“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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One Response to “Luanne’s Saga”/”Hank’s Unmentionable Problem”

  1. Tara says:

    Hello,
    Could you please tell me which episode features Hank trying to get help at a huge store similar to Home Depot? Thank you!

    Like

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