Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 28, 2005)
Animated series King of the Hill rolls along with this DVD release of Season Four. 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 TV.com (http://www.tv.com) – thanks to them for their good work.
Peggy Hill: The Decline and Fall Part 2 (first aired 9/26/99): “Peggy (voiced by Kathy Najimy) survives falling out of a plane, but is in a full body cast. Hank (Mike Judge) is overcome with guilt at having encouraged her to jump out of the plane, but that might not be the real reason Peggy jumped. Meanwhile, Didi (Ashley Gardner) gives birth to a baby boy, whom Cotton (Toby Huss) names ‘Good Hank.’ But Didi and Cotton don't know how to deal with a baby, and they leave most of the work to Bobby (Pamela Segall).”
“Decline” not only presents a wrap-up to Season Three’s cliffhanger, but also it offers a surprisingly complex show. It balances a lot of threads: Peggy’s recovery, Hank’s guilt, Cotton’s shiftlessness, Bobby’s toils, and Didi’s depression. It mixes them all very well and never feels like it ignores one or another. It’s also darned funny – how can I not like a show in which Hank refers to Helen Keller as “the first lady of the American stage”?
Cotton’s Plot (first aired 10/3/99): “When Peggy gets out of her body cast, she is unable to walk and depressed by the long, slow process of rehabilitation. Cotton decides to teach her to walk again by challenging her, military-style, and inspires her with tales of his wartime heroism. But Peggy starts to lose confidence when she finds out that Cotton's war stories were all fake.”
As I’ve noted in the past, I love Cotton and don’t tire of him – except in this episode. I think there’s just something unsettling about a show in which Cotton and Peggy sort of declare a truce. Granted, they still generally loathe each other – her climactic climb occurs to dance on his grave – but there’s too much admiration and respect on display for my liking. Plus, after the complex “Decline”, this one lacks much scope. I do like the various creepy uses Dale, Boomhauer and Bill have for Peggy’s discarded body cast, though.
Bills Are Made to Be Broken (first aired 10/24/99): “Bill's (Stephen Root) Arlen High School record for touchdowns is about to be broken, by Arlen's current football hero, Ricky Suggs. When Ricky breaks his leg, the other team allows him to score so he can get the record. Outraged by this bad sportsmanship, Hank convinces the Arlen High coach to let Bill (who never officially graduated from high school) play a game so he can get his record back.”
Hill loves to lampoon excessive political correctness, and that theme gets a beating in “Broken”. Actually, the series is rarely one-sided, and it manages to make the point for both sides. It’s also nice to get a look at Bill’s successes. He’s usually used as fodder for jokes about how pathetic he is, so I like that we get a little more depth than that here.
Little Horrors of Shop (first aired 10/31/99): “When Hank becomes a substitute shop teacher at Tom Landry Middle School, he is so popular that he may beat Peggy as Substitute Teacher of the Year. But when Bobby is found bringing a keyhole saw to Hank's shop class, Hank gets in trouble for violating the school's zero-tolerance policy on weapons.”
Since I can’t stand Peggy, I love seeing her taken down a notch. Of course, Peggy rarely realizes or acknowledges when this happens, but it’s amusing anyway. I also like this episode’s depiction of Hank’s workaholic nature.
Aisle 8A (first aired 11/7/99): “Kahn (Huss) and Minh (Lauren Tom) go to Hawaii on a business trip, leaving Connie (Tom) with the Hills. And Hank is the only one in the house with Connie when she gets her first period.”
Uncomfortable Hank equals funny Hank, and there’s little that would rattle him as much as “female issues”. This makes for an amusing episode, especially when Bobby starts to worry how Connie’s impending womanhood will impact him.
A Beer Can Named Desire (first aired 11/14/99): “Hank wins an Alamo Beer contest, which gives him the chance to go to a football game in New Orleans and win a cash prize. If he throws a football 10 yards into a small hole in the side of a giant Alamo beer can, he wins a million dollars. Or he can have football legend Dandy Don Meredith throw the ball, and win $100,000. Hank has to decide whether to try the throw himself, or take the sure thing. Meanwhile, Bill visits his aunt's Louisiana plantation, and his three beautiful cousins all want to sleep with the last available Dauterive male. But Bill doesn't know which of the women are only his cousins by marriage, and which one is his actual cousin.”
First we see Bill as football hero, and now he’s a stud? Will wonders never cease? The story doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it adds up to a clever spoof of Southern melodrama. The subplot about Hank’s football challenge is actually the more entertaining, though Bill’s section provides a great guest cast; Meryl Streep plays his aunt and all three Dixie Chicks chime in as his would-be lovers.
The Hank’s Giving Episode (first aired 11/21/99): “Hank and his family plan to visit Peggy's family in Montana for Thanksgiving. But their plane is delayed, and when they finally get on the plane, the flight is cancelled when Hank's Thanksgiving turkey is mistaken for a bomb.”
There are only so many approaches to holiday shows, and traveling woes don’t offer a truly fresh take - Planes, Trains and Automobiles ring a bell? That said, “Giving” is consistently funny if not inventive. It plays on each character’s foibles well and offers what my friend Kevin feels is Peggy’s signature line when she states that the day before Thanksgiving is the busiest travel day of the year “in my opinion”.
Not In My Back Hoe (first aired 11/28/99): “Hank meets a man, Hal (Drew Carey), who is exactly like him in every way. He and Hal become great friends, making Dale (Johnny Hardwick) and Bill jealous.”
I couldn’t help but feel that “Hoe” had more potential than it exploited. The idea of a Hank doppelganger is fun, but the episode never really brings it to fruition. We get amusement from the desperate measures exacted by jealous Bill and Dale, but they don’t elevate this show above mediocrity.
To Kill a Ladybird (first aired 12/12/99): “Bobby adopts a raccoon, Bandit, who bites Ladybird and Dale and then runs off, pursued by Ladybird. Fearing that Bandit might have been rabid, Hank tries to save his dog, while Bobby just wants to find Bandit. Meanwhile, Dale, convinced that he has rabies, runs off to the woods and starts living on mushrooms, which give him hallucinations.”
As a dog lover, I’m always charmed by Hank’s devotion to Ladybird – I know how he feels! Those elements aren’t the best parts of “Kill”, however, as the parts with Bobby’s bond to Bandit – complete with raccoon-speak – and Dale’s mushroom-induced hallucinations add spark. These add up to a varied and entertaining show.
Hillennium (first aired 12/19/99): “As the year 2000 approaches, Hank becomes a believer in the Y2K bug. He tries to prepare for the millennium by eliminating modern technology, and instead of buying Peggy the new computer she wanted, he gets her an old grandfather clock.”
Almost six years after the fact, it becomes more and more difficult to recall the hysteria that surrounded the whole Y2K fiasco. “Hillennium” brings back those memories with a terrific show. It’s unusual to see Hank enter panic mode, and that makes the show intriguing. Add to that a funny varnish fumes induced Whack-a-Mole hallucination suffered by Hank and this program works well.
Old Glory (first aired 1/9/00): “When Bobby gets an F in English, Peggy helps him write a new essay, and winds up writing the whole thing. The essay gets an A, and Bobby gets the credit, making Peggy jealous. Meanwhile, Bill brings home a huge American flag from the army base.”
What a disappointment! Peggy behaves really, really badly throughout this show but never gets her comeuppance. That’s a surprise. King isn’t a moralistic series, but it usually tries to reinforce certain codes of behavior. Peggy trounces all over those and comes away without a scratch. Given my hatred of Peggy, that’s no fun. Still, it has enough funny moments to succeed.
Rodeo Days (first aired 1/16/00): “When the rodeo comes to town, Joseph becomes a successful young cowboy, and Bobby secretly becomes a rodeo clown.
Betrayal dominates this episode. Hank feels let down by Bobby, and Bobby is disappointed when Joseph bonds with other rodeo kids and makes fun of him. That makes for a fairly predictable plot, as we know redemption will come for all involved. It’s a decent but unexceptional show.
Hanky Panky (first aired 2/6/00): “When Buck Strickland's wife Miz Liz (Kathleen Turner) catches him at a party with his mistress Debbie (Reese Witherspoon), she files for divorce, takes over Strickland Propane, and promotes Hank to Manager. Hank finds himself fending off the advances of Mrs. Strickland, who wants an affair of her own, and Debbie, who is attracted to men with power. Meanwhile, Peggy takes over Buck's barbecue joint, Sugarfoot's, and turns it into a standardized restaurant.”
How odd is it that Hank remains so loyal to the sleazy Buck? His boss always skirts around ethics but Hank continues to stand by him. Those elements aren’t the best parts of “Hanky”, though, as I enjoy the parts connected to “Peggy’s Sugarfoot’s” the most. I may hate Peggy, but that doesn’t mean her idiocy doesn’t entertain me.
High Anxiety (first aired 2/13/00): “Debbie is found dead in the street behind Sugarfoot's restaurant, and Hank is a suspect. Hank was with Debbie's roommate Gayle (David Herman) at the time, but he's afraid to tell the police, because he'd have to admit that he accidentally smoked some of Gayle's marijuana.”
Too high concept to be a winner, “High” turns into a mediocre episode. It just feels like it belongs to a different series. I get some amusement from Hank’s fears connected to his pot-smoking; it’s clever that he fears that more than being accused of murder. Still, I think the series veers into mystery without much success.
Naked Ambition (first aired 2/20/00): “After Bobby accidentally sees Luanne naked, Joseph becomes obsessed with getting a peek at Luanne. When Connie catches Bobby and Joseph standing outside holding binoculars, she thinks they were peeping at her. Meanwhile, Boomhauer (Judge) accidentally gets committed to a mental institution, and when Dale and Bill try to get him out, they get committed too.”
Horny Joseph equals creepy Joseph. The whole boy/girl side of the show feels a little like an Afterschool Special at times, as it never really launches. The parts where the guys go into the nuthouse – and care more about keeping it from Hank than leaving – are easily the most entertaining.
Movin’ On Up (first aired 2/27/00): “Frustrated with having to obey Hank's house rules, Luanne moves out and rents a house across the street with three other college students. But in trying to get her selfish housemates to help out and pay the bills, she finds herself becoming more like Hank.”
King presents annoyingly selfish characters better than others, and we get that in spaces from Luanne’s horrible roommates. They make this show funny, especially as the episode mocks the reflexive way too many people call folks Nazis when they don’t get their way. There’s also something strangely amusing about Hank’s general lack of concern about Luanne’s well-being; as long as he gets his den, he doesn’t seem to worry.
Bill Of Sales (first aired 3/12/00): “Peggy gets caught up in a pyramid scheme, selling Metalife health bars. When she discovers that Bill has a talent for selling the product, she enlists his help. But to keep him working for her, she realizes that she has to be mean to him, because being treated badly is the only thing Bill knows how to respond to.”
Peggy has always been unlikable, but she reaches her peak here. She treats Bill in a nasty manner that seems a little over the top even for her. Granted, the show tries to redeem her eventually, but this is a mean Peggy here. She’s also her pushiest and most naïve. At least we get to see another side of Bill.
Won’t You Pimai Neighbor? (first aired 3/19/00): “A group of Buddhist monks suspects that Bobby might be the reincarnation of the Lama Sanglug. Bobby enjoys getting caught up in Buddhism, until he and Connie learn that Lamas are not allowed to have girlfriends.”
Bobby’s always the go-to character for weirdness, and this episode lets him stretch his oddness. “Pimai” goes for a goofy concept but mostly makes it work. It’s nice to see Kahn featured prominently, as he’s not had much to do this year.
Hank’s Bad Hair Day (first aired 4/9/00): “When Hank's barber goes senile, he turns to Bill, an army barber, for his haircuts. Bill gives him a great haircut, but it turns out that the bill for an army haircut comes to $900. When Hank protests this waste, the army base shuts down its barber unit, and Bill is out of a job.”
An above average episode achieves that status mainly due to Hank’s humiliation. The series usually works well when it mocks his incredibly conservative nature, and his horror at his slightly different haircut provides humor. Of course, it just gets worse; it’s hard to resist the sight of a blond Hank.
Meet the Propaniacs (first aired 4/16/00): “Hank finally starts to like Bobby's comedy career when Bobby starts entertaining the employees at Strickland Propane with propane-related comedy.”
As I watched this episode, I always waited for the other shoe to drop. Hank enjoys the comedy act so much that I wondered when something would happen to explain this. I guess it just took propane humor to loosen him up! The episode has its moments, from the lameness of the Propaniacs to Peggy’s typically stubborn refusal to let her idea die.
Nancy Boys (first aired 4/30/00): “Nancy and Dale go to a romantic restaurant and fall in love all over again. Nancy decides to end her affair with John Redcorn and be faithful to her husband. But she soon starts to wonder whether she made the right decision.”
Dale usually comes across as one-dimensional, but “Boys” lets him open up considerably. For all his flaws, his innocence and unconditional love for Nancy prove charming. It’s an infidelity show with a twist, since Nancy feels most guilty that she “cheats” on Redcorn.
Flush with Power (first aired 5/7/00): “During a drought, Hank installs low-flow toilets in his house. But he soon finds that they require so many flushes that they actually waste more water than the old toilets. Hank joins the Arlen zoning board in an attempt to get high-flow toilets legalized again.”
Anyone else remember when All in the Family created a stir because it aired the sound of a flushed toilet? Those days are long gone, and “Power” makes good sport of the topic. I think it would’ve worked better without the political aspects if it stayed with the issue of how regulations sometimes make life worse, but it still manages to succeed.
Transnational Amusements Presents: Peggy’s Magic Sex Feet (first aired 5/14/00): “Peggy feels ashamed of her big feet until she meets Grant Trimble (Sydney Pollack), who tells her that her feet are beautiful and even videotapes them. Soon Peggy's big feet are a hit on an internet fetish site, peggysfeet.com.”
“Feet” does the near impossible: it almost makes me feel bad for Peggy. Almost. We see her deep-seated foot anxieties and get concerned about her plight. Of course, she remains pretty obnoxious, but the bizarreness of the subject helps compensate to make this an unusual and entertaining show.
Peggy’s Fan Fair (first aired 5/21/00): “When the Hills go to the Country Music Fan Fair in Nashville, Peggy hears Randy Travis singing a new song, ‘Just the Way God Made Me’ and accuses him of having stolen it from her.”
So much for any warm feelings toward Peggy! It’s not a great idea to have two Peggy-centered shows in a row, and she’s at her most insufferable here. The program ends up as a good one, though, largely because so many of the guest stars are willing to make themselves look bad. Travis comes across as a thief and a liar, while Charlie Daniels is a freeloader. Despite Peggy’s obnoxiousness, this episode ends the year on a strong note.