The Sixth Day of Crossmas: The Return of the King
In this seasonal series, the good people of Crossfader detail what they want pop culture to get them for Crossmas this year. This time around, it’s…
The Return of the King
London’s 56A Infoshop is pretty much an Anarcho-punk paradise. Tucked away in South London’s Walworth district, the volunteer-run shop serves as a locally grown food co-op, bike repair space, and library. Shelves are stacked with pages upon pages of political literature warning of the rise in conservatism throughout the West. Reports on the issues that brought Ken Loach’s I, DANIEL BLAKE to the forefront and predicted Brexit, along with Trump, could all be found in that one little shop. But in my brief time there, something in particular at the shop served not only as a reminder of home for me, but may be a possible key to bridging the ever increasing gap between sociopolitical demographics. Nestled alongside a police shield from the Brixton riots and a squatter space bulletin board was a DVD copy of KING OF THE HILL Season Two.
Now, bear with me. KING OF THE HILL was much more than poking fun at, as Kahn Souphanousinphone would say, “stupid redneck hillbilly” culture. For those unaware, KOTH follows propane salesman and every man Hank Hill, his Boggle-loving wife Peggy, their…eccentric son Bobby, and their various friends, neighbors, and relatives in the fictional Texas town of Arlen. Creator Mike Judge, rather than shamelessly lampooning easy targets, wanted the show to reflect his childhood growing up in Garland, Texas. The show’s humor, a far cry from the various other adult animated comedy shows then or now, centralized around a sort of relatable ignorance attributed to its diverse cast. Jokes were more true to life than SEINFELD and more subtle than even ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT. The animation medium, if anything, provided a way to keep viewers from free association with any real world persons (save for a select few historical figures) that could easily be perceived as demeaning parody. Just take a gander at the strict rules animators adhered to in order to make Arlen more believable. Even if 56A only held the DVD to rag on Americans, the show provided perspective to the nation in a way that no other form of art has or since. What better way to humanize Middle America than to demonstrate that the irony present in our country purveys the middle part of it too? Bringing back KING OF THE HILL would prove to be infinitely valuable to the American TV-going public on both a substantive and qualitative level (not just memes).
Grass! HA! GET IT?!
As a more authentic portrayal of the American dream, nearly every character in the show has their heart in the right place (save for Cotton and Caleb) but fall victim to hubris, bad luck, or things simply out of their control. Hank veers heavily away from the classic deadbeat dad doing whacky things formula, and isn’t just a bag of catch phrases or propane fetishist. He’s an upstanding, God-fearing citizen who values hard work above all else, much like a good portion of the actual Middle American population. Though he plays the straight man for most of the show, fixing everyone else’s problems, he is not without his own faults. Even those who may be ostensibly glanced upon as stereotypes are revealed to have relatable lives. Kahn’s daughter Connie, known to her demanding father as Kahn Jr., gives a small but important glimpse into the experiences of Asian women. Native American masseur John Redcorn is jealous of the family life enjoyed by the very man whose wife he’s sleeping with, and finds music his best release. The list goes on. Every facet of American culture is explored — not to merely milk for comedy, but attain verisimilitude that few shows do, and thus have audiences laughing not only at the antics onscreen but the human condition as well. It’s really simple stuff that too many shows miss. KOTH was the benchmark because it did it the best.
Still don’t believe me? Take a look at some episodes, for example. In the episode “Death and Texas,” Peggy receives a letter from one of her former students back in her early substitute teaching days. The only thing is that he’s now on death row. Feeling sorry for him, Peggy agrees to favor after favor until she unknowingly becomes his drug mule. Hilarity ensues as Hank discovers what Peggy is oblivious of, but this type of behavior is a real world phenomenon. And to put it more into perspective, a close relative of mine has done this exact thing. Going into detail would put the innocent at risk, but to know that a family can get over a situation like this and even have the story be spun into comedy made everything better. Much later in the series, when the show really got its footing, the episode “Mutual of Omabwah” had a similar effect. As one can gather from the title, Hank teaches Bobby about insurance, and Bobby promptly attempts to commit fraud like many before him by purposely breaking his bike. Later the family realizes that their insurance plan is bunk after forgetting to mail the last payment and they decide to refrain from doing absolutely anything that could possibly endanger them, including having Peggy and cousin Luanne return home from a road trip. At first it sounds daft, but there are plenty of individuals, not just humble Texans, who subscribe to this very philosophy when dealing with insurance. And with politics revolving around the corruption of such systems, one would think a less dramatic approach than what was found in HELL OR HIGH WATER could send a more resonating message.
This is the latest image from KOTH to be meme’d. At a crucial point too with North Carolina’s legislators failing to repeal the problematic House Bill 2
But if KOTH was anything, it was not preachy. The most explicitly political it got was when George W. Bush gave Hank the fish, and even then he still voted for him. When the show handled controversial topics it never answered big questions by pushing a cut and dried agenda like AMERICAN DAD. By recognizing the hilarity in everything, the show saw where it all could come together. Give me any other show that managed to turn the self-defense of women into a laugh riot whilst still maintaining its importance and feminine integrity. Hell, shen Peggy was mistaken for a drag queen, she slowly but surely embraced them way before it was cool in “The Peggy Horror Picture Show.” To bring this compassionate yet unabashedly honest take on comedy to today’s lineup would, I think, change things for the better. It may be a little much, but don’t we all wonder whether the Hills would become a Trump household or not?
When attempting to rekindle that same sort of flame, Mike Judge failed horribly. THE GOODE FAMILY was pretty much intended as a direct reversal of KOTH, with the premise revolving around an insufferable, white-guilt ridden family specializing in health food and environmental concerns. It’s absolutely unwatchable. One would imagine that reaching KOTH’s subtlety on the opposite spectrum would risk rubbing insecure liberals the wrong way, so making the Goodes extreme probably seemed like the “healthier” choice. The more deserving successor, if one may call it that, is BOB’S BURGERS, as it cobbles together much of the same crew (along with those who worked on Brendon Small’s HOME MOVIES, another great cartoon!) Though it has a very strong cast of funny and relatable characters, too often does BOB’S BURGERS rely on its sheer absurdity and quirkiness. Don’t get me wrong, I love the show, but there are only so many musical numbers and food puns I can take. Whereas with KOTH I can easily watch nonstop every single day.
When there’s no sand in your pocket
Here’s the real kicker, though. Want to know why it was cancelled? The fucking CLEVELAND SHOW. Yup. A single, tiny tentacle of the Seth Macfarlane monstrosity was able to take down KING OF THE HILL. Knowing the show had a good run, and perhaps that THE CLEVELAND SHOW wouldn’t, Judge took it like a champ and even agreed to a cameo. But with that incoming series having crashed and burned, there’s no better time than now to reintroduce the Hill family given the state of the world. Some may not be able to return (miss you Brittany <3), but with the bulk of the talent and crew still working in comedy today, it seems like a very worthwhile effort.