WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
King of the Hill is a show that grows on you. When it premiered in 1997, I wasn't too sure I'd enjoy the animated adventures of this motley crew from Arlen, Texas. The half-hour series followed my beloved The Simpsons and had a lot to live up to. Satiated from The Simpsons (which was even then beginning to suffer a slight decline in quality), I would watch King of the Hill and chuckle mildly, and the more episodes I watched, the more I found myself becoming more and more invested in the characters and the writing. Today, we're to the point where King of the Hill is the more consistently entertaining series of the two, providing outrageous laughs and fine writing, while The Simpsons has sadly overstayed its welcome, wallowing in caricatures and ridiculousness.
King of the Hill is about the often riotous, sometimes heartfelt adventures of Hank Hill (Mike Judge), a proud good ol' boy whose business is the sale of "propane and propane accessories." He's married to the uptight but loving Peggy (Kathy Najimy), caring mother and substitute Spanish teacher. Rounding out the Hill household is their lone offspring, the awkwardly prepubescent Bobby (Pamela Segall), and as counterpoint to Hank's repressed view of sexuality, there's also Hank's attractive but dunderheaded niece Luanne (Brittany Murphy). Oh, and outside drinking beer in the driveway are Hank's longtime buddies Dale Gribbel (Johnny Hardwick), a William Burroughs-voiced conspiracy theorist; Bill Dauterive (Stephen Root), a balding failure but a likeable fellow; and the mumbling Boomhauer (also Judge), prone to uncertain sexual innuendo.
Through its six seasons, King of the Hill has matured into a half-hour comedy you can count on. This collection of the show's first-season episodes is a blast, not only because you can follow the show's first unsure steps toward the hit it is today, but also because—with the benefit of hindsight—you can see that it was hilarious from the start. There are some classic episodes here, as you'll see below, and some that will even make you think, Wow, that was from the first season? Mostly, though, I got a kick out of noticing how the animation and line work have evolved, and how the voice actors have slowly become more at home in their characters.
The episodes on this disc are as follows. You'll notice that they aren't in order of air date. Perhaps Fox opted to present the show in order of production date.
Pilot (1/12/97)—Hank and Peggy are in danger of losing Bobby to social workers, thanks to a misunderstanding.
Square Peg (1/19/97)—In this hilarious episode, Bobby gets to take a sex-education class, taught by the squeamish Peggy.
The Order of the Straight Arrow (2/2/97)—A long-standing tradition finds Bobby's scout troop embarking on a sacred camping trip with Hank and his buddies.
Luanne's Saga (2/16/97)—Luanne is hysterical after being dumped by Buckley, and it's up to Hank to make her feel better.
Hank's Got The Willies (2/9/97)—Bobby needs a role model, so Hank turns to his own: Willie Nelson.
Westie Side Story (3/2/97)—The Hills get new Laotian neighbors, leading to an infuriating culture clash.
Hank's Unmentionable Problem (2/23/97)—Another terrific episode finds Hank embarrassingly constipated. Peggy spreads the word.
Shins of the Father (3/23/97)—Hank's nasty and bitter father proves to be the devil to Peggy, but a great role model for Bobby.
Peggy the Boggle Champ (4/13/97)—Peggy's Boggles skills take her to Dallas for the state Boggle championship.
Keeping Up With Our Joneses (4/27/97)—Hank and Peggy rediscover their love for cigarettes while warning Bobby away from them.
Plastic White Female (5/11/97)—Bobby finds a unique way to prepare for his first boy-girl party, and Luanne is an unwitting victim.
The Company Man (12/7/97)—Hank strives to impress a potentially big propane customer, but he can only go so far for the Boston yahoo.
King of the Ant Hill (5/4/97)—Hanks wants the best lawn in Arlen for the annual Cinco de Mayo celebration, but events conspire against him.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
Fox presents King of the Hill in a predictably vivid transfer of the TV show's original 1.33:1 full-frame presentation. In this first season, the animators—indeed, even the creators—were a bit unsure and unsteady regarding the look of the show, letting it mature from episode to episode. Even within any given episode, you'll see shifts in brightness, variances in the color palette, and experimental line work. But all of that lends a charm to these early episodes.
Considering the source material, this is a fine presentation. Detail is exemplary, and linework is clean and accurate. Colors are vivid and rich, and black levels—though sometimes inconsistent—generally stay deep. I'm watching this set on a large screen, and I'm noticing minor aliasing and shimmering, but I'm accustomed to such anomalies in the translation from the small screen to home-theater rear projection.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
First, I must mention that the King of the Hill theme song has been stuck in my head for about a week now, and I'm going a bit nutty. I love the song, but at every waking moment—even right now, as I type this—I find myself humming that damn tune and annoying everyone in a 10-foot radius. So you have that to look forward to.
The disc's Dolby Surround track gets the job done splendidly, offering clear dialog with only the slightest bit of distortion at the high end—for example, during Bobby's and Luanne's screams. The front soundstage is nicely open, and the theme song comes across powerfully, digging its way indelibly into your subconscious mind, where it will remain for days.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
I'm impressed by the number of features that Fox has crammed into this set. On each of the three discs, you'll find enticing extras that will enhance your appreciation of the show and provide a few laughs. Also, each disc has its own "theme" and is introduced by a different character. Disc 1 is Hank-themed, Disc 2 is Bobby-themed, and Disc 3 is Dale-themed.
First up are some very entertaining Audio Commentaries over two of the disc's episodes. Cocreator Greg Daniels shares his thoughts over "Pilot," and director Klay Hall talks over "The Order of the Straight Arrow."
In Deleted & Extended Scenes, you get discarded snippets from "Pilot" (1 minute), "Square Peg" (I minute of sexually suggestive material!), "The Order of the Straight Arrow" (2 minutes), "Luanne's Saga" (30 seconds), and "Hank's Got The Willies" (30 seconds). Most of this material is finished animation, but some is pencil-sketched animatics with rough audio tracks, providing an interesting peek at the animation process.
Next is the best supplement in the entire set, the 25-minute The Making of King of the Hill featurette. Divided into three sections—The Origins, The Citizens of Arlen, and Behind the Scenes—this featurette is composed of talking-head interviews with the cast and crew, as well as funny clips from the show. In The Origins, we learn about Mike Judge's humble beginnings and see clips from his old short films (although Beavis and Butthead is glossed over). We're also introduced to Greg Daniels, the cocreator, and learn how the two came up with a pencil test to pitch to studio execs. In The Citizens of Arlen, we meet the voice actors—Johnny Hardwick as Dale, Pamela S. Adlon as Bobby, Kathy Najimy as Peggy, Mike Judge as Hank and Boomhauer, Brittany Murphy as Luanne and Joseph, Stephen Root as Bill, and Toby Huss as Cotton and Kahn. In Behind the Scenes, we get a glimpse of what must be a hilarious "table read" of the show, and we see some voice recording. Finally, we're basically walked through the animation process. Great stuff, all around.
The second disc contains three Audio Commentaries. And here's a special treat: Two of these commentaries are by the show's voice actors, in character. These are especially fun listens, as they take their animated world completely seriously. Dale Gribble and Bill Dauterive talk over "Westie Side Story," and Peggy and Bobby Hill commentate over "Shins of the Father". Greg Daniels provides further comments over the hilarious "Hank's Unmentionable Problem."
Next are some more Deleted & Extended Scenes for "Westie Side Story," "Hank's Unmentionable Problem," "Shins of the Father," and "Peggy the Boggle Champ".
In Meet the Hills, you get an assemblage of character sketches and biographies for Hank, Peggy, Bobby, Luanne, Dale, Bill, Boomhauer, and Cotton. You can access Mike Judge's initial sketches of each character, as well as more polished drawings of each character's various expressions.
The final feature on the second disc is the entertaining The Do's and Don'ts of King of the Hill, an assemblage of sketches and notes directed to the Korean animators about how—and how not—to animate the various characters. You can glean from these pages of notes that the characters' motions and expressions evolved over time.
Here come some more Audio Commentaries. This time, Peggy and Bobby Hill talk over "Plastic White Female" (an embarrassing listen for Bobby), Klay Hall discusses "The Company Man," and Dale and Bill commentate over "King of the Ant Hill."
You also get more Deleted & Extended Scenes, this time for "Keeping Up With Our Joneses," "The Company Man," "The Company Man: Alternate Ending," and "King of the Ant Hill".
The Barenaked Ladies Music Video is sorta fun. It features some characters from the show, particularly Dale.
Finally, you get 13 Fox network Promos for the show. Many of these involve Hank, Dale, Bill, and Boomhauer going "full monty" for the cameras. Funny stuff, but repetitive and short.
(There's also an easy-to-find Easter Egg that finds Hank thanking the animation crew on Season 1.)
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
King of the Hill is a terrific animated comedy that continues to impress, well into its sixth year. This assemblage of the show's first-season episodes is wonderful from a historical perspective and is just plain entertaining. The supplements are bountiful, and the image and sound are right on.