Review: King Of The Hill : Pop Culture Happy Hour If you're looking for the next show to binge, we've got a great suggestion for you. The animated sitcom King Of The Hill ran on FOX from 1997 to 2010, and all 13 seasons are now streaming on Hulu. The show, created by Mike Judge and Greg Daniels pokes gentle fun at its characters without mocking them.
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'King Of The Hill' Endures, I Tell You Whut

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'King Of The Hill' Endures, I Tell You Whut

'King Of The Hill' Endures, I Tell You Whut

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(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GLEN WELDON, HOST:

If you're looking for the next show to binge, we've got a great suggestion for you. The animated sitcom "King Of The Hill," created by Mike Judge and Greg Daniels, ran on FOX from 1997 to 2010, and all 13 seasons are now streaming on Hulu; I tell you what.

STEPHEN THOMPSON, HOST:

The show is set in the fictional suburb of Arlen, Texas, and focuses on the Hill family - Hank, a propane salesman, his wife Peggy, a substitute teacher, and their son Bobby, who is one hilariously weird kid. I'm Stephen Thompson.

WELDON: And I'm Glen Weldon. "King Of The Hill" pokes gentle fun at its characters and their world without ever coming out and mocking them. How it threads that needle is something we're talking about, along with answering your questions on today's episode of POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. Also with us is Soraya Nadia McDonald, culture critic for The Undefeated. Welcome back, Soraya.

SORAYA NADIA MCDONALD: Thank you so much. Good to be here.

WELDON: Let's start by talking about the show in broad strokes. The dad, Hank, is voiced by Mike Judge. He's a deeply conservative, fundamentally decent, loyal family man who loves propane and propane accessories. His wife, Peggy, is voiced by the great Kathy Najimy. She's got a high opinion of herself and her teaching skills. And Bobby is voiced by Pamela Adlon. Bobby is obsessed with comedy and with performance, which makes him a complete mystery to the deeply inhibited and easily embarrassed Hank. Hank's got a group of friends he hangs out with - the mumble-mouthed Boomhauer, voiced by Judge...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "KING OF THE HILL")

MIKE JUDGE: (As Jeff Boomhauer) Hey, man. Yo, don't. Put that dang ol' thing out, man. Y'all goin' and lightin' up like that, man. You goin' reach out like a dang ol' junkie, man. You'll go messin' up my head with that dang ol' secondary nicotine like that, man.

WELDON: ...The right-wing conspiracy theorist Dale, voiced by Johnny Hardwick...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "KING OF THE HILL")

JOHNNY HARDWICK: (As Dale Gribble) This sex ed stuff goes higher than the schools. It's that same old clubberone zero-population bulldink that the U.N.'s been trying for years.

WELDON: ...And of course, the sad and hilarious - but really mostly sad - Bill, voiced by the spectacular Stephen Root at his Rootiest (ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "KING OF THE HILL")

STEPHEN ROOT: (As Bill Dauterive) That was a breakup. At least that's what it was the last time I ran into the house crying.

WELDON: There's a lot to get to, but we can't start this conversation without a special mention of Peggy's niece, Luanne, who lives with the Hills.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "KING OF THE HILL")

BRITTANY MURPHY: (As Luanne Platter) Beauty is an art. It's not something you can learn in school, like gym or study hall.

WELDON: She's voiced by the late great Brittany Murphy. And every time that character opens her mouth, you just get a pang of what we've lost. Stephen, let me start with you. What do you like about "King Of The Hill"?

THOMPSON: Well, I like just about everything about "King Of The Hill." It has been a wonderful show to binge in pandemic times because it is eternal. There are - there is episode after episode after episode. And over the course of those 13 seasons, while some of the characters and situations evolve a little bit, the quality really stays just about the same throughout. I think, Glen, you and I have discussed off-mic that it gets a little repetitive over the course of 13 seasons, but there's a certain comfort to that that feels consistent with the show's overall tone.

I'm so impressed with how this show has done a lot of elaborate worldbuilding for a very, very, very small world. It is - it's world building that is very, very character-based. And so as I'm - as I was taking notes on the show and kind of compiling my thoughts on the show, I just kept writing, here's what I love about this character, here's what I love about this character, here's what I love about this character. And there are just a million nuances to, like, two dozen different characters, almost all of whom I like.

WELDON: Yeah, that's the thing. These are very specific, idiosyncratic characters. And if you come at this thinking this is the Mike Judge of "Idiocracy," you'd assume he's just going to take pot shots at conservative yokels. There's a thread of that, but ultimately, the focus is much narrower, as you point out. Hank Hill isn't funny because he's conservative. He's funny because he's so inhibited, and he's inherited notions of masculinity from his toxic sludge of a father. And the thing that happens is that he gets better. Peggy isn't funny because she's moralistic. She's funny because she's self-satisfied. And Bobby's just funny.

MCDONALD: (Laughter) Amen to all of that. What keeps you coming back to this show or just letting it play through for, you know, sometimes hours at a time is just how smart it is in the way that it looks at all of these characters. No one is sort of demonized. You know, I think the thing that I find most appealing is just the way that the relationship sort of evolves between Bobby and Hank in particular because, you know, Bobby's just sort of childlike openness and innocence to just about anything challenges those inhibitions that Hank holds so dear and takes him to some unexpected places.

WELDON: Yeah. I'm going to call out the performance of Pamela Adlon as Bobby here because in Season 2, Episode 11 - that's called "The Unbearable Blindness Of Laying" - when Hank walks in on his mother and her new boyfriend - voiced by the great Carl Reiner - having sex and he goes temporarily blind. But the thing that's been happening up to that moment, Carl Reiner's character has been rooming with Bobby. And Bobby picks up on the fact that he's got these Jackie Mason speech patterns.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "KING OF THE HILL")

CARL REINER: (As Gary Kasner) You I like.

PAMELA ADLON: (As Bobby Hill) You said, you I like, instead of, I like you. That's funny. I like that. Wait. That I like.

WELDON: Bobby picks up on that because Bobby is fascinated by comedy. And if he were exposed to those Borscht Belt rhythms, they would call out to his blood.

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

WELDON: It's such a smart take. And then, later on in the episode, Hank reveals that he's gone temporarily blind. And there's a beat.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "KING OF THE HILL")

JUDGE: (As Hank Hill) I've gone blind.

KATHY NAJIMY: (As Peggy Hill) Oh, good Lord.

ADLON: (As Bobby Hill) Blind he's gone now.

WELDON: Oh.

(LAUGHTER)

WELDON: It's so good. And it's not that the series is often laugh-out-loud funny. Do you agree? It's often just incredibly - like, you have a smile on your face from the jump.

THOMPSON: Yeah. I think the volume of the show is really interesting. It does often keep a fairly even keel volume wise, but then it allows certain characters - usually side characters - to inject jolts of energy. Often that comes from Cotton Hill, Hank Hill's terrible, terrible father, where everything is yelled or, like, Hank's boss, Hank (ph) Strickland, who is basically LBJ. I like the fact that all the characters are just pitched at different volumes in ways that they're able to calibrate very carefully.

MCDONALD: And they have - you know, there are so many elements about them that are almost sort of unintentionally funny, but the show is not cruel. You know, one of the sort of running gags is the fact that Peggy has these enormous feet. As a fellow enormous-footed woman, I just find it, you know, utterly hilarious the lengths that she has to go through to find shoes for herself.

But yeah, everyone has their little idiosyncrasies. And some of them, you know, run deeper than that. I mean, Bill Dauterive is just an extremely pained character. You know, he's been heartbroken. He's been left by his first wife. And one of my favorite episodes is when he sort of tumbles into dating Ann Richards after Hank and Boomhauer decide to sort of moon the hotel in this glass elevator that they're all standing in. And then it turns out that they've (laughter) mooned former Texas Governor Ann Richards.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "KING OF THE HILL")

ROOT: (As Bill Dauterive) Governor Richards - Sergeant barber William Fontaine de la Tour Dauterive, ma'am, sir.

ANN RICHARDS: (As herself) At ease, sergeant. Why, may I ask, did you moon me?

ROOT: (As Bill Dauterive) Well, I wasn't mooning anything in particular, you know? It's my birthday, and you were just a civilian caught in the crossfire.

MCDONALD: Like, they're just always getting into these sort of ridiculous scrapes, but the thing that usually resolves them or gets them out of them is kindness and empathy and compassion in some sense. And I think that's one of the things that keeps me coming back to it is that, you know, you have folks who end up in these ridiculous situations, but there's always an element of earnestness about this show.

WELDON: A surprising amount of nuance, yeah. That's the thing that hits you. And you wouldn't necessarily expect it from the first season or so. And if you come to the series fresh and you start with the first season, just know that the animation gets a lot better. The animation's kind of on a "Beavis And Butt-Head" level at the beginning, and it kind of goes up as we go.

We're going to take a short break, but when we come back, we'll be tackling some of your questions about "King Of The Hill," so come right back.

Welcome back. So we asked you all to send us your questions about this show, and we've got some great ones. Producer Mallory, let's hear the first one.

MALLORY YU, BYLINE: (Reading) Hi, POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR. This is Olivia (ph) from Alabama. My husband and I are actually watching through "King Of The Hill" on Hulu for the first time right now. We're really enjoying it. And it's made us feel seen like no other show ever has as far as both of us grew up in small towns in the South, and it just feels so relatable. So my question for you guys is, what do you find funny about it and do you find it relatable even though you didn't grow up in a small town in the South for those of you who didn't?

WELDON: All right. Stephen, you're a small-town boy not from the South, but let's start with you.

THOMPSON: Yeah, I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin and really enjoyed a lot of the small-town reverberations in the show. My partner Katie lived in Texas for a while, and this show was like Texas methadone for her...

WELDON: (Laughter).

THOMPSON: ...And really, really appreciated a lot of the very specific Texas humor of it. But I think the show is so human and vibrates on such a human frequency that even if you don't necessarily relate to it, you see it and you understand it. I think this show relates small-town life in a way that doesn't have to feel personal. It still feels familiar.

And I think that this show grapples with small-town life in really, really smart ways. You know, the affair between Dale's wife Nancy and John Redcorn is this open secret that, like, only Dale doesn't know. And I think anyone who has lived in a small town, even if it's not a small town in the South, will feel seen by those moments.

WELDON: Soraya, how about you? Where'd you grow up?

MCDONALD: I grew up in a small Air Force town in North Carolina.

WELDON: OK.

MCDONALD: So, you know, there are some differences between North Carolina and Texas, but there's a lot that feels very familiar. And I think one of the other things that "King Of The Hill" stands out for to me is that it's lacking in judgment of Southerners, which is not something that is always easy to come by. Very often you get these exaggerated depictions of Southerners as kind of ignorant yokels who are hard to understand. You know, why would you make the choices that you make?

One of the other things about "King Of The Hill" when it comes to small-town life and, you know, its sort of gentleness even as it's kind of laying out everyone's idiosyncrasies and dysfunctions is actually the way that it looks at the Laotian family that moves in next door to the Hills. And there's this really, I think, interesting conversation that's happening in this show about race and class and what it's like to be an immigrant in a tiny, small, Southern town.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "KING OF THE HILL")

TOBY HUSS: (As Kahn Souphanousinphone) I live in California last 20 year but first come from Laos.

JUDGE: (As Hank Hill) Huh (ph)?

HUSS: (As Khan Souphanousinphone) Laos. We Laotian.

ROOT: (As Bill Dauterive) The ocean? What ocean?

HUSS: (As Kahn Souphanousinphone) We are Laotian from Laos, stupid. It's a landlocked country in Southeast Asia. It's between Vietnam and Thailand - OK? - population 4.7 million.

JUDGE: (As Hank Hill) So are you Chinese or Japanese?

WELDON: Well, we actually got a question about the Souphanousinphones. Let's hear it.

QUINCY SURASMITH: Hi. My name is Quincy Surasmith, and "King Of The Hill" is one of my favorite shows. Something I've really been thinking about lately, though, is in light of Hari Kondabolu's piece about Apu from "The Simpsons." I'm Thai-Chinese American myself, and how do I feel now about Toby Huss voicing Kahn or even the brilliantly talented Lauren Tom voicing Minh and Connie? These are Southeast Asian American characters, and I think that, like, the way we think about how we cast those and who gets to voice those has probably changed a lot since "King Of The Hill" first came out. And I wanted to know what you all think about that.

WELDON: Yeah. I mean, my main thing is - probably wouldn't cast it that way now. I mean, I don't know how much more there is to say about that. What do you guys think?

MCDONALD: Yeah, it would have been preferable and certainly more ethical to cast Southeast Asian voice actors in those roles not just because of - these are folks who deserve that work, right? But also, that is one of the things that kind of protects against a sort of aural yellowface, I suppose. And we should distinguish the fact that Lauren Tom is Asian. But, you know, that's kind of a huge umbrella for a vast array of countries and cultures. And we recognize that Laos isn't necessarily the same as Korea or Japan or India.

THOMPSON: I agree completely that they would cast the show very differently today. I do think, at least in the scripts, the fact that the show understands that there are differences between Laos and other parts of Asia and plays around with that and allows these characters to be deeply nuanced beyond their Asian-ness (ph), I think, makes it easier to swallow. But the casting that the show did in the '90s is very different from how you would cast a show today for sure.

WELDON: All right. Let's take our last question.

RICHARD SINGERS: Hello. My name is Richard Singers (ph) from Columbus, Ohio. And I have a question regarding the gang of four of Dale, Hank, Bill and Boomhauer. If they were voting in the 2016 election, who do you think each of them would have voted for?

WELDON: Well, there's only one answer here, right? I mean, that's the thing about the show. These people can be big- and small-C conservative, and you still see them for people, not types.

THOMPSON: I think there's no question that Dale - I mean, I think Dale either is Q...

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON: ...Or is competing with Q in some weird way...

WELDON: Yeah.

THOMPSON: ...Where, like, he would be more Q than Q somehow or, like...

WELDON: Right.

THOMPSON: ...Feel that Q is biting his style. I think Boomhauer and Bill and Dale unquestionably vote for Trump. I think Hank Hill's conservatism is much more of, like - he likes a nice haircut and a perfectly tied necktie and I think is much more of a kind of a Mitt Romney, Mike Pence, besuited kind of conservative...

WELDON: Interesting.

THOMPSON: ...Where I think that Hank would be put off by kind of the extent to which politics creeps into every single conversation. I don't think he would think that's polite. And I also see the potential for conflict between Hank and Peggy because I think Hank and Peggy have probably always voted the same way. I don't see Peggy picking up what Trump is putting down and her, like, secretly canceling out his vote. So I think that's how the show would probably play with it, and that's kind of how I see the characters functioning.

WELDON: Yeah. Especially in the early seasons, Dale is a conspiracy theorist. That's his - that's one of his character traits. Soraya, what do you think?

MCDONALD: Yeah, I'm in agreement with both of you. I go back and forth about Hank. You know, I think ultimately he would just sort of hold his nose and and vote for Trump because, you know, there is sort of this running aspect in the show of how much they cannot stand Hillary Clinton.

WELDON: (Laughter).

MCDONALD: And I think there are a zillion ways that Hank would find Donald Trump odious. But with Peggy - and that's the really interesting thing about their marriage - right? - because she is very much self-actualized. She is her own person with her own ideas and thoughts and doesn't necessarily do everything that Hank does. She pushes back. So, yeah, I could definitely see her dragging Luanne with her to the polling station and being like, don't you dare vote for that man (laughter).

WELDON: All right. If you could read between the lines, you could probably glean that we really like this show, and we think you will, too. We want to know what you think about "King Of The Hill." Find us at facebook.com/pchh and on Twitter @PCHH. And that brings us to the end of our show. Thanks to both of you for being here.

MCDONALD: Thank you so much.

THOMPSON: Thank you.

WELDON: And, of course, thank you for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. If you've got a second and you're so inclined, please subscribe to our newsletter at npr.org/popculturenewsletter. And we'll see you all tomorrow.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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