For the past few months, I diligently watched the entire series of King of the Hill on Netflix. Maybe it's still too soon, but right now I feel confident saying that it is one of the best TV shows of all time. There isn't another satire so successful in its subversive brilliance that it was able to sustain 13 seasons on a major television network. Never did it become fan service, never a cheap rehash pop culture parody. I'm such an admirer of Mike Judge's work, my wife and I have even decided to name our new puppy "Arlen." (which I have a good feeling is an anagram for "learn." And you better believe this border collie is going to be a learner)
Here are my 'top 10' favorite episodes. If you're a latecomer to KOTH, start with these ten 22-minute masterpieces of animated comedy:
10. The Perils of Polling
Plenty of political embarrassment goes on down in Texas, so KOTH had a hefty supply of comedic fodder. But the best attack on conservative hypocrisy came in this season premiere which featured an animated version of George W. Bush. Hank was determined to vote for him because of "the issues," that was until he met the Governor of Texas and discovered that the man had a limp handshake. How can he vote for a man with a weak handshake?
Hank: I just think that if you don't read a newspaper and the only TV you watch is the MTV, then you shouldn't be allowed to vote.
9. A Firefighting We Will Go
It's hard to find an homage to the Three Stooges that doesn't make me cringe, but leave it to Mike Judge to hit slapstick comedy on the head (pardon my pun). Not only are there tons of laugh-out-loud moments in this episode, including the best Boomhauer gag in the series (in which Boomhauer speaks at a normal rate while the other three guys speed-mumble), but it's one of the best self-contained stories about what happens when the four guys from the alley become fish out of water.
Bobby: Maybe it has something to do with when you pulled your groin picking me up.
Peggy: Well honey I don't think that could be true, since ladies do not have groins.
8. Nancy's Boys and My Own Private Rodeo (tie)
Season 4 and Season 6
Both of these episodes deliver key moments of crucial character development in the arc of the series. The hilarious affair between Nancy Gribble and John Red Corn comes to an end, and though Dale never finds out about his wife's infidelity, he does learn about the concept of relational trust in a painful way. When it's discovered that Dale's father had become a gay rodeo performer after Dale's wedding, not only must Hank prove he's capable of tolerance for the sake of his friend, but the issue of personal honesty smacks Nancy Gribble poignantly. My Own Private Rodeo was nominated for a GLAAD award and a Writers Guild of America Award.
John Red Corn: I'm 36 years old. I don't need this crap.
Hank: Well I guess I am the best man, and with the joy of responsibility comes the burden of obligation.
Bill: Hey, that guy's wearin' a dress.
Hank: Heh, yeah he must've lost some crazy cowboy bet. Boy does he feel silly!
7. Vision Quest
Heritage and tradition are common themes in KOTH, usually in the American conservative sense. But Vision Quest is about Native American heritage, and more importantly, learning how to be true to oneself. It's an episode about maturing, but reveals some of the most telling back stories for Dale's character, plus one of the funniest lines in the series from a hallucinating Dale: "I see the buffalo! I see the Indian!! I... Am... the Indian."
Red Corn: "Hank, this is an important ritual among my people. Don't half-ass it."
6. The Unbearable Blindness of Laying
The concept of going blind because you've seen a man having sex with your elderly mother is one of the most hysterical things I've ever heard. This Oedipal effect strikes Hank literally, and it takes a feigned belief in faith-healing for him to overcome the inflicted damage. Bonus laughs from the old Jewish Arizona boyfriend whose dialect is mimicked by Bobby.
Faith Healer: "Hiccups, be gone"
5. Ceci N'est Pas Une King of the Hill
Winner of an Annie Award, this episode brutally exposed Peggy Hill for what made us groan for years. She's a plain-jane fraud with delusions of grandeur. A prideful person with zero merit. Peggy's artistic ambition is a result of her own arrogance and desire to be better than her peers, yet somehow, it still seems sad when her vices are exposed by the art world. It probably has something to do with the art world being just as insufferable, just on the other side of the coin. Plus, the title refers to a painting by Rene Magritte.
Peggy: Can I invite everybody who didn't believe in me and really rub their noses in it?
Art dealer: It wouldn't be an art show without it.
Peggy: My God, art is fulfilling!
4. Lady and Gentrification
The episode about hipsters. Probably the most accurate satire of hipster culture yet created. Is this enough to make it one of the best KOTH episodes ever? Sure is. Because no other show on television can accurately do this (unless it's a niche program on HBO, which only hipsters watch anyway. Thus accomplishing nothing in terms of satire). Gentrification is something that's hard to laugh at, but Mike Judge knows how to put the right joke out there.
Enrique: This music... makes me feel weird. And depressed.
Hank: (sigh) Is everyone a DJ?
3. Reborn to be Wild
The best episodes of KOTH have endings that warm your heart and remind you why you laugh at satire in the first place. This episode is about sincerity, and so marvelously attacks "Christian cool" that it's a miracle Relevant magazine still exists. Good satire won't work unless it's attacking a vice or folly. So when a professed faith of humility begins to twist into a fad, and "the Lord" can just become another trend, this is cause to spring into satirical action. Forget 'Stuff Christians Like', Reborn to be Wild is real satire of contemporary Christianity.
Hank: Can't you see you're not making Christianity better, you're just making rock and roll worse.
2. Square Peg
The second episode of the first season is, in many ways, the quintessential KOTH episode. We are introduced to the Hill family as conservative, uptight, and ignorant. This magic formula propels the series at full steam for 13 excellent seasons. It all starts with the substitute Spanish teacher stuttering "vagina," and a man with a narrow urethra. Nobody criticizes the sexual dysfunction of our country better than Mike Judge. KOTH reveals the sexually repressed side of America, but check out his films for the other extreme. Idiocracy and Extract both attack the rarely admitted folly of our "sex sells" informed capitalism.
Hank: The whole neighborhood can hear ya cussin'!
Peg: It's not cussing to say the name of a God-given body part.
Hank: It is if it's a part of the body that's meant to be concealed by an undergarment!
King of the Hill often made hilarious light of Evangelical hypocrisy throughout its run, but no episode worked the conflict between characters as well as Hilloween. Ultimately, as proven in the final episode of the series, this show is about family (especially the cross-generational relationship between a father and son). Bobby is a product of pop-culture, but Hank is a blue-collar republican. How can this father and son relate to one another due to these contrasting differences? The answer is always simpler than expected: generations can bond through a mutual respect for the power of tradition. The moral is presented perfectly in the climactic scene of the episode when an argument between Hank (candy) and the pastor (Hell) is settled by Bobby Hill: "I don't care about candy! ...I just want to be with my dad." The only right answer, of course. When all is said and done, holidays aren't about the superficial stuff, they're about the traditions we share with our loved ones.
Pastor Junie: "The complacency of fools will destroy them! ... Proverbs!"
Hank: "Get out of my house! ...Exodus!"
Did I leave a classic off of the list? Tell me what you think. What are your favorite episodes?
(And any other favorite lines from the show.)