King of the Hill and its intertwinement with my life
Well, I almost teared up this evening watching the series finale of King of the Hill. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen all 255 episodes now, which makes it the longest running, completed television series I’ve ever watched. And with nothing I can find worth writing about at the moment I decided to study the role King of the Hill has played in my life.
I remember in the summer of 1997-98 when series one was broadcast on Channel 7 like a worthy competitor to the Simpsons. This being the prime era of the Simpsons this competition was obviously not going to succeed. I don’t think Mike Judge intended to win the mantle of number 1 animated family either. King of the Hill started as, and has remained, a character driven show. One of the first animated character-driven shows I can recall, really. I mean this was back when Ron Howard was mainly spending his time being nostalgic about Happy Days. King of the Hill was never about comic relief and sight gags as much as it was about building characters and working off them. That said, King of the Hill really could have died about four years ago without losing much.
So, from 1997 I remember one joke with clarity. Peggy Hill, the uptight southerner dealing with teaching a progressive sex-ed class at the local high school while being so repressed that she was unable to speak aloud the terms for genitals. And seeing her psych herself up by staring at herself in the mirror and saying "Happiness... Happy-ness. Happy-nesss. Hap-penis. Ha Penis. Penis. VAAAGINA!"
The word happiness lost meaning for me that day. I was a 13 year old boy, I obviously didn’t have the same appreciation for King of the Hill’s subtleties then that I do now. In fact it took another seven years for King of the Hill to start resonating with me, in 2004 at a time when it started appearing in the most convenient of places in my daily schedule. At 5pm, when I was getting home from uni and having pre-nightfill dinner, at 11pm on Monday’s when I’d get home from Nightfill and reheat tea or a packet of cocktail wieners, and at 5am on Fox at about the time I would figure it was time for bed. I think the last point has something to do with my affection for it; there was a time in my life where King of the Hill was my daily lullaby.
King of the Hill doesn’t just get love for affection, at its peak it always guaranteed a funny moment. My favourite episode was when Hank Hill accidentally became a pimp, an episode I’ve seen only once at 5am as the sun came up and I remember being in hysterics as the closing credits played, remixed into a seventies funk theme after Hank Hill saved his wife from another Pimp who despite being white in the show was actually voiced by Snoop Dogg. There have been other lines, "I'm so white, during the riots I went out and bought a television"; "That’s my purse! I don’t know you!" Pure genius. I’m sure Mike Judge is happy that his legacy won’t be Beavis and Butthead Do America.
In 2006 after I got a real job with normal working hours, and a bigger download limit I reached the point where I was up to new episodes of King of the Hill and for the next three years during its seasons every Monday night after work I would come home to King of the Hill. By that stage its quality had dropped dramatically, but it was still more entertaining than nothing and I always found Monday nights to be the hardest to fall asleep on so my lullaby it became again.
There are some specific and vivid moments I recall that are intertwined with King of the Hill. An evening at Graham’s Castle in Goolwa comes to mind. I watched an episode while drunk with many of my sober friends, who found me annoying. But that was a great day. That night after Nightfill where I ate the whole packet of expired cocktail wieners over a double episode. And the DB1 assignment which I did over more than a day of awakeness and, once it was complete instead of immediately going to sleep I watched the episode that was on first. More recently, I watched episodes I’d downloaded and encoded for my phone. I watched part of season 13 while I spent the night in hospital with my wrist in plaster. And another on the plane flying to Townsville to see Steve march out before Afghanistan. And tonight, after getting home from umpiring basketball finals and watching the final episodes with trepidation while my girlfriend sleeps on the couch in our house. In thirteen years of many changes King of the Hill has been a solid, modest marker of stability. And now, like so many other things from the first quarter-century of my life, it’s gone.