burglar.

Other animated shows (The Simpsons, Family Guy, even Gargoyles) use firearms as a crutch for anti-gun advocacy. But “Rifle” avoids scoring political points. Dale’s proclamation that “Guns don’t kill people, the government does!” cuts both ways. Conservatives love the line as an affirmation of the 2nd Amendment; liberals, as mocking that mindset. This episode provides double-edged humor that everyone can appreciate.How To Fire GoofusWhile KOTH gently ridicules gun-owners, it doesn’t dismiss them as bloodthirsty rednecks. For many Americans, guns are a cornerstone of life, cementing friendships and family bonds, embodying masculinity as much as cars, lawns or jobs. How problematic this is, especially in our current age of mass shootings, isn’t “Rifle’s” concern. Instead, it provides a springboard to KOTH’s paternal drama.

This episode subverts the usual dynamic: here, Hank’s afraid of embarrassing Bobby. Traumatized by Cotton’s shooting lessons as a kid (“Close the other eye or I’ll poke it out!”), Hank can’t fire his gun and tries to leave the contest. Naturally Bobby blames himself, forcing Peggy to intervene. Hank’s insecurities threaten their family fabric, not for the last time.

Episodes like this show Hank overcoming his emotional handicaps. Whatever his  shortcomings, he’s exponentially better than the vulgar, emotionally abusive Cotton (who shows up to jeer Hank at the climax). After brooding over his potential humiliation, he realizes the impact on Bobby: losing self-confidence, interest in “normal” pursuits or affection for his father. Unlike Cotton, Hank loves his son and will risk humiliation to preserve their relationship.

Naturally Hank comes around, competing with Bobby (with a little nudge from Philip). Director Adam Kuhlman portrays their shooting performance in a brisk, funny montage set to The Magnificent Seven‘s theme song. Ultimately Hank does fail, but Bobby’s thrilled just to have done something with him. This is KOTH at its very best: emotional, heartfelt and funny.How To Fire StubbyGrade: A

Quotes and Notes:

  • Episode writer Paul Lieberstein became a regular writer for The Office and produced HBO’s The Newsroom. Lieberstein also played mild-mannered HR rep Toby Flenderson on The Office.
  • Voice actor alert: Wallace Shawn (The Princess Bride) voices Philip as a spacey goofball. Fortunately, he’s the rare “twig boy” who actually helps Hank, even if his advice comes coated with asininity.
  • The opening takes place at the Texas State Fair, with Bobby and Hank encountering Big Tex. Luanne commandeered the statue in a later episode, “Girl You’ll Be a Giant Soon.”
  • Peggy thinks Bobby’s too young to own a gun: “It would be like giving Boggle to an eight year old, even though the box says that’s okay!”
  • “I can’t remember the last time I shot a .22, but I bet there was a Texan in the White House. And I’m not talking about Herbert Walker Bush, either!”
  • The gun instructor (voiced by Stephen Root) is one of KOTH’s best one-shot characters. “If it weren’t for the NRA safety guidelines which I eventually accepted, I’d be a stub standing here before you.” Johnny Hardwick’s overenthusiastic announcer also makes his debut.
  • Bobby proposes taking his gun to school and “shooting off a few rounds between classes.” Yeah, this episode wouldn’t fly in 2016.
  • Bill share’s Dales incredulity about the danger of firearms: “If guns are dangerous, I just think somebody would have said something.”
  • Philip debates how to aid Hank: “I can help you without using witchcraft, pills or molestation, but it won’t be easy!”
  • Cotton is late for the shooting contest: “I had to stop by the wax museum and give the finger to FDR!”

Texas City Twister (Season 2, Episode 2)

Texas City TwisterOriginal Air Date: September 28th, 1997

Writer: Cheryl Holliday

Director: Jeff Myers

“Texas City Twister” won an Annie Award back in the day, but it’s never been a personal favorite. There’s a lot going on here and most of it feels contrived, even if writer Cheryl Holliday centers it around a natural disaster.

Hank finds that Luanne for owing back rent at Shady Pines Trailer Park, which she left after her mother’s imprisonment. Hank kicks Luanne out of the house, sparking a feud with Peggy. Their conflict takes a deadly turn as a tornado touches down near Arlen, aiming for the trailer park. Hank decides to save wife and niece from the twister, endangering his own life.

“Twister” has a decent starting point: Hank’s emotional constipation driving away his family. Reluctant to acknowledge his feelings for Luanne, here Hank’s distance puts them in actual danger. Unfortunately, there isn’t much depth to draw upon. Luanne’s backstory is still treated as a joke, while Peggy and Hank’s feud is more plot device than character growth. It culminates in Hank professing his affection, desperately clinging to a telephone pole as the tornado approaches.

A few subplots pad out the run time, none amounting to much. Bill’s called up to help with disaster relief, changing him into a bullying jerk. (This became a consistent character trait.) Dale becomes a cowardly storm chaser, generating a few laughs but mostly sitting there. Nancy’s a little too enthusiastic about the storm, highlighting why she’s my least favorite regular character.

Episodes like “Texas City Twister” are inevitable: even a great show in its heyday occasionally drops a dud. Fortunately, subpar KOTH is more often mediocre than terrible.

Grade: C

Quotes and Notes:

  • A debt collector cautions Hank: “If you’re callin’ me a liar, you better be holding something stronger than an umbrella.” “Nine iron,” Hank retorts, making him skedaddle.
  • Luanne articulates her beauty school dreams: “I believe I could be the first person to fix those bags under Michael Douglas’s eyes.”
  • “We want to get on the road before that Dr. Demento starts stinking up the airwaves. “
  • Hank does feel emotion towards Luanne. “I was afraid she was going to hug me, I was worried that she wouldn’t leave, and I was relieved when it was over.” What a softie.
  • Bobby plotting to throw an egg through a brick wall offers another, minor subplot. The payoff’s painfully obvious, but still manages a big laugh.
  • An old lady’s unfazed by Hank’s nudity: “I’ve seen a barrel of pickles in my day.”

Next time we’ll uncover “The Arrowhead” and celebrate “Hilloween.” For readers, the chance of another 18 month hiatus is even spookier!

 

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King of the Ant Hill/Plastic White Female

Today we’ll wrap up KOTH’s first season. Somewhat uncertain and erratic, as first seasons typically are, it nonetheless established the show’s unique voice and worldview. These episodes flesh out two characters who haven’t had much chance to shine until now.

King of the Ant Hill (Season One, Episode Eleven)

Original air date: May 4th, 1997
Writers: Johnny Hardwick & Paul Lieberstein
Director: Gary McCarver

King of the Ant Hill

You’ve got ants!

God bless Dale Gribble, who evolved from a weirdo spouting non-sequitirs into KOTH’s breakout character. From his inane conspiracies and exterminator job to his weird love triangle with Nancy and John Redcorn, Dale injects wackiness into an otherwise low-key show. In “King of the Ant Hill,” Dale shows a darker side than we’d ever expect.

Hank tries sprucing up his lawn for the Cinco de Mayo block party. Besides buying St. Augustine grass, he makes Dale stop spraying his lawn with pesticides. Dale gets revenge by implanting fire ants onto Hank’s lawn, forcing Hank to enlist his services. But Dale’s efforts destroy the lawn completely, leaving it a barren wasteland and Hank a wreck. Peggy discovers Dale’s plan, and Hank’s ready to kill him – until Bobby interrupts with a more immediate problem.

Like most Season One episodes, “King of the Ant Hill” starts with a mundane premise. Hank’s lawn care obsession is pathetic yet believable: besides offering banal satisfaction (giving it “the tender feelings I’ve withheld from my family”), it’s another status symbol for this suburban Texan. For Hank, a well-maintained lawn evinces manliness and prestige like a fancy car or big screen TV. Hank’s obsessions often lead him to trouble: here, putting mowing before friendship antagonizes Dale.

Dale’s cracked stupidity always defined him, so unsurprisingly it drives his first starring role. And what a crazy jackass he turns out to be. Unlike his usual harmless scheming, Dale’is actions are both malicious and destructive. Trouble is, this backfires because Dale’s a) spectacularly incompetent, b) leaves evidence where an interloper can easily find it. True Hank’s a single-minded weirdo, but the punishment’s wildly disproportionate.

There’s a disconnect between the show milking laughs from Dale’s silly rants and his deliberately destructive actions. Admittedly, ruining someone’s lawn isn’t the same as poisoning them, yet the principle’s the same. Put this down to “Early installment weirdness” perhaps: Dale was always more goofy than malicious after this. When he tries to kill Hank with a toaster or plots to torch Strickland Propane, it’s more a gag than serious threat.

Tonal dissonance is “Ant Hill’s” biggest problem. Many KOTH episodes punish Hank for his foibles but this seems mean-spirited. There’s also a subplot where Bobby’s brainwashed by the Queen Ant, something ludicrously out of sync with the KOTH universe. This dovetails with the main story, giving Hank and Dale’s conflict an easy out. Dale’s such a sociopath elsewhere in this episode that he can only redeem himself by risking his life.

“King of the Ant Hill” is funny enough for a generous grade, but it points to a persistent problem. Some episodes let Hank get away with questionable behavior; others punish him excessively for minor faults. Needless to say, KOTH worked best when finding a middle ground or treating his actions appropriately. Viewers will side with the grass-obsessed redneck over the destructive nutcase any day.

Grade: C+

Quotes and Notes:

  • There’s a weird exchange where Bobby acts surprised at Joseph calling Dale his dad. Does Bobby know about John Redcorn? If so, this is the only time it comes up.
  • “Why are men so attracted to hoes?” Peggy asks, in all apparent innocence.
  • Peggy, ever the Spanish teacher, notes that “you cannot make authentic guacamole out of lima beans and ritz crackers!” Next to that, spa-peggy and meatballs sounds downright appetizing.
  • Dale: “These fire ants are well-organized, highly trained insects. They’ll swarm all over you and sting you all at once without warning on a single command. It’s how they killed L. Ron Hubbard.”
  • Hank enthuses over an “all-natural” ant killing device: “This is exactly what those environmentalists should be spending their time on: Finding ways to use nature against other forms of nature that are inconvenient to man!”
  • Kahn helpfully spells out the episode’s theme: “Where I come from, we got a thing called karma. You do something bad, it come back and bite you in the ass. Big, white, stubborn ass!”
  • Peggy discovering Dale’s plan looking for a cup of sugar in Nancy’s basement (!?!) smacks of really weak contrivance.
  • “You sacrificed your life to save my son. I guess that makes us even for you ruining my lawn.”

Plastic White Female (Season One, Episode Twelve)

Original air date: May 11th, 1997
Writer: David Zuckerman
Director: Jeff Myers

Bobby Head

It’s not a crutch, Dad. It’s something I’ve come to rely on to help me through life!

Before “Plastic White Female,” what do we know about Bobby Hill? He loves comedy, is highly impressionable, fears Hank doesn’t love him. Those scattered traits don’t quite make a character. One of Season One’s standout episodes, “Female” finally puts Bobby in the limelight, making him just as likeable and complex as the adult characters.

Joseph’s holding a coed sleepover, freaking Bobby out. Bobby debates whether to go, terrified of interacting with girls. Meanwhile, Luanne stresses over her beauty school exam, bringing home a plastic head to practice. Bobby grows enraptured by the head and starts “dating,” even practice kissing it. What seems like a strange fetish helps Bobby grow more confident – until Peggy discovers Bobby and freaks out.

KOTH is uncommonly good handling adolescent behavior. Rather than treating tweens as undersized sixteen year olds, its children aren’t sure about girls, proper behavior or the mores of adulthood. Writer David Zuckerman (who later wrote “Hilloween,” among others) handles this with remarkable sensitivity, taking Bobby from the weirdo rubbing cheese on Hank’s guitar to one of TV’s most likeable kids.

“Female” gives Bobby a common dilemma: How does a pubescent boy who’s nerdy, fat and shy deal with girls? As evidenced in “Square Peg,” Hank and Peggy won’t be much help: Hank encourages Bobby to prove his manhood;  Peggy fears losing her little boy. His equally awkward friends prove no help. Being an adolescent is like blind man’s bluff: you want to impress your (equally clueless) friends with your maturity, without knowing what the hell you’re doing.

So Bobby’s left to his own devices and grows. He channels his anxieties into a “practice”, growing more self-confident and assured: he dresses nicer, gains self-assurance, even hits on girls (“Hey Sharice, you stone cold fox. What up?”) By episode’s end, he’s lost his inhibitions enough to kiss Connie and attend Joseph’s party. In the future Bobby used charm, humor and personality to connect with the ladies (as opposed to Joseph, who became weirder and more dorkish as the series developed). Bobby stayed something of a nerd, but never a loser.

Except that development’s facilitated by a plastic head. Zuckerman and the animators milk the scenario, culminating in a Beach Boys montage of Bobby frolicking with his head. This mortifies Hank and Peggy, who label him a freak and destroy the head (much to Luanne’s dismay). But really, it makes sense that a creative kid like Bobby would find their own way of addressing this problem. Certainly KOTH passes no judgment. Adolescents are weird: deal with it.

Luanne also gets significant screen time. After episodes of talk it’s great to see Luanne actually attending beauty school. Too bad Ms. Kremzer (Jennifer Coolidge) is a monstrous caricature with no redeeming features: her scenes drag down the episode. Even the normally-prudish Hank comments “What a bitch!” Still, it ties nicely with the main story and Hank’s participation in the final exam offers a sweet conclusion.

Late in the episode, Bobby and Connie “practice kiss,” setting up their long-running relationship. Their episodes generally rank among my favorites: the characters fit perfectly together. Bobby’s final moved on from mannequins to real people. The final spin-the-bottle gag ends “Plastic White Female” on a weird note. But then, it’s a pretty weird episode.

Grade: A-

Quotes and Notes:

  • No matter how much I watch KOTH or hear/see Pamela Segal (Bobby) in other things, she’s still Spinelli from Recess to me. Childhood nostalgia dies hard.
  • Bill helps Luanne study for her hairstyle exam. They’ll team up again much later in “My Hair Lady.”
  • On a pondering note, maybe Bobby got his charm from that unlikely ladies’ man, Cotton. He sure didn’t get it from Hank.
  • Luanne stresses the importance of hairstyling: “Beauty is an art. It’s not something you can learn in school, like gym or study hall.”
  • Hank encourages Bobby to attend a party with girls. Bobby responds “I don’t like girls!” Poor Hank.
  • It’s a simple gag, but Luanne’s “DON’T TOUCH IT!” is utterly hysterical.
  • Hank blames Peggy for Bobby’s head fetish: “You’re the one who parks him in front of the TV and makes him watch all them Muppets! They got frogs kissing pigs, what the hell did they think was going to happen?”
  • Bobby explains “I just needed to practice my first kiss so I don’t look like an idiot.” Hank’s priceless response: “You’re kissing a plastic head and you’re afraid of looking like an idiot?”
  • Eventually, Peggy comes around: “I realize I am just as much to blame for your condition as the media and the Devil.”

Season One Rankings:

Average Grade: B

Best episode: Order of the Straight Arrow

Runner-up: Plastic White Female

Worst episode: Hank Gets the Willies

Runner-up: King of the Ant Hill

Thanks for reading this far! Stay tuned for Season Two.

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Peggy the Boggle Champ/Keeping Up With Our Joneses

Peggy the Boggle Champ (Season One, Episode Nine)

Original air date: April 13, 1997
Writers: Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger
Director: Chuck Sheetz

Boggle Playing Chicken

I’ve been dreaming of this moment since I was ages eight and up!

Like much of Season One, “Peggy the Boggle Champ” has a straightforward plot, straightforward jokes and straightforward characterization. It’s entertaining but missing what makes the best KOTH episodes.

Peggy shows an aptitude for Boggle and wins the Arlen Elks’ tournament. Soon she’s traveling to the National Boggle Championship in Dallas. Hank’s initially dubious until he learns a mower expo is in Dallas the same day. Peggy runs into stiff competition, especially defending champion Cissy Cobb (a wonderfully abrasive Laurie Metcalf). While Peggy battles her opponents, Hank’s attending the mower show with Dale, Bill and Boomhauer – and feeling horribly guilty.

Writers Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger wrote some of KOTH’s most formulaic episodes (“Westie Side Stories,” “The Arrowhead”) so it’s unsurprising “Peggy the Boggle Champ” follows familiar beats. Like all sitcom husbands, Hank must swallow his masculine selfishness and support his wife, even if it means wearing a pink shirt and becoming “Mr. Peggy Hill.” KOTH regularly returned to this conflict (“Peggy’s Turtle Song”) and, it must be said, much better.

Peggy starts showing her less appealing traits, namely overconfidence and inflated self-image. Being Arlen’s Boggle champ only makes her (in Peggy’s own words) “the smartest hillbilly in hillbilly town.” But she’s still an underdog against Cissy Cobb, thoroughly unlikable for her arrogance and obnoxious chortle. The premise gets a few laughs, especially when Peggy squares off against “Boggle-playing chicken,” while Maurice LaMarche voices a ludicrously excited announcer: “Everything comes down to this last… PENCIL!

“Peggy the Boggle Champ” draws its biggest laughs from the mower expo, whether it’s Dale flashing Liberace’s mower or Boomhauer’s unpleasant experience with a virtual mower. Bobby and Luanne fret about a coffee stain in a silly subplot, which has a great payoff gag. It’s funny enough but very predictable.

Grade: B

Quotes and Notes

  • Voice actor alert: As mentioned, Maurice LaMarche of Pinky and the Brain, Hey Arnold! and Futurama appears. He’d appear in a few later episodes, notably “The Arrowhead.”
  • Chuck Mangione narrates Luanne’s fire safety video and the hotel safety instructions. Can you dig it?
  • Minh’s a gracious loser: “Thank you for Boggle lesson, Peggy Hill. Maybe next weekend I teach you mahjong. Bring your checkbook!
  • The mower commercial is pretty hilarious: “SUNDAY! SUNDAY! SUNDAY!… and Saturday.”
  • Hank does not like Dallas: “That place is crawling with crackheads and debutantes. And half of them play for the Cowboys!” Later, he urges Peggy to hurry: “We’ve got to get to Dallas before the gangs wake up!”
  • This episode features Hank’s classic “motivational speech” to Peggy: “You’re a loser! Baby want a bottle? A big dirt bottle?” Peggy doesn’t take it well: “Why are you yelling at me!?”
  • Points for the Risky Business non-spoof, too. A tired gag beaten into the ground years before KOTH came along.
  • Peggy bests Cissy: “It was not my pleasure to make your acquaintanceship.”

Keeping Up With Our Joneses (Season One, Episode Ten)

Original air date: April 27th, 1997
Writers: Jonathan Collier and Joe Stillman
Director: John Rice

Keeping Up With Our Joneses

Do I have to take you out back with another carton of cigarettes?

“Keeping Up With Our Joneses” also has a straightforward story with a predictable ending. Yet it’s better than “Peggy the Boggle Champ” because writers Jonathan Collier and Joe Stillman handle it more creatively. Besides its quotability, “Joneses” makes clever use of character dynamics to advance its story.

Hank catches Bobby and Joseph smoking. As punishment, he forces Bobby to smoke a carton of cigarettes. This backfires: Bobby gets hooked, and so do Hank and Peggy. They try desperately to kick the habit, with no luck. After Cigarenders and nicotine patches don’t work, Luanne’s forced to take drastic action.

Considering its premise, “Keeping Up With Our Joneses” is surprisingly smart, examining how the protagonists react to drug addiction. For Bobby, smoking is an adolescent mistake, a cheap rebellious thrill. But Hank and Peggy associate smoking with their youthful romance, rationalizing it as reinvigorating their relationship. “Joneses” half-jokingly tags on a PSA warning against cigarettes, yet acknowledges that habits are driven by more than nicotine.

“Joneses” is a great episode for one-liners and character moments. Needless to say, the Hills’ assorted withdraws get laughs: “God, are you still talking?” Hank snaps at Luanne, while Bobby rubs out a sausage link like a butt. Dale enthuses over Hank (“Welcome back, friend!”) andencourages Joseph to “keep an open mind” towards smoking. Boomhauer scorns Hank’s habit; Bill attends a support group for company and shuns Hank and Peggy.

Surprisingly, Luanne gets her best episode to date, affectionate yet keeping a sane perspective on events. Throughout, she tries helping the Hills kick the habit, then locks them in a room to go cold turkey. She’s unwilling to watch her adoptive family follow her parents into dissolution, fighting over cigarettes like animals. Luanne’s willpower saves the day: after a season’s worth of ridicule and endless weeping, she finally emerges as a full-fledged character.

Grade: B+

Quotes and Notes:

  • Voice actor alert: Billy West of Doug, Ren and Stimpy and Futurama as the Cigarenders leader.
  • Enrique’s first appearance. Voiced here by Eloy Casados, he’s much mellower than Danny Trejo’s take on the character.
  • Hank critiques Bobby’s smoking style: “Why are you holding your cigarette like some kind of European Nazi in a movie?”
  • Luanne warns about the dangers of tobacco: “Don’t you know more people die of smoking than die of… war… in Vietnam… every day?”
  • Peggy tries to persuade Luanne she isn’t trailer trash: “Just ’cause you grew up in a trailer and your momma’s in prison…”
  • Hank lashes out at Cigarenders: “You callin’ me weak? Look at your little birdy arms! They’re no thicker than a cigarette! I could smoke them little arms!”
  • Don’t insult Peggy’s cooking: “Do you think the potatoes just fly into the bowl and mash themselves!?”
  • “Shut that damned door! Can’t you see that I’m knitting!?”
  • Bobby begs Peggy for a cigarette: “Mom, nine months inside remember? Those were good times, too!”
  • Naturally, Boomhauer gets the public service announcement at the end.
  • “Why is she still talking!?”

Next time, Dale becomes “King of the Ant Hill” and Bobby gets to first base with his “Plastic White Female.” Hopefully sooner rather than later!

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Westie Side Story/Shins of the Father

It’s been awhile since our last review, for which I apologize. Today we examine two seminal KOTH episodes, each introducing a problematic supporting player voiced by Toby Huss.

Westie Side Story (Season One, Episode Seven)

Original air date: March 2nd, 1997

Writers: Jonathan Aibel & Glenn Berger

Director: Brian Sheesly

Chinese or Japanese, that's a great burger.

Chinese or Japanese, that’s a great burger.

Internet lore claims that KOTH’s original pilot involved Hank meeting a new Laotian neighbor. The creators nixed this idea as too conventional: better for the show’s premiere to establish KOTH’s unique universe. Yet here’s “Westie Side Story,” a middling episode that introduces KOTH’s best utility player, Kahn Souphanousinphone.

The Souphanousinphones move onto Rainey Street: hardwired father Kahn, materialistic wife Minh, nerdy daughter Connie. Hank and Peggy try being hospitable, but their first meetings result in faux pas and mutual resentment. Hank and Kahn make up at a barbeque… until Hank’s dog Ladybird goes missing. Naturally, Dale puts two and six together: Kahn’s Asian, they just ate meat… what do you think happened?

Jonathan Abel and Glenn Berger advance a typical new neighbors plot with a few twists. Hank and Kahn’s bickering then bonding story is very familiar, and the third act twist seems a cheap way to revive a flagging plot. Rather than befriending each other, Peggy and Minh fight worse than their husbands. Minh’s unimpressed by Peggy’s cooking: “Add nutmeg!” she insists. Connie befriends Bobby but makes little impression.

“Westie Side Story” makes heavy play on stereotypes. This episode has the classic “Chinese or Japanese?” exchange: Kahn explains he’s from Laos, but Hank, Bill and Dale don’t get it (“What Ocean?”). Kahn and Minh become inscrutable Orientals (“Damn Chinese and their stereotypes!”); Hank and Peggy are rednecks. They fight, argue and misinterpret each other until the ending, where Hank realizes they’re not so different. A lesson he and Kahn would learn and unlearn about 100 times over the next decade.

Kahn became one of KOTH’s most reliable recurring characters, good for snarky putdowns and substantial enough to warrant periodic focus episodes (“De-Kahnstructing Henry,” “Pour Some Sugar on Kahn”). Inevitably, many blast Kahn as a racist stereotype, which misses the point. He inverts the cliched Hollywood Asian: lazy, arrogant, greedy and outspokenly racist. (Ted Wassanasong offers a more straightforward deconstruction.) He’s a horrible person whom the show extends sympathy and human contours.

After 13 seasons and endless Adult Swim reruns, it’s hard not to treat Season One episodes as museum pieces. “Westie Side Story” introduces three great characters and has some classic quotes. But is it a great episode? Not really.

Grade: B-

Quotes and Notes:

  • Peggy is really horrible in this one. At one point she tells Hank: “These people are by nature shy and reserved. I read somewhere that the Chinese language has seventy words for “rice,” but no word for “friend.”” No wonder Minh hates her.
  • Luanne’s a little more tolerant: “At the beauty academy, they teach us that people aren’t black, or white, or yellow, or red, but their hair can be.”
  • Kahn grudgingly accepts Hank’s gift of propane: “You honor me by giving me gas.”
  • Hank helpfully explains the episode’s moral: “We might deny our children completely different desserts, but they both go to bed hungry.”
  • “Just call me Kahn. I don’t have all damned day!”

Shins of the Father (Season One, Episode Eight)

Original air date: March 23rd, 1997

Writers: Alan R. Cohen & Alan Freedland

Director: Martin Archer Jr.

Shins of the Father

Come and get your Tootsie rolls!

I’ve always felt towards Cotton Hill what many KOTH fans feel towards Peggy. Cotton’s impressive as a monstrously non-PC construct; as a character, he’s often more obnoxious than funny. That said, the writers used Cotton well, employing him in small doses and softening him up just enough to avoid being monstrous. After several cameos, “Shins of the Father” gives Cotton his first starring role.

Hank’s dad Cotton arrives for Bobby’s birthday party. Hank worships Cotton, a World War II vet who lost his shins in combat, but Peggy hates Cotton’s rampant sexism and short temper. Cotton fakes a car problem to stay with the Hills’, bringing tempers to boiling point. When Cotton’s attitudes rub off on Bobby, Hank’s forced to face his own father.

From his first appearance on horseback, Cotton makes an indelible impression. He’s a brutal deconstruction of the “Greatest Generation,” a war hero with a grossly exaggerated war record and an ego to match. (Several seasons later, an entire episode debunks Cotton’s exploits.) Unshamedly sexist and bigoted, he’s the dark side of the “good old days” everyone pines for. Yet Hank, and others, give Cotton an endless pass for his hero status, which Cotton knowingly abuses. How do you tell off somebody who gave his shins for his country?

Cotton’s jokes are funny in the same horrible way as something like Flashman: you laugh but hate yourself for it. Less amusing is his impact on Bobby, who’s soon parroting Cotton’s views at school. The episode reaches crisis point when Bobby slaps Peggy’s behind! Though painted in unpleasant terms here, Cotton and Bobby’s relationship proved one of Cotton’s redeeming qualities. As Peggy once observed, he hates a lot of things but does love his grandson.

KOTH often made Hank seem reasonable by pairing him against a more extreme version of his own views. Hank’s “old-fashioned” worldview often drifts towards chauvinism (“Peggy’s Turtle Song”) but he’s miles better than Cotton, who bleeds contempt for anyone different from himself. Admittedly he can tell that Kahn’s Laotian by sight, but he also asks Kahn for a mai tai. Whether waitresses or attorneys, women are all sex toys to him. By confronting his dad, Hank faces his own failings.

KOTH gives its female characters their best showing so far. We don’t much like or respect Didi, Cotton’s ditzy younger wife. But Peggy understandably bristles at Cotton’s influence on Bobby and his rotten behavior. She explains her personal view of femininity: “I work hard, I sweat hard and I love hard and I gotta smell good and look pretty while doing it.” While not a feminist, she’s a smart, hard-working woman who won’t tolerate Cotton’s crap. Even Luanne gets an unusually assertive moment, reacting violently when Cotton gets fresh.

“Shins of the Father” builds to Hank confronting Cotton. In most shows Cotton would realize the error of his ways and apologize. Instead, Cotton laughs it off: “It’s about time!” Cotton would soften later on, but mostly on his own terms. The episode concludes on a bluntly ambivalent note: at a diner, Hank tells Bobby that women don’t exist to serve men, while scantily-clad waitresses roller blade past. Small steps are better than nothing.

Grade: A-

Quotes and Notes:

  • On a random note, clips from this episode turned up in The X-Files episode “The End.” You know the half-alien Gibson Praise is a genius when he tells Scully that KOTH is a great show.
  • Cotton gives Bobby a loaded shotgun for his birthday: “You don’t give a toy without batteries.”
  • As usual, Dooley gets the episode’s best line. When Bill claims he’s having fun at the party, Dooley pipes up: “Your wife divorced you!”
  • One of Cotton’s more printable tirades: “See, Bobby? Woman works, man loses his sausage!”
  • Or “Thanks a lot, girlie. But the truth is… you’re a girl!”
  • After upsetting Connie, Bobby remarks: “Moody! Must be PBS.” Jim Lehrer annoys me too.
  • Hank makes a pass at defending Cotton: “He’s a flamboyant character, like a peacock. That’s why men love him. But women don’t like his style because you all are like the pea-hen. More subdued and drab.” Peggy’s gape-mouthed reaction is worth ten pages of dialogue.
  • No article on Cotton Hill would be complete without including his classic monologue. To wit:

I was fourteen, just a little older than Bobby. But I knew Uncle Sam needed me, so I lied and signed up. We had beat the Nazzys in Italy, and they shipped me to the Pacific theater. A Tojo torpedo sent our troupe’s ship to the bottom. I could only save three of my buddies, Fatty, Stinky, and Brooklyn. They were kind of like you fellas, only one of them was from Brooklyn. Out of the sun came a Tojo Zero and put fifty bullets in my back. The blood attracted sharks. I had to give ’em Fatty. Then things took a turn for the worse. I made it to an island, but it was full of Tojos! They were spitting on the U.S. flag! So I rushed ’em, but it was a trap. They opened fire and blew my shins off. Last thing I remember, I beat ’em all to death with a big piece of Fatty. I woke up in a field hospital, and they were sewing my feet to my knees.

  • Luanne again shows her car savvy, even though Cotton dismisses her as “a pig trying to read.” She was always better at this than hairstyling.

Next time we’ll celebrate “Peggy the Boggle Champ” and kick the habit with “Keeping Up With Our Joneses.”

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“Luanne’s Saga”/”Hank’s Unmentionable Problem”

Luanne’s Saga (Season One, Episode Five)

Original air date: February 16th, 1997

Writer: Paul Lieberstein

Director: Pat Shinagawa

Every time you have a feeling, just stick it into a little pit inside your stomach and never let it out.

Every time you have a feeling, just stick it into a little pit inside your stomach and never let it out.

In KOTH’s first few episodes, we don’t learn much about Luanne Platter. She’s promiscuous, ditzy, the child of a broken home. Trouble is, her first focus episode doesn’t teach us much more. Like most of Season One, “Luanne’s Saga” is about Hank’s reaction to a situation – in this case, Luanne’s break-up.

Luanne is heartbroken when her boyfriend Buckley dumps her. Tired of Luanne’s moping (and eager to get her out of the house), Hank decides to cheer her up. Uncle and niece bond over gossip and cookie dough (“Damn sister, get me my keys!”), until he hooks her up with sleazy football player Wade. Luanne instead spends the night with Boomhauer; nothing happens, but Hank’s paternal instincts are immediately aroused.

It’s little wonder KOTH returned to Hank and Luanne’s relationship so often. Even more than Bobby, Luanne is Hank’s polar opposite. Where Hank is cripplingly reserved, Luanne is a ball of uninhibited emotion. Hank deals with her emotional distress like a task – even comparing her to a carburetor. On paper, solving the problem is easy: Hank finds her a new boyfriend. Too bad Hank’s ideal guy turns out to be a “grabby Gus,” driving her into Boomhauer’s arms.

Writer Paul Lieberstein develops this plot in predictable fashion. After denying he has any responsibility for Luanne, Hank ends up becoming a surrogate father. The ending has a standard sitcom status quo restorer: Buckley comes crawling back to Luanne, Hank lets Luanne move back in, Hank and Boomhauer reconcile. All very pat, but done reasonably well.

“Luanne’s Saga” disappoints for other reasons. Namely, Luanne isn’t humanized enough. Brittany Murphy’s voice acting is game, but she does little more than pout throughout the episode. The centerpiece, where Hank and Co. seek out a new boyfriend, illustrates this problem. It’s a hysterical scene full of great gags and one-liners, but Luanne’s shoved to the side. This episode makes her a prop for Hank’s character development.

“Luanne’s Saga” fleshes out the supporting players. Bill ruins Peggy’s blouse with sweat, and cries hysterically over his ex-wife. Boomhauer evinces a chivalrous streak alongside his rampant womanizing: he lets Luanne sleep on his couch and hastily assures Hank nothing’s going on. This episode also marks the first guest appearance of musician Chuck Mangione, whose presence (and signature tune “Feels So Good”) became a series fixture.

Luanne’s a frustrating character. Her efforts to transcend her trailer trash background made for some great episodes (“Wings of the Dope”), until later seasons jettisoned this character development. “Luanne’s Saga” remains at square one; at episode’s end, she’s still that weepy, air-headed blonde in Hank’s den.

Grade: B-

Quotes and Notes:

  • Seriously, that bar scene alone elevates the episode a whole grade. The best bit is Dale propositioning a fellow in the john: “You seem like a regular guy!”
  • Peggy’s jealous of Hank and Luanne’s relationship: “Where have you been? We were supposed to be crying all night.”
  • This episode features two trippy imagine spots: Hank envisioning Luanne’s grungy boyfriends, and Peggy’s lecture on women, illustrated by feminist rallies and Salome offering Hank’s head on a platter. I guess Mike Judge was still getting Beavis and Butthead out of his system.
  • The family attends Luly’s, a restaurant offering “eight kinds of ketchup and three kinds of catsup.” This is an homage to Luby’s Cafeteria, which serves a value platter called LuAnn.
  • “Mr. Dauterive went through the worst divorce Heimlich County’s ever seen – and you don’t see him crying!” Cue Bill cranking his blinds shut and bawling uncontrollably. See, Family Guy? That’s how you do a cutaway gag.
  • For trivia buffs, Victor Aaron’s second (and last) appearance as John Redcorn.

Hank’s Unmentionable Problem (Season One, Episode Six)

Original air date: February 23rd, 1997

Writers: Greg Daniels & Mike Judge

Director: Adam Kuhlman

 I'd rather die with a burger in my colon than live and eat Faux-Fu.

I’d rather die with a burger in my colon than live and eat Faux-Fu.

Like the Pilot, “Hank’s Unmentionable Problem” is written by Mike Judge and Greg Daniels; aside from a typically weird dream sequence, it’s similarly laid-back and low key. It’s not a laugh-a-second episode, focusing instead on Hank’s reaction to an everyday problem blown out of proportion.

Hank has trouble going to the bathroom. But Hank’s more embarrassed that Peggy blabs about his condition to the neighborhood, so that friends, family, even strangers offer him advice. Upon visiting a doctor, Hank learns the situation’s serious: he may require surgery, even removal of his colon. Trying to avert this, Hank tries an emergency diet and exercises, but can’t stomach his new lifestyle.

This episode gets mileage out of a simple premise. Hank doesn’t like showing emotion to family members, so having his constipation leaked to the public mortifies him. Everyone’s keen to butt in, from doctors to Boomhauer’s latest girlfriend. Early episodes made Arlen out as a typical TV small town, riven with unhelpful gossip, so we buy their fascination with Hank’s intestinal issues. Little could Hank realize that in a later episode, his colon became a modern art masterpiece.

Like any self-respecting Texan, Hank views beef as a cornerstone of manhood. With his pooper plugged, Hank’s forced to try a vegetable-heavy diet, eating lettuce and (gasp!) tofu. A tall order for a man who orders a half-dozen steaks, and considers macaroni-and-cheese a vegetable. Besides embarrassment, the dilemma questions Hank’s identity. His lifestyle puts him in jeopardy, and he’s loathe to change even after imagining his death. In a bizarre twist, he ultimately doesn’t have to.

“Hank’s Unmentionable Problem” is light on laugh-out loud humor. The episode bogs down in leisurely set pieces: Hank’s doctor visit takes up nearly the whole second act, without enough payoff to justify its length. On another level though, it fits perfectly, capturing the nuances (and annoyances) of everyday life. It’s a nice example of the slice of life story that early KOTH did so well.

Grade: B

Quotes and Notes:

  • Voice actor alert: That’s Jim Cummings impersonating C. Everett Koop. One of the all-time great voice actors, Cummings voiced several minor characters in the first few seasons, notably Hank’s aged neighbor Pops.
  • “I’m a meteorologist, not a doctor, but if I had to make an educated guess, I’d say he’s got polio.” Thanks, Nancy.
  • Hank’s defensive about his condition: “Maybe I’m not the one who should be embarrassed. Did you ever think of that? Maybe you’re going a little too much.”
  • Love the doctor claiming that Hank’s intestine would stretch around the world – and Hank shooting him down. Not the last time KOTH poked fun at urban legends.
  • Bobby wants to be a proctologist. He practices by shining flashlights up squirrel anuses. That boy ain’t right.
  • Dream-Dale mourns Hank: “It should have been Bill!” But Dream-Boomhauer gets the best reaction: “Dang ol’ why!?!”
  • And yes, Dream-Cotton flushes Hank down a toilet, twelve seasons before Hank does the same to him. If KOTH weren’t godawful at continuity, this might be ironic.

In our next installment, Hank gets a new neighbor in “Westie Side Story” and stands up to his dad in “Shins of the Father.” Thanks for reading!

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“The Order of the Straight Arrow”/”Hank Gets the Willies”

The Order of the Straight Arrow (Season One, Episode Three)

Original air date: February 2nd, 1997

Writer: Cheryl Holliday

Director: Klay Hall

Testing your spirit of shutting up

Testing your spirit of shutting up

Even more than the Pilot, “The Order of the Straight Arrow” focuses on Hank and Bobby’s relationship. KOTH hits its stride here, with a more streamlined blend of humor and characterization.

Hank and the gang head the Order of the Straight Arrow, a Boy Scout-like organization. Bobby, Joseph and two other boys join them on a “snipe hunt” in John Wayne National Park, where Hank inundates them with Indian lore stolen from John Redcorn (“Wematanye!”). Bobby takes Hank’s hooey seriously and bags a “snipe” – really a whooping crane. Since the animal’s endangered, Hank tries to hide the body, leading to trouble with park rangers and environmental protestors.

“The Order of the Straight Arrow” approaches its father-son conflict with finesse. This time, Hank doesn’t worry about Bobby being effeminate or weird; he’s just awkward and overly eager to please. Hank views turning against one’s father important to coming of age – understandable from Cotton Hill’s son. Becoming a man requires self-sufficiency, both in living outdoors and spurning parental guidance.

While Bobby struggles adapting to the outdoors, he’s crestfallen at his dad’s dishonesty. It’s an interesting twist: where Bobby usually falls short of Hank’s expectations, this time Bobby’s disappointed. Early seasons played with this dynamic: Hank’s advice would be flawed or outright wrong (“Life in the Fast Lane”), Bobby would teach Hank a lesson (“It’s Not Easy Being Green”), or more frequently they’d find a way to blend interests (“Meet the Propaniacs”). Later seasons would settle into a good Hank-dumb Bobby rut.

“Order of the Straight Arrow” provides much more assured humor than its predecessors. Writer Cheryl Holliday (who also voices Randy) ridicules environmentalists, who gloat over lost logging jobs and stomp a bird’s nest while pursuing “nature haters.” Bobby’s naive credulity inspires obvious laughs; Boomhauer admits guilt to a park ranger who can’t understand him. And John Redcorn gets his first extended scene, enduring ridicule from Hank and Co. while explaining Indian lore.

This episode features a discursive subplot, with Peggy driving to Lubbock to buy size 16 shoes. She’s so ashamed that she withdraws cash, checks into a hotel and uses an assumed name. This story doesn’t add much to the episode, though it establishes her over-sized feet – a recurring trait that provides a chink in her self-image.

“Arrow’s” only flaw is its over-convenient ending, which at least earns a laugh when Bobby proclaims himself a shaman. It’s still dramatically solid and consistently funny, marking KOTH’s first classic episode.

Grade: A-

Notes and Quotes:

  • Victor Aaron makes the first of two appearances as John Redcorn. Tragically, Aaron soon died in a car accident; he was replaced by Jonathan Joss. This episode’s dedicated to Aaron’s memory.
  • Eustis and Randy recurred throughout the series. When Cheryl Holliday left the writing staff they disappeared.
  • Is that blond kid supposed to be Boomhauer’s son? He sure looks like him.
  • Bill’s character-defining line: “I’m so depressed I can’t even blink!”
  • “Peggy Hill knows half a swear word when she hears one!” Joseph’s impressed: “She smells like Miracle Whip!”
  • Dale’s aghast at the protestors: “What kind of lefty hootenanny is this?”
  • Randy defends his father: “My dad is a successful patent lawyer.” Hank: “Not in the eyes of Wematanye he isn’t!’
  • Hank recites the Straight Arrow’s immortal creed: “Though we walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, you’re gonna commend us to the Spirit in the Sky.”
  • “Wematanye, I see Texas!”

Hank Gets the Willies (Season One, Episode Four)

Original air date: February 9th, 1997

Writer: Johnny Hardwick

Director: Monte Young

Willie Nelson KOTHBy series’ end, KOTH rivaled The Simpsons in its impressive roster of guest stars. Landing country legend Willie Nelson for its fourth episode though was a major coup. Unfortunately, “Hank Gets the Willies” has little else to commend it.

Hank’s distressed by Bobby, who now venerates the prop comic “Celery Head.” During a golf game, Bobby beans Willie Nelson with Hank’s club. After damaging Hank’s guitar Betsy, Bobby takes the instrument for Nelson to autograph. And Hank learns that Bobby has a hero after all.

Moment by moment, “Hank Gets the Willies” is pretty funny. A cutaway gag with Howard Adderly, a nerdy shut-in, is as funny as anything KOTH ever did. Dennis Hopper flirts with Peggy, who’s unimpressed: “Hank would flatten you.” Nonspeaking appearances by Lyle Lovett (“Outta my way, Rooster Boy!”) and Governor Ann Richards earn laughs, as does Bob Dylan bantering with Boomhauer. Johnny Hardwick’s script is snappy, but many jokes seem overly set-up with telegraphed punchlines.

The big problem is that “Willies” constructs a plot around its guest star, always tricky. Nelson has fun with his dialogue but he’s just a nice guy – no depth, little self-effacement, just a swell helping Hank resolve his issues. He doesn’t even get a song! The character plots – Hank convincing Bobby to find a hero, Peggy’s jealousy over Hank’s guitar – are too thin to stand alone; Nelson just adds dubious spice to a weak story.

One thing The Simpsons ran into the ground were guest stars. It was fun hearing Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor in semi-anonymous roles, but when Mark McGuire or Tom Hanks popped in just to say hi, it smacked of showboating (look what stars WE can get!). KOTH rarely did that, and its examples (say, ZZ Top in “Hank Gets Dusted”) generally aren’t better. Despite its star power, “Willie Gets the Willies” isn’t very memorable.

Howard AdderlyGrade: C

Notes and Quotes:

  • Governor Richards guest starred in a later episode, “Hank and the Great Glass Elevator.”
  • Hank gets a phone call from Bobby, then asks if he’s “crushing Dwight Yoakam’s voice box with my five iron?”
  • Hank denies Willie Nelson is alternative: “I’ve followed that man from Country and Western to Country to Adult Contemporary, and that’s as far as I’m going.”
  • Peggy isn’t jealous of Betsy: “I’d like to see that guitar come home and chicken fry a steak after substitute teaching all day.”
  • Willie’s best line: “You’ve been raking my lawn with a golf club? I want my quarter back.”

Next we’ll observe “Luanne’s Saga” and examine “Hank’s Unmentionable Problem.”

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“Pilot” and “Square Peg”

Pilot (Season One, Episode One)

Original air date: January 12th, 1997

Writers: Mike Judge & Greg Daniels

Director: Wes Archer

Yup. Yup. Yup. Mmh-hmm.

Yup. Yup. Yup. Mmh-hmm.

King of the Hill premiered at 8:30 pm on January 12th, 1997. Sandwiched between The Simpsons and The X-Files on Fox ensured it an audience, yet shows previously occupying that slot had flopped. Fox breathed a sigh of relief when King of the Hill (hereafter KOTH) proved a hit – little anticipating the rocky history between network and show.

KOTH merged two very different talents. The show’s main creator is Mike Judge, then best-known for Beavis and Butthead, which mixed scathing cultural satire with anarchic vulgarity. Co-creator Greg Daniels had written some excellent episodes of The Simpsons (“Homer and Apu,” “Lisa’s Wedding”) and later created The Office. KOTH blends their strengths into a unique show.

Like Judge’s previous work, KOTH parodies the mundane annoyances of modern life. Where Beavis and Butthead satirizes slacker culture, KOTH contrasts Arlen, Texas’s small-town values with pervasive bureaucracy. Judge created a proto-Hank for Beavis, the neighbor Tom Anderson. Where Tom was the butt of Judge’s jokes, Hank’s the commonsense hero opposing the stupidity of overbearing functionaries and Christian fundamentalists alike. Judge’s work evinces a libertarian slant, but savages liberal and conservative idiots with equal relish.

Daniels complemented Judge with his skill for characterization. Jamie Weinman explains that Daniels fleshed out Judge’s initial cast: Hank’s niece Luanne and father Cotton were his additions, as was making Dale Gribble a Hunter S. Thompson-like conspiracy nut. KOTH’s large, closely-observed cast (not only the leads but incidental characters) grant it a depth and immersive credibility lacking in most animated shows. Heck, lacking in most sitcoms period.

Slice-of-life animation is pretty rare: from KOTH’s era, Nickelodeon’s Doug tried it, along with Daria (a Beavis and Butthead spinoff) and a respectable subgenre of Japanese anime, but most cartoons don’t bother mimicking real-life. The Simpsons did in its early seasons, but quickly grew detached from reality. Most post-Simpsons animation (South Park, Family Guy) doesn’t even try. KOTH occasionally got wacky or surreal, especially in later seasons, but remained the most grounded cartoon on American TV.

Anthony Page: The Ur-Twig Boy.

Anthony Page: The Ur-Twig Boy.

The Pilot starts with Hank, Bill, Dale and Boomhauer drinking and discussing Hank’s truck. This introduction goes on for several minutes at a slow, almost static pace, less concerned with rapid-fire jokes than banal dialogue. It’s not the most dynamic scene, yet establishes KOTH’s world pretty well: we’re in a semi-realistic small town with mundane concerns.

In the story, Hank squares off against an obnoxious social worker, Anthony Page, who thinks Hank has abused his son Bobby. Page is an LA-born wimp with a wrist brace who mixes worrywart tendencies with condescension (calling Arlen “Redneck City”). Hence the ultimate Southern hate figure: a meddling outsider, physically weak and undeservedly arrogant. Anthony returned at least once (Season Two’s “Junkie Business”) and presages hundreds of twig-boys, bureaucrats and eccentrics who’d torment Hank Hill over the next 13 years.

But the Pilot’s meatier strands involve Hank and Bobby’s relationship. Hank’s defining traits here are anger and uprightness. Certainly we sympathize with his frustration against the bureaucrat’s misguided meddling. Yet watching his rant, we can understand why Anthony might assume the worst. Earlier in the episode Hank berates a Megalomart employee in public, leading gossipy neighbors to think he hurt Bobby. Here at least, Judge’s affection for Hank doesn’t blind him to his shortcomings.

Meanwhile, Bobby’s a weird kid who worries Hank. He’s terrible at baseball (where he’s really injured) and interested in pursuing comedy. Bobby uses events to manipulate Hank, even lying when Anthony’s boss calls off the investigation. Their relationship became KOTH’s bedrock, its most dependable story generator. Unlike most shows, Hank doesn’t “learn” to love his son: however awkward, his affection for Bobby is unconditional. But he must adjust to Bobby’s quirks and eccentricities – and steer him right where necessary.

Other scenes introduce supporting characters. Peggy establishes her teaching job and imperfect Spanish. Dale rants about global warming (“We’ll grow oranges in Alaska!”) before Hank shoots him down; Boomhauer displays motormouth incomprehensibility. Luanne succinctly describes her background (ditzy blonde from a trailer trash family). Nancy Gribble and John Redcorn have a great visual gag establishing their affair (and son Joseph’s parentage). And Cotton Hill gets a five-second flashback establishing him as the Dad from hell. Only Bill Dautrieve remains relatively vague.

Pilot’s definitely a work in progress: the animation is incredibly crude, the tone very low-key, the plotting and humor uneven. And the very sitcom ending, with Hank admitting his affection for Bobby, seems pat. Nonetheless, it provides a nice introduction to KOTH’s world. Wherever Judge and Daniels go from here, they’ve already created something special.

Grade: B-

Quotes and Notes:

  • Don’t worry, not every review will be this long.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: both the cold open, something KOTH rarely did, and the lack of a stinger quote. As I recall, the latter didn’t start until Season Two.
  • Voice actor alert: David Herman is Anthony. He became one of KOTH’s utility voice actors, and later costarred in Judge’s Office Space. He’s currently Principal Frond on Bob’s Burgers. Veteran character actor Gailard Sartain (Mississippi Burning, Elizabethtown) voices Anthony’s boss.
  • Judge establishes Hank’s propane fetish and narrow urethra in two throwaway lines – the show’s longest-running gags. Talk about efficient characterization.
  • Cotton doesn’t care about your bad day: “I got my shins blowed off by a Japan-Man’s machine gun, so don’t come cryin’ to me with your problems!”
  • Hank struggles to control his anger: “Please respect my fence’s right to be a fence!”
  • Hank mopes over Bobby’s mischief until Peggy reveals his lying. Hank’s snap response: “I’LL KILL HIM!”
  • “Remember Dad – loud is not allowed!”

Square Peg (Season One, Episode Two)

Original air date: January 19th, 1997

Writer: Joe Stillman

Director: Gary MacGarver

Happiness... Hap-penis...

Happiness… Hap-penis…

Peggy Hill is KOTH’s most divisive character. By Season One’s end her self-assurance, weird hobbies and unshakable determination became her defining traits. But the writers ratcheted these tics up to absurd levels. By Season Four she’s an egomaniac whose modest achievements (teaching, skill at Boggle) swell her pride to monstrous proportions. Funny as Peggy is, many fans despise her.

“Square Peg” spotlights Peggy for the first time. Here she’s asked to teach a sex ed class, a subject she’s decidedly uncomfortable with. Local cranks (well, Dale) threaten her, while neighbors scoff and smear her. Hank isn’t thrilled either, to the point where he won’t let Bobby attend her class. But Peggy bones up on the topic anyway, putting her self-worth ahead of Arlen’s prudishness.

For longtime viewers of KOTH, “Square Peg” is jarring. Peggy’s surprisingly demure, even shy: the episode centers on Peggy overcoming her inhibitions, a problem she rarely had afterwards. Kathy Najimy’s voice acting increases Peggy’s likeability, meek yet forceful, without the abrasive tone of later seasons. “Square Peg” highlights her positive traits (her determination and pride in teaching) in a way few other episodes do: Peggy’s perseverance is admirable rather than absurd.

But sexual dysfunction runs in the Hill family. Cotton taught Hank about sex by watching copulating cattle. (Given future episodes, this seems one of Cotton’s better ideas!) Hank tries replicating the experience, but artificial insemination ruins the lesson. Peggy’s mother gave her a book, The Loveliness of Women, adorned with pictures of flowers. Between Peggy’s inhibition and Hank’s narrow urethra, they’re the last people to lecture Bobby about sex.

“Square Peg” extends these neuroses to Arlen, here a gossipy small town. Where the Pilot shows Arlenites spreading rumors about Hank, Peggy’s neighbors actively try to stop her class. Dirty-minded boys heckle Bobby at a baseball game; Peggy’s friends desert her. Dale threatens Peggy over the phone; fortunately, he’s too idiotic to be dangerous. There’s less moral objection than squeamishness: why are you teaching my kids that?

“Square Peg” retains the Pilot’s slow pace, but the humor’s more pronounced. The best scene has Peggy struggling to pronounce sexual organs, shocking Hank (“The whole neighborhood can hear you cussing!”). To vent his frustrations, Hank saws away at a tree. “I think Sigmund Freud might have a thing or two to say,” Bill opines about the result. Boomhauer unhelpfully lectures about condoms. For support Peggy leans on Luanne, who lacks her aunt’s inhibitions.

Like many early episodes, “Square Peg” reaches a compromise conclusion. Peggy finds the courage to teach class; Hank appreciates his wife’s bravery; Bobby learns about sex. But the episode cheats, with Peggy’s entire class walking out – except Bobby. It’s an odd, not entirely satisfying end to a mostly solid episode.

Grade: B

Quotes and Notes:

  • Trivia note: Stephen Root goes uncredited as Bill Dauterieve for the first season. He was starring on NewsRadio and contractually couldn’t be credited on another network’s show.
  • Peggy never kissed a boy until she was 20? Guess they hadn’t decided on Hank and Peggy as high school sweethearts yet.
  • This episode introduces Dooley, Bobby’s classmate with a gift for snarky one-liners. Here he discusses Peggy’s class with Bobby: “We’ll get to see her boobs!”
  • Peggy asks Luanne for advice: “Honey, tell me, what is it like to live without shame of any kind?”
  • Bobby confides in Peggy: “I’m a little worried about being a slut.”
  • Bill’s better-versed: “I didn’t take sex ed in school. The Army taught me everything I needed to know, and in four different languages, too.”
  • Hank defends the double standard: “Don’t knock it, we got the long end of the stick on that one.”

Next, we’ll join “The Order of the Straight Arrow” and meet a rock legend in “Hank Gets the Willies.” Please like, share or comment if you enjoyed!

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