Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 12, 2004)
Barely four months after the first season of King of the Hill hit DVD, we got a full collection of the series’ second term. The seminal year was somewhat truncated 13-episode season, but this DVD includes a more typical 22 shows.
I’ll examine each of these programs in the way presented on the DVDs, which shows them in the order produced. This occasionally differs from the broadcast chronology, so I include airdate information as well. The synopses come from the DVD’s liner notes; they seem quite terse, but they do the job.
How to Fire a Rifle Without Really Trying (first aired September 21, 1997): “When Bobby (voiced by Pamela Segall) displays a talent for target shooting, Hank (Mike Judge) signs up for a father/son funshoot competition – only to discover a buried childhood memory is still sadly affecting his aim.”
“Rifle” scores some points for its lack of preachiness. The show clearly doesn’t promote gun use, but it fails to come across as a screechy anti-gun program. Hmmm... come to think of it, “Rifle” could offend both sides of that battle, and that means it’s a pretty solid piece of entertainment. And it’s always great to see flashbacks to Hank’s childhood since they include shots of his father’s hilariously terribly rearing skills.
Texas City Twister (first aired September 28, 1997): “When Luanne (Brittany Murphy) washes Hank’s underwear in the same load of wash as hers, a horrified Hank decides it’s time his niece moves back to Shiny Pines Trailer Park.”
“Twister” starts out slowly, as the plot between Luanne and Hank seems a little tired. However, once the titular tornado starts to emerge, the show picks up steam. It never directly spoofs Twister, but it plays with the genre clichés nicely and creates a pretty solid show. It even tosses in Peggy’s imitation of Hank, which stands out as a highlight.
The Arrowhead (first aired October 19, 1997): “Hank’s excitement over finding Indian artifacts in his front yard turns to distress after an archaeologist starts digging up his precious lawn and flirting with Peggy.”
King of the Hill plays arrogance well, which is part of what often makes Peggy funny. We get double the arrogance due to the smug professor, but this doesn’t add up to twice the laughs. Actually, I feel like “Arrowhead” should take off but it never really does. The show provides some good moments but fails to go beyond that level.
Hilloween (first aired October 26, 1997): “Hank vows to teach Bobby ‘the true meaning of Halloween come hell or high water’ after a new church member calls it a night for witches and Satanists and gets it canceled.”
Another smug and arrogant character pops up here, and she gets a lack of sympathy similar to the professor in the last show. The episode feels a little self-righteous at times, as it doesn’t give the subject much wiggle room. It mocks the holier-than-thou fairly well, at least, and includes some decent laughs, especially at the “Hallelujah House”.
Jumpin’ Crack Bass (first aired November 2, 1997): “Hank finds himself facing possible jail time after a trip to buy homemade fishing bait from a man on a street corner inadvertently turns into a purchase from a drug dealer.”
Thankfully free of smug and arrogant guest characters, “Bass” gives us a pretty terrific episode. It’s funny to see the dark part of Arlen, and the fishing escapades offer many good elements. Nothing like crack-addicted fish to pour on the laughs!
Husky Bobby (first aired October 19, 1997): “Hank is determined to save his son from the ultimate humiliation after Bobby decides to model for a photo shoot and then appear in a fashion show featuring husky sized models.”
“Husky” offers the season’s first Bobby-centered show, and it’s a good one. Any program with a store for tubby kids called “H. Dumpty’s” earns points right there, and Bobby’s foray into the world of modeling creates many good bits, especially as viewed through Hank’s reactions.
”Husky” stands out as the best show on DVD One. Who couldn’t like a program with a line like this: “I’m trying to contain an outbreak here, and you’re driving the monkey to the airport.”
The Man Who Shot Cane Skretteburg (first aired November 16, 1997): “Hank, Boomhauer (Judge), Bill (Stephen Root) and Dale (Johnny Hardwick) all begin exhibiting signs of post-traumatic stress syndrome after losing a humiliating game of paintball against the neighborhood punks.”
“Cane” offers one of the series’ most packed episodes. It covers a mix of themes related to the story and really includes enough material for more than one program. It delights in the small moments, though, and become a fine show.
The Son That Got Away (first aired November 23, 1997): “Fearing that Connie (dsjald) and Bobby have gone to ‘The Caves’ to make out, Hank and Kahn (Toby Huss) rush into the caves only to end up getting lost on top of a pile of old beer cans.”
Some of the series’ best moments come from the antagonism between Kahn and Hank, so “Son” offers more than a few funny bits. It’s less entertaining when they buddy up, but those parts stay minor. In general, the show gives us its fair share of incisive and clever nuggets.
Bobby Slam (first aired December 14, 1997): “Hank’s delighted when Bobby announces he’s joining the wrestling team, but Peggy’s (Kathy Najimy) mortified when she learns her son must first wrestle Connie in order to make the team.”
“Slam” occasionally veers dangerously close to Preachy Social Commentary territory, but not too heavily. Instead, the show mostly makes its points through its usual brand of absurd humor. Though the theme feels a little forced at times, the execution makes it a funny and insightful show.
The Unbearable Blindness of Laying (first aired December 21, 1997): “Hank is psychologically shocked into blindness after accidentally catching a glimpse of his mother and her new Jewish boyfriend making love on the kitchen table.”
Hill derives some good gags from Hank’s uptight nature, and those moments provide the best parts of “Laying”. The show seems a little too intent on developing character with Hank learning acceptance, but those bits don’t overwhelm. Instead, the program gets comedy from Hank’s dopiness, and it works nicely.
Meet the Manger Babies (first aired January 11, 1998): “Hank faces a dilemma of Biblical proportions when Luanne asks him to portray God in a live TV broadcast of her puppet show which airs on Super Bowl Sunday.”
For the year’s first truly Luanne-centric episode, things seem a little off. Mostly that’s because Hank tends to be just a little too nice to her and a little too supportive. Isn’t this the same guy who was badly insensitive to Luanne just a few shows earlier with “Twister”? Despite that issue, “Babies” offers enough good jokes to become a fairly solid episode.
Snow Job (first aired February 1, 1998): “A shaken and confused Hank becomes disillusioned about his life and career after discovering his boss, the owner of Strickland Propane, uses an electric stove in his home.”
Hank butts heads with another smarmy fool in “Job”, but that element doesn’t predominate. Instead, the show becomes an amusing crisis of faith when he doubts his belief in propane. That sounds absurd on the surface, but it fits the character an makes for a good show.
I Remember Mono (first aired February 8, 1998): “While updating files at Arlen High School, Peggy learns that Hank’s two-week absence from school back in 1973 was due to mono – which fellow student Amy Edlin also had.”
While not a great episode, “Mono” enjoys some amusing moments as we see younger versions of Hank and Peggy. Otherwise, the plot in which Hank desperately tries to redeem himself with his wife seems a little tired.
Three Days of the Kahndo (first aired February 15, 1998): “A trip south of the border turns into a fiasco after a trick Kahn plays on the Hills backfires and now Kahn, Hank and Dale must sneak back into Texas to escape the Mexican police.”
After the more reality-based “Mono”, we get a fairly farcical episode in “Kahndo”. It spoofs some of the clichés of Mexican tourism and provides fun jabs there. It also benefits from the usually funny antagonism between Hank and Kahn.
Traffic Jam (first aired February 22, 1998): “Inspired by an African-American comic who teaches at the traffic school Hank is attending, Bobby takes his own White Nationalist comedy to a downtown comedy club.”
At times “Jam” feels a little too much like a civics lesson. However, it spoofs the nature of ethnic comedy well, and some inspired guest performances from Chris Rock, John Amos and Orlando Jones help make it a solid show.
Hank’s Dirty Laundry (first aired March 1, 1998): “Hank discovers his good credit is in jeopardy because a local video store claims he owes forty dollars for an adult video called Cuffs & Collars which he never returned.”
“Laundry” sends Hank through the looking glass. He starts to believe Dale’s conspiracy theories and becomes obsessed with fighting against the system. This creates an interesting side of things and gives us a very funny show.
The Final Shinsult (first aired March 15, 1998): “Angry at Hank, Cotton (Huss) not only moves in with Dale but then convinces Dale to help him steal the artificial leg of a famous Mexican general from the Arlen museum.”
I love a good Cotton episode, but “Shinsult” seems only average. Part of that stems from the theme, in which the show deals with Cotton’s apparent senility. Cotton’s best just as a stubborn and cocky old guy, so it’s not entertaining to see him humbled.
Leanne’s Saga (first aired April 19, 1998): “All heck breaks loose when Luanne’s mom Leanne arrives in Arlen after being released from prison and falls in love with an unsuspecting Bill.”
After much talk about Leanne, it’s good to meet her. “Saga” veers dangerously close to “very special episode” territory at times, but it maintains enough of the show’s comic farce tone not to suffer. It doesn’t seem like a great program, but it’s generally satisfying.
Junkie Business (first aired April 26, 1998): “Hank’s excitement over hiring a new Accessories Associate (dshdjksa) is short-lived after he unknowingly hires a drug addict who hires his own attorney when Hank tries to fire him.”
Although it brings back the wimpy social worker from the series’ first episode, “Junkie” suffers from a general lack of focus in that Hank doesn’t go up against a very strong antagonist. He works best with a firm foe like Kahn, but that doesn’t happen here. The episode has some decent moments but seems a little limp overall.
Life In the Fast Lane, Bobby’s Saga (first aired May 3, 1998): “Realizing that Bobby doesn’t understand the value of a dollar, Hank proceeds to get his son a job at the Arlen Speedway – unaware that the owner is a tyrannical task master.”
Bobby’s foray into the working world becomes entertaining because of his moronic boss. The show’s best moments come from his ramblings. Otherwise, the program seems average.
Peggy’s Turtle Song (first aired May 10, 1998): “When Bobby is diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, a distraught Peggy quits her job as a substitute teacher so she can focus her energy on being a better mother.”
When “Song” focuses on Bobby’s misdiagnosed ADD, it goes somewhere. When it concentrates on Peggy’s musical ambitions, it falters. Those elements feel awfully predictable, and they don’t amount to much. The other parts of the show work, though.
Propane Boom – Part I (first aired May 17, 1998): “Hank’s world falls apart after the local Mega Lo Mart starts selling propane at prices that threaten to put Strickland Propane right out of business.”
As implied by the “Part I” in the title, “Boom” offers a season-ending cliffhanger. It finishes the year on a good note, as it puts Hank in an unusually down position. It pokes fun at its subject while it also makes a point about the Wal-Mart-ization of the country. And it leaves us in suspense, too!
Unlike The Simpsons, King of the Hill experienced few growing pains. It took the series only a few episodes to firmly establish its characters, and the format stayed pretty similar as well, with low-key and fairly subtle humor.
That means we don’t see big jumps up or down in quality throughout the episodes or the seasons. King of the Hill lacks the greatness of The Simpsons, but it does remain more consistent. That comes through during Season Two. I’d be hard-pressed to cite any shows from this year that genuinely dazzled me, but I’d also find it difficult to note any that stunk. A dependable if only occasionally exceptional series, King of the Hill continues to entertain with a solid set of Season Two shows.