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Friday, January 20, 2017

DO NOT RESIST and 13TH Show Us The Past, Present, and Future of American Crime

When we see criminals and police officers portrayed in the media, there is typically a very standard narrative: This person is bad, and that person saved you from the bad one. On the news, in pop culture, this narrative is everywhere, and it begins young. It's an ironclad rule many children learn on the playground: Cop good, robber bad.

But like most things we learn as children, it's more complicated than that. A criminal isn't someone who does something wrong, they're someone who breaks a law -- and laws, made by man, are inherently imperfect. Some laws are racist. Some are sexist. Some are classist. Some are passed to protect the rich from everyone else, while others are passed to protect everyone else from the rich. They aren't handed down from above, but come from politicians over a period of centuries, each of whom is catering to a different electorate.

Ava DuVernay's 13th is an American history that begins just after the Civil War and goes up to, basically, today, but her focus is on criminality. In the last hundred and fifty years, where did our laws come from? How did they lead to a system in which blacks are vastly more likely than whites to end up with a criminal record?

She begins with the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which freed the slaves:
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Black Americans were free, but even within that amendment lay the seeds of further slavery. DuVernay's documentary makes a compelling case for how those seeds sprouted in the decades that followed, from pop culture like The Birth of a Nation through Jim Crow to the for-profit prison industry today. DuVernay's documentary is a comprehensive intellectual argument that demonstrates a legal system that is mostly good and often well-intentioned, but built upon a bedrock of lies, propaganda, and racism, a corrupting influence the necessitates sweeping reform of our criminal justice system.

Ava DuVernay's 13th was perhaps 2016's most essential documentary, a sweeping look at a history of race and criminality in America. But because of its very breadth, it rarely has time to dig deep into any one area. And, at heart, 13th is an argument, an appeal to rationality, made by dozens of seasoned experts in criminal justice and damning archival footage that demonstrates how administrations like Nixon's used race to corrupt justice. It's expertly edited and shockingly comprehensive, but its focus is much more on the criminals than on the cops. DuVernay is telling a big picture story, and that big picture often argues that when the system is so broken, enforcement of it is similarly destructive. But you may disagree. Can't good cops still do good work, even in a deeply damaged system?

That's where 2016's other excellent police documentary comes in, Craig Atkinson's Do Not Resist.

Do Not Resist opens with the Ferguson protests, which began after police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager. Atkinson captures stunning footage of the police in riot gear and armored vehicles patrolling an American street like a war zone, but he doesn't linger there. Instead, he makes a curious -- and ultimately powerful -- decision: He takes us to a seminar room, where nationally-respected law enforcement speaker Dave Grossman is hosting a police training session. We aren't there for long, maybe two minutes, but it's a chilling two minutes, one that re-contextualizes what we just saw in Ferguson. In it, Grossman explicitly connects masculinity, violence, and policing in one bubble, all before concluding: 
You fight violence. What do you fight it with? Superior violence. Righteous violence. Violence is your tool. Violence is your enemy. Violence is the realm we operate in. You are men and women of violence.
Do Not Resist uses this trick over and over again, alternating between on-the-street ride-along footage and interviews with cops with scenes of politicians and administrators, many of whom enable the worst impulses of these cops. And some of those worst impulses are on full display, between incredibly frank interviews, training seminars that display a naked hatred for civilians, and ride-alongs with cops on routine busts. Much of the information here is widely known already and available with more depth from books like Radley Balko's essential Rise of the Warrior Cop. But the footage that Atkinson captures here is powerful in its own right, the kind of thing that American needs to see, to feel, to understand a story like this.

A common refrain is that we can't judge the police based on a few bad apples. Ignoring the obvious flaw in that argument - a few bad apples spoil the bunch; by failing to root out corruption, you corrupt everything - I think Do Not Resist suggests a systemic cultural problem in policing itself. As I listened to FBI director James Comey describe American citizens as monsters and police trainer Dave Grossman describe American citizens as supervillains, I realized that the problem isn't 'a few bad apples', but a philosophy of law enforcement based more on action movie aesthetics than policy, built more around adrenaline than ethics. There is an inbuilt assumption of guilt in modern policing that upends fundamental American beliefs about innocence, and Do Not Resist is canny in showing how that assumption damages both the police and their communities' ability to trust the police.

I know there are people reading this and shaking their heads as I write this. I urge them to watch this Do Not Resist. Atkinson had the trust of law enforcement when they made this; they let him film these things, because they didn't understand how horrifying what they were doing was. They didn't think that we'd be shocked to see them destroy property and confiscate hundreds of dollars over a loose joint. They didn't think we'd be frightened to see them boast about using aerial surveillance drones to spy on civilians. They didn't think we'd be appalled at seeing their clumsy use of algorithms to craft a rudimentary pre-crime program, feeding in citizen data to try and predict criminality. This is a movie made with the explicit consent of the cops featured within it, and that's perhaps the scariest part of all.

13th is a powerful history lesson about how we got where we are today; Do Not Resist is about where we're going tomorrow. And where we're going tomorrow may be a very scary place indeed if it continues along this path. Together, the two films paint a compelling portrait of broad, systematic problems in the American justice system, and even for those who might doubt that these problems break the system, it's hard to see these two films back-to-back and not acknowledge that something is deeply wrong.

13th is available now on Netflix. It was directed by Ava DuVernay.

Do Not Resist is available now on Amazon Prime. It was directed by Craig Atkinson.
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Monday, January 16, 2017

Best Covers of the Week, Vol. 161

 Battlestar Galactica: Gods and Monsters #4
by Alec Morgan

I dig the cartooning style and the color on this one; way more playful cover than most licensed comics go for.

Black Road #6
by Garry Brown

These covers continue to be dense, well designed, and kind of badass. Keep it up!

Demonic #6
by Niko Walter

The orange-blue contrast is one that artists and filmmakers have relied on for decades, and it works really well. What makes this one especially striking though is the hard-lined cut between the two sections.

Monsters Unleashed #1
by Geoff Darrow

This one is simple, exceptionally clever, funny as hell, and extremely well done by the master of monsters and detail.

Popeye Classics #54
by Jorge R. Gutierrez

I really love the latin tattoo style here–colorful, big and bold, and really fun.

That's it for this week. What did I miss? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook!
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Sunday, January 15, 2017

Review: Jim Jarmusch posits the role of the artist in PATERSON

When I sit and think about reality being reflected onto the screen, I generally lean towards an approving notion of that idea. The attempt to meld the hum-drum activities of daily living and interpret them as drama for a hopefully receptive audience is an impressively staggering challenge. Let's face it, real life is kinda boring, until it's not, but most of the time...it's a slow, steady ride, regardless of varying circumstances.

Jim Jarmusch's latest, Paterson, is an acute reflection of that effort. It's about a man (Adam Driver) whose everyday follows the same pattern. He drives a bus, carting passengers in Paterson, NJ to and fro, eats lunch by a waterfall, goes home, eats dinner with his artistic wife, and then walks the dog before heading to a bar to have a drink and shoot the breeze with the owner and its various patrons. In the margins of his day, he writes poetry, with a particular interest in the stylings of William Carlos Williams, whose most notable work is named after the very same city in which this film unfurls, which also shares the name of the film's star.

There's something about the way Paterson (the character) employs his artistic talent that's imminently relate-able. He works through his muse on a journal in between his bus route, lunch, and just before his wife comes home from whatever latest artistic venture is her wont. She urges him to publish these poems, of whose quality I'm not really qualified to judge, and attempt to make a living doing something he loves. But Paterson just sort of smiles, and moves on with his day. This is both understandable, yet also slightly regrettable in a way. It's a unique understanding of how the part-time or volunteer artist finds self-satisfaction through writing though they support themselves in ways that simply carry them from Point A to B. But, does that allow the artist to reach their fullest potential? Is there any obligation, even to one's self, to share this gift with the world on a broader canvas?

Paterson (the film), asks that question in small parts, though never in an outright effacing way. Instead it colors in Paterson's world with his day to day details. One day he might overhear a conversation from two college students on his route regarding socialism, another may see him talking with a broken hearted man at the bar, another may find him discussing dog-jacking as "something he can look forward to". Paterson is a weirdly contradictory character, both trapped in his ongoing existence, but also settled into it to a point where he feels uncomfortable with any kind of change at all. But he's never truly sad, or expresses anything beyond mild perturberance, even when a slight tragedy strikes. He just keeps on moving, with as pleasant a demeanor he can muster. The acting challenge in front of Driver had to be immense, but he continues to showcase just why he's one of the rising young acting talents of this generation - imbuing a lived in character, full of experience, but never wearing it so heavily in his actions or reactions that it never breaks that boundary of reality. It's an exquisite performance of tiny adjustments.

Before I saw this film, an online acquaintance exclaimed that this is a film that builds off of everything Jim Jarmusch has done before, and my first thought coming out was, this is only a film he could have made. Taking the micro-story approach of Night on Earth and Coffee and Cigarettes, the introspection of Broken Flowers, and the intimate travelogue of a working a class city center from Only Lovers Left Alive, and it would give you a sense of the canvas Jarmusch is playing towards with Paterson. Does it always work? Not quite, there's a bit of drag that will be cause some viewers to see the back of their eye-lids, particularly if your tolerance for non-rhyming prose is low, and his the Laura character (played by Golshifteh Farahani) veers far into "manic pixie dream girl" territory. In one way, it could be argued that she's the perfect counter-balance to Paterson's reluctance to embrace his talent, at the same time, her presence is perhaps just so ever off the mark that it veers into what Jarmusch thinks the typical artistic temperament actually is. I still haven't personally come to terms with how I feel about that aspect, and I saw this movie two months ago, I'll probably wrestle with it forever.

But at the very least, it has a really cute dog. Maybe the cutest dog in a film in quite some time.

The bottom-line is, it's a step down from the remarkable Only Lovers Left Alive (probably still Jarmusch's best film) but recommendable for those who are already on-board with the filmmaker. I'm not sure how much further that appeal stretches, especially for a film with no rising action at all. But if you're an audience goer that's interested in what modernist poetry may look like in motion, for better or worse. The whole doesn't quite come together, and it ends about as unassuming as it begins, but like in real life, the smaller moments sometimes click and resonate long after its running time has past.

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Friday, January 13, 2017

The Georgia Film Critics Association announces its 2016 award winners

Today, the Georgia Film Critics Association unveiled its 2016 superlatives in film. As a voting member of this ever-growing group of film critics from all across the state, this is an especially exciting announcement celebrating the best in what the big screen had to offer last year.

In summary, it's pretty much what you'd expect from a race that has come down to Moonlight vs La La Land everywhere you turn! The winners here certainly reflect that very tight Best Picture race, maybe the tightest head on race for the big prize since No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood.

Here's the full nominee list, with winners in bold! 

Best Picture
  • "Arrival"
  • "Hacksaw Ridge"
  • "Hell or High Water"
  • "Jackie"
  • "La La Land"
  • "Loving"
  • "Manchester by the Sea"
  • "Moonlight"
  • "The Nice Guys"
  • "O.J.: Made in America"

Best Director

  • "Arrival" - Denis Villeneuve
  • "Jackie" - Pabblo Larraín
  • "La La Land" - Damien Chazelle
  • "Manchester by the Sea" - Kenneth Lonergan
  • "Moonlight" - Barry Jenkins

Best Actor

  • Casey Affleck ("Manchester by the Sea")
  • Colin Farrell ("The Lobster")
  • Andrew Garfield ("Hacksaw Ridge")
  • Ryan Gosling ("La La Land")
  • Tom Hanks ("Sully")
  • Denzel Washington ("Fences")

Best Actress

  • Amy Adams ("Arrival")
  • Annette Bening ("20th Century Women")
  • Ruth Negga ("Loving")
  • Natalie Portman ("Jackie")
  • Emma Stone ("La La Land")

Best Supporting Actor

  • Mahershala Ali ("Moonlight")
  • Jeff Bridges ("Hell or High Water")
  • Ben Foster ("Hell or High Water")
  • John Goodman ("10 Cloverfield Lane")
  • Lucas Hedges ("Manchester by the Sea")

Best Supporting Actress

  • Viola Davis ("Fences")
  • Greta Gerwig ("20th Century Women")
  • Naomie Harris ("Moonlight")
  • Nicole Kidman ("Lion")
  • Michelle Williams ("Manchester by the Sea")

Best Original Screenplay

  • "Hell or High Water" - Taylor Sheridan
  • "Jackie" - Noah Oppenheim
  • "La La Land" - Damien Chazelle 
  • "The Lobster" - Efthymis Filippou, Yorgos Lanthimos
  • "Manchester by the Sea" - Kenneth Lonergan 

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • "Arrival" - Eric Heisserer
  • "Fences" - August Wilson
  • "Moonlight" - Barry Jenkins
  • "Nocturnal Animals" - Tom Ford
  • "Silence" - Jay Cocks, Martin Scorsese

Best Cinematography

  • "Arrival" - Bradford Young
  • "The Handmaiden" - Chung Chung-hoon
  • "Jackie" - Stéphane Fontaine
  • "La La Land" - Linus Sandgren
  • "Moonlight" - James Laxton
  • "Silence" - Rodrigo Prieto

Best Production Design

  • "Arrival" - Patrice Vermette, Isabelle Guay
  • "Jackie" - Jean Rabasse, Halina Gebarowicz
  • "La La Land" - David Wasco, Austin Gorg
  • "The Nice Guys" - Richard Bridgland, David Utley
  • "Silence" - Dante Feretti, Wen-Ying Huang

Best Original Score

  • "Arrival" - Jóhann Jóhannsson
  • "Jackie" - Mica Levi
  • "La La Land" - Justin Hurwitz
  • "Lion" - Hauschka, Dustin O'Halloran
  • "Moonlight" - Nicholas Britell

Best Original Song

  • "Audition (The Fools Who Dream)" - Justin Hurwitz, Pasek and Paul ("La La Land")
  • "City of Stars" - Justin Hurwitz, Pasek and Paul ("La La Land")
  • "Drive It Like You Stole It" - Gary Clark ("Sing Street")
  • "How Far I'll Go" - Lin-Manuel Miranda ("Moana")
  • "I'm Still Here" - Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings ("Miss Sharon Jones!")
  • "The Rules Don't Apply" - Eddie Arkin and Lorraine Feather ("Rules Don't Apply")

Best Ensemble

  • "20th Century Women"
  • "Everybody Wants Some!!"
  • "Hell or High Water"
  • "Hidden Figures"
  • "Manchester by the Sea"
  • "Moonlight"
  • "Sing Street"

Best Foreign Film

  • "Elle"
  • "The Handmaiden"
  • "Neruda"
  • "Things to Come"
  • "Toni Erdmann"

Breakthrough Award

  • Mahershala Ali ("Free State of Jones," "Hidden Figures," "Kicks," "Moonlight")
  • Alden Ehrenreich ("Hail Caesar!," "Rules Don't Apply")
  • Lily Gladstone ("Buster's Mal Heart," "Certain Women")
  • Lucas Hedges ("Manchester by the Sea")
  • Barry Jenkins ("Moonlight")
  • Angourie Rice ("The Nice Guys," "Nowhere Boys: The Book of Shadows")

Best Animated Film

  • "Finding Dory"
  • "Kubo and the Two Strings"
  • "Kung Fu Panda 3"
  • "Moana"
  • "Zootopia"

Best Documentary Film

  • "13th"
  • "Gleason"
  • "I Am Not Your Negro"
  • "O.J.: Made in America"
  • "Weiner"

Oglethorpe Award for Excellence in Georgia Cinema

  • "The Nice Guys" - Shane Black, Anthony Bagarozzi

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Review: THE BYE BYE MAN Isn't Good, But Hey, At Least This Review Title Isn't A Dumb Pun

There's a demonic force, an evil idea, that prowls the world. This idea is so malevolent that saying it out loud, even thinking it, can summon it. And once it sees you, you can no longer trust your senses, your memories. And as you slowly go insane, as this presence pushes you to do cruel, unspeakable things, it does so knowing that there's nothing you can do. Its very name is a virus, and if you say it to anyone, you've infected them. It will come for them, too. And it's called the Bye Bye Ma--

--God fucking dammit, seriously? The Bye Bye Man? That was the best you could come up with? Not even a demonic sounding name, but, like, the last words a young child might say when his uncle leaves? Fuck, okay, fine.

It's called the Bye Bye Man. And, after a tight-knit trio of college kids move into an old house off campus and find a desk with his name scrawled in it, it has them in its grasp.

Look, let's be upfront: This is a profoundly stupid title and an even stupider name for the monster, and that's hard to overcome. There's a reason Insidious didn't have everyone running around scared of "The Lipstick Goat", or why Sinister made up a demonic-sounding name for its monster rather than calling it "backup Slipknot bassist." The movie has some pleasantly eerie imagery, and genre vet Doug Jones plays the Bye Bye Man with a lanky, grinning intensity that works really well in the film, but god damn, every time they say "the Bye Bye Man" the tension just broke for me.

The Bye Bye Man isn't quite as bad as its premise sounds, but it just can't stop shooting itself in the foot. Beyond just the name, it's all the small things. The violence in the film, which was initially rated R before being re-cut to a more studio-friendly PG-13, is laughable, with characters gunned down by shotgun blasts that punch a whole in the wall behind them, but leave wholly intact, bloodless corpses and crime scenes. The performances range from excellent (an underused Carrie-Anne Moss and Doug Jones) to overacting-but-fine (Douglas Smith, Lucien Laviscount) to the just-make-the-character-British-this-really-isn't-working (Cressida Bonas). The premise - say or think the demon's name and it will know you exist and begin stalking you - is both simple and chilling, but writer Jonathan Penner (adapting a short story by Robert Damon Schneck) can't help but muddy the waters; the film features a genuinely psychic friend, a seance, mysterious flashbacks, references to a haunting origin, a cute kid who keeps almost finding it, and other stock horror tropes. Hell, the first twenty minutes or so plays like a haunted house movie, with something malevolent stalking the kids even before the say the name, which fundamentally doesn't make sense with the 'rules' as laid out here. The core idea is part Oculus and part It Follows, but - despite copious exposition to that effect - you'd be forgiven if you left the theater thinking it was a stock Sinister knock-off.

Even the direction, from Stacy Title, is scattered. There are some wonderfully intense moments and interesting visual scares. She handles the earliest appearances of the Hellhound, an otherwise ugly-looking CGI beast, subtly, creating some surprisingly effective scares. There are a number of moments with odd angles or bad use of space that left me confused as to the characters' relationship with whatever was supposed to be scary, which is just an amateur mistake -- albeit one that could be the fault of extensive recutting. Indeed, the editing is the biggest problem with The Bye Bye Man in some ways, as some potentially scary moments linger just a bit too long or come just a beat too late.

Screenwriter Jonathan Penner, Title's husband, has some deeper problems, from basic issues with exposition (roughly 70% of the dialogue, it often seemed) to a monster that... doesn't really seem to do much. Even at the Bye Bye Man's most powerful, he mostly just watches mayhem, rather than cause it himself, which - in the absence of any sort of exploration as to what he is or how he operates - kind of neuters him as an effective monster. So much of the film is about the necessity of stamping out the very idea of the Bye Bye Man, but the film never establishes him as much of a threat -- the people seem to be the monsters here, but even that thread is mostly unexplored as the movie sticks by the three people slipping away slowly, rather than showing us the people who really lose it. "Mostly Unexplored" could be a subtitle for the film, which hints at a larger mythos - trains, coins, the hound - but at no point coheres all these elements into anything more meaningful than "Sometimes, the characters see and hear these things."

There are kernels of good ideas scattered throughout The Bye Bye Man, enough to make me wonder if there's a more interesting, coherent cut out there. But, as is, The Bye Bye Man manages a few chills, but literally everything it does, Oculus did better, smarter, scarier, and first... except for one bit, which The Nightmare Before Elm Street did better, smarter, scarier, and first. The idea of a viral evil, of demon as meme, isn't new, but it's an area still ripe for exploration and expansion as we as a society delve deeper into the noxious wasteland of social media. But The Bye Bye Man isn't really that. As much as the premise hints towards that, at times, the script is blunt enough as to obliterate the very notion of subtext. 

There are some tense, frightening moments in The Bye Bye Man, and at least one scene that I genuinely loved, even if its outcome doesn't make a ton of sense. But, whether because of the script or the direction or the eventual studio re-cut for a PG-13 rating, The Bye Bye Man, beyond its awful title, just doesn't really hang together terribly well. And you can string together as many frightening moments as you want, but if the movie is as ridiculous as this one often is, the sheer amount of times you stop and say, "Wait, hold on, what?" ends up neutering any tone of persistent dread Stacy Title may have been able to create. I've seen worse horror; hell, I've seen worse horror in the last month. But few recent examples have squandered an intriguing premise quite so thoroughly as The Bye Bye Man.

The Bye Bye Man is out now in theaters across the nation. Written by Jonathan Penner and directed by Stacy Title, The Bye Bye Man stars Douglas Smith and Cressida Bonas.
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Thursday, January 12, 2017

King of the Hill: The 20 Essential Episodes

Twenty years ago today (January 12, 1997), my favorite television series of all time debuted: King of the Hill.  Mike Judge and Greg Daniels co-created this animated satirical sitcom dealing with the lives of the Hill family in Arlen, Texas.  Across thirteen seasons and 259 episodes, King of the Hill would make its way into my heart forever due to its familiar setting/characters, excellent writing, and a fantastic sense of humor.  Over the years, the show would accrue a pretty big fan base, and was recently named one of the few shows both liberals and conservatives loved.  King of the Hill's ability to reach across the aisle cements its place as one of the greatest animated series of all time.

On this 20th anniversary, I decided to take a look back at the series as a whole.  While you have probably seen the series in syndication, maybe you've never really given it a chance.  With that in mind, I have crafted a list of what I feel are the 20 essential episodes.  If you could only watch 20 episodes, which ones would give you the best taste of (almost) everything the show had to offer?  Hopefully among this list you will find episodes you love, have never seen before, or ones it would be great to visit again.  

20. "To Sirloin, With Love"
Season 13, Episode 24

Best Line: "Well, Dad, it looks like this is the last one." - Bobby 

No countdown of the twenty essential episodes of King of the Hill would be complete without the series' abrupt finale.  In 2009, FOX decided that it was time for Hank Hill and company to go.  That it was to make room for Seth Macfarlane's The Cleveland Show was met with more than a little ire from fans.  As far as stories go, this episode doesn't really standout.  In fact, there are tons of better episodes. Bobby joins a competitive meat judging team and learns more about one of his dad's biggest passions.  That being said, the final few minutes of this episode put a nice, heartwarming bow on the entire series.  Dale and Nancy's marital problems are gone, Kahn stops putting so much pressure on Connie, we finally learn Boomhauer's job, and Hank and Bobby bond over grilling some burgers.  It's a sentimental moment that brings a tear to my eye every time I see it.  King of the Hill should not have ended when it did, but this was definitely the best way to end the show.

19. "Gone with the Windstorm"
Season 9, Episode 13

Best Line: "Baby, I always hoped we'd die together.  Peggy, you go die over there." - Dale

Nancy Gribble's general ineptitude as a weather girl was hinted at a few times in previous episodes, but this is where things really come to a head.  Channel 84 decides that viewers actually care about having accurate forecasts, outing Nancy in favor of a younger weatherman.  Nancy's methods of trying to get the new guy fired are some great character moments, but it's the episode's third act where this episode really shines.  A wild fire breaks out, and Nancy convinces Peggy and Dale to steal a news van with her.  There's also a great B-story here about Bobby being scared of a boy who constantly jumps out at him.  Overall, Nancy is not a character I've ever enjoyed.  Not because of her affair with John Redcorn, but something about the character just never made her endearing to me.  There are a few good Nancy episodes out there, but I think this one is the most essential.  We get to see the conniving Nancy in full form, and the episode's end sets up a great new role for Nancy at Channel 84 that would lead to some better Nancy-centric episodes later on.

18. "Kidney Boy and Hamster Girl: A Love Story"
Season 5, Episode 20

Best Line: "Wow.  Your cheerleaders really have boobies." - Bobby

There are a lot of good episodes to pick as essential when it comes to epitomizing Connie and Bobby's relationship, but I think few encapsulate it as well as this one.  Due to a series of misunderstandings, Bobby temporarily finds himself at Arlen High, convincing the other students that he is a senior with a kidney problem that stunted his growth.  Bobby running pants-less through the alley past Hank, Dale, and Boomhauer may be one of the most iconic scenes of the entire series.  There are plenty of episodes that deal with Bobby doing something stupid, Connie getting mad, and Bobby making up for it.  Heck, this isn't even the only episode like that that centers around a school dance.  Nevertheless, the quirky story of this one, mixed with the B-plot of Dale's fancy port-a-potty makes this episode immensely memorable.

17. "Transnational Amusements Presents: Peggy's Magic Sex Feet"
Season 4, Episode 23

Best Line: "Peggy's been a bad, bad girl." - Bill

Peggy's feet have been the subject of jokes on the show since the very beginning.  Her size 16 feet got a B-plot in season 1, but this was the first episode to really examine the only part of herself that Peggy is self-conscious about.  Of all the Peggy-centered episodes, this one has by far the strangest story.  I would love to know where writer Jonathan Collier got the idea for this episode, which sees Peggy performing in a series of foot fetish videos that wind up on the Internet.  Airing in May of 2000, this has to be one of the earliest episodes of any television show to deal with anything like this.  Today, you wouldn't bat your eye at a show dealing with posting things online, but it does some great development of Peggy's character,  and brings in some of the series' best jokes and awkward moments.

16. "Pretty, Pretty Dresses"
Season 3, Episode 9

Best Line: "I don't even know what game you're playing. Some kind of crazy tennis." - Hank

There are a lot of good Bill episodes.  Bill just may be one of the most well-developed of all the side characters in the entire series.  "Pretty Pretty Dresses" is also a classic Christmas episode of the show, which sees a depressed Bill suffering a psychological break over his divorce with his wife Lenore.  This break starts out with Bill just replacing his wife with an iguana, but moves to Bill full on thinking he is Lenore, wearing a dress to Hank's Christmas party.  This episode is great not just because of all the fun humor at the expense of the Hill family and the awkward situations Bill forces Hank into, but the character development here is exceptionally strong.  Bill's divorce was the subject of many jokes early on, but this was the first time the show really grappled with the effects on King of the Hill's most vulnerable character.

15. "My Own Private Rodeo"
Season 6, Episode 18

Best Line: "I loved my Dad like a father, and he betrayed me like a betrayer." - Dale

One of the things that made King of the Hill great is the times it would tackle hard-hitting social issues of the day.  Except for maybe The Simpsons, the show was one of the first adult cartoons to tackle LGBT stories in a positive light.  Dale is in the process of renewing his vows to Nancy, leading to a rough reunion with his estranged father, Bug, who turns out to be working in the gay rodeo.  Sure, the episode comes with a few jokes at the expense of Bug's sexuality, but King of the Hill has always been about how the more conservative minded American would approach unfamiliar situations.  Ultimately, though, Bug and Juan Pedro's relationship is played in a respectful manner, and Bug is accepted by Dale and his friends.  This episode is great to show that ultra-conservative friend of yours.

14. "My Hair Lady"
Season 8, Episode 11

Best Line: "Last night, I dreamed about hair. But it was a good dream this time, not the one where it forms a noose and hangs me." - Bill

Another good Bill episode, but also a fun episode for Luanne.  Having to work together at local salon Hottyz, Bill and Luanne change themselves to fit in with their new clientele.  For Bill, this means copying the successful hair stylist Rico and pretending to be a gay man.  An argument with Hank inside the salon that leads to everyone assuming he is Bill's boyfriend is one of the greatest moments in the show's history.  Although Bill is feigning gay, it is never done in a disrespectful manner.  Luanne's desire to cut hair is dealt with numerous times over the show's seasons, but this is perhaps the most memorable for having such a unique story.  For that reason, this one makes the list.   

13. "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret Hill"
Season 6, Episode 12

Best Line: "That's a clean burning Hell, I tell you what" - Hank

There are a ton of Peggy teaching episodes to choose from when making a list like this.  In fact, you'll find another one a little bit later.  This one stands out due to just how far Peggy is willing to go to teach Spanish.  Pretending to be a nun, Peggy gets a teaching job at a Catholic school, but things turn out wrong when the Methodist Peggy has to teach a basics of Catholicism class.  Overconfident Peggy being taken down a (ahem) peg is a pretty standard plot line for a lot of episodes, but this one stands out almost entirely due to Peggy's Hell dream where she watches the children she teaches be damned to Hell for incorrectly teaching Catholicism.  Said sequence produced a Hank laughing in Hell gif I'm sure you have seen on Twitter at least once.  A fun, standout story, even if the structure is similar to many others.

12. "Dale to the Chief"
Season 9, Episode 5

Best Line: "It's illegal for us to 'profile' anyone, but I know what I'm looking for -- not that I'm looking for anyone -- and you're not it." - FBI Agent

There aren't a lot of episodes of television shows I'd describe as perfect in every way, but damn if this one doesn't come close.  On a personal list of favorite episodes, this would easily be in my Top 2.  This is another episode that puts characters in awkward situations and tries some role reversals.  The main plot of this episode deals with Dale abandoning his conspiracy theorist ways after discovering the Warren Commission may have been right about the JFK assassination.  What makes this episode so amazing, however, is the intertwined B-plot where Hank gets his driver's license back and it accidentally labels him as a woman.  What follows is some of the series' strongest writing and easily one of the funniest episodes of this show that was ever created.  Every nook and cranny of this episode's ridiculous premise is examined in the best way possible.

11. "Twas the Nut Before Christmas"
Season 5, Episode 8

Best Line: "It's Christmas and Bill's happy? I'll tell you how Jesus feels...great." - Hank

Another classic Bill episode, and the last of this list.  It seems Christmas episodes were always some of the strongest of the series, but almost all holiday episodes seem to be perfect fodder for a Bill episode.  This one sees Bill opening a Christmasland in his backyard where he dresses as Santa and gives out gifts.  Not understanding when there's too much of a good thing, Bill keeps the Santa routine going well into February, even picking up a vagrant to live with him in the process.  Like "Are You There God?  It's Me, Margaret Hill," this episode follows a pretty similar structure to a lot of Bill episodes, but the holiday theme plus Bill in a continuously deteriorating Santa outfit makes this one pretty memorable.

10. "Pilot"
Season 1, Episode 1

Best Line: "Mister, I haven't even begun to project my anger onto you!" - Hank

Any list of the essential episodes of King of the Hill wouldn't be complete without the episode that started it all twenty years ago.  Re-watching the pilot, it's interesting to see how many elements and characteristics of the cast were well established in just those 22 minutes.  Luanne's short arc in the episode is full of material touched on in episodes over and over, and characters like Hank, Peggy, Bobby, Dale, and Boomhauer are set up in ways they would pretty much stick to throughout the entire series.  Even the plot of the episode (Hank being accused of child abuse) was setting the bar for some of the ridiculousness combined with realism we could expect from the series.  While certain mannerisms of characters may have been calmed down, this pilot holds up incredibly well even two decades later.  

9. "Death of a Propane Salesman"
Season 3, Episode 1

Best Line: "Redbook says that losing a boyfriend is the fourth most painful loss, right between grandmother and penis." - Peggy

Early on in the show's run, two part episodes would be pretty common, especially as season finales/openers.  Such is the case with this episode, which sees Hank, Luanne, and the rest of Arlen dealing with the fallout of Megalo-Mart blowing up at the end of Season 2.  This episode is a fantastic character episode, setting up development of Luanne that would last for much of the rest of the third season, and even an episode or two afterward.  It's also a notable episode due to killing off Luanne's boyfriend Buckley, who never really added much to the series to begin with.  Hank dealing with some PTSD related to propane also makes for some fun character moments, but isn't really capitalized on as much as it could have been beyond just this episode.  While the plot is a lot of fun, it's the character development of Hank and, particularly, Luanne that makes this one of the series' many high points.

8. "Cotton's Plot"
Season 4, Episode 2

Best Line: "Tojo had me cooped up in a bamboo rat cage. There was nothing to eat except rats. So that's what I ate. After two weeks I was down to my last rat. I let him live so I could eat his droppings. Called it 'Jungle Rice'. Tasted fine." - Cotton

I'll probably get a lot of flack for this being the only Cotton episode on this list.  It's not like I dislike the character or anything, but I feel the episodes I've chosen are just more essential than a lot of Cotton's stories.  That being said, this one is pretty great.  Serving as pretty much a part 3 to Season 3/4's two-parter about Peggy surviving a sky diving accident, Cotton becomes Peggy's physical therapist on her road to recovery.  What makes this episode stand out is the dynamic between Cotton and Peggy, something the series would visit a few times, but never in as much depth as this episode.  Peggy agrees to help Cotton get buried in an army cemetery in exchange for helping her walk again.  Not only do we get to see Peggy call out Cotton on all of his (likely) fake World War 2 stories, but, even more fun, we get to see Cotton deliver some great one-liners at Peggy's expense.  If Peggy was never your favorite character, you'll probably adore this episode.  

7. "The Texas Skillsaw Massacre"
Season 7, Episode 7

Best Line: "Anger management? That's for guys who spit on umpires. I don't need that crap." - Hank

Hank's anger problem is something the series dealt with from the very beginning, but this episode saw Hank's annoyance at people acting idiotic come to a head.  When Dale's finger is accidentally cut off, Hank finds himself forced into anger management classes in order to save his life.  There are a ton of great moments in this episode, and it's also a good development of Hank and Dale's friendship.  The anger management classes once again put Hank in some uncomfortable situations, but it still makes for some funny moments.  While Hank would still threaten to kick many an ass, this episode is still a turning point for Hank as a character.

6. "Square Peg"
Season 1, Episode 2

Best Line: "That is the inside of a womb! A woman's womb! Bobby is not going to look at the inside of a womb! He's only been outside yours for eleven years!" - Hank

The second episode of King of the Hill  would continue to establish the kind of wacky, yet realistic storylines the series would deal with.  This Peggy episode sees the Substitute Teacher of the Year being forced into teaching a sex ed class, much to the ire of Hank.  Peggy having to deal with crippling shame and a community that doesn't support the idea of sexual education makes for some of the series' more memorable moments.  It's hard to imagine many more iconic scenes from this show than Peggy loudly screaming vagina for everyone to hear.  You can tell this episode is one of the earlier parts of the show's run.  The satire of conservative families and values is a lot more pointed than it would be in the following seasons.  But all of that just helps make this one of the series' most memorable episodes.  Absolutely necessary viewing.

5. "Bobby Goes Nuts"
Season 6, Episode 1

Best Line: "That's my purse!  I don't know you!" - Bobby

Of all of the classic episodes of this series, this is most likely the one episode of King of the Hill you've seen.  It makes sense.  All the classic ingredients are there.  The plot is quintessential for the show: Bobby finds himself in a women's self defense class at the YMCA, where he learns only one technique of stopping an attacker: kicking them in the testicles.  There are a ton of great Bobby and Hank moments across all 13 seasons, but this just may be the best episode about their relationship.  Bobby's training empowers him to be a lot more confident and daring, and it all comes to a head when Bobby tries, in vain, to kick Peggy in the same sensitive area.  The line I chose from this episode is one of the all-time greats in animation history, and this episode really highlights how, despite being rooted in realism, King of the Hill could still examine stories you wouldn't normally see on your average sitcom.

4. "Meet the Manger Babies"
Season 2, Episode 12

Best Line: "I think God has a plan for me, and it involves puppets." - Luanne

Hank and Luanne always had an interesting relationship throughout the show.  Luanne constantly sought her uncle's love and approval, which he almost always begrudgingly gave her.  No episode examines this complicated relationship like this one.  Feeling lonely and without purpose, Luanne buys some old puppets from a yard sale and begins her own Christian puppet show, with Hank as the star.  The Manger Babies would become a recurring part of the series, but this is definitely the episode featuring them to watch.  With some great moments for both Hank and Luanne, this is easily one of the most memorable episodes throughout the series run.  It says a lot about the quality of the show's writing staff from the get go that it came so early on.

3. "Racist Dawg"
Season 7, Episode 20

Best Line: "I'll tell you something right now: We cannot afford to have that dog running amok, biting every black person she sees. It makes us look like a bunch of ignorant rednecks. Oh, and it's bad for black people too." - Peggy

King of the Hill was obviously meant to be a satire of many aspects of the typical life of a conservative family in the South.  Looking back on the show's thirteen seasons, no episode perhaps seems more prescient than this one.  In an age where numerous white males are constantly trying to prove they are not racist, this episode dealt with that 14 years ago.  When Ladybird bites a black repairman (Bernie Mac), Hank and Ladybird are both accused of being racist.  There is so much about this episode that is just perfect satire, particularly when Hank continuously quotes MLK to prove that he is not racist.  The way race and how people, particularly white people, deal with racial issues are handled in this episode is some of the series' best writing.  The script for this one should be taught in writing classes.

2. "A Firefighting We Will Go"
Season 3, Episode 10

Best Line: "For God's sake, Hank, act like an adult. And keep it down, guys, will you? I am trying to get through an article on vintage Camaros, and I've been on the same dang page for twenty minutes." - Boomhauer

The friendship between the guys in the alley is one of the cornerstones of King of the Hill.  While almost every episode deals with this friendship in some way, this one in particular is a great look at how these four guys get along.  Hank, Dale, Bill, and Boomhauer decide to become volunteer firemen.  Through a series of hijinks, the guys end up accidentally burning down the fire station, leading to them having to give their side of the story in the episode's framing device.  Obviously what makes this episode notable is the twist on Boomhauer's speech when he tells his side of the story, but there are tons of reasons to check this one out.  Dale and Bill have always been the sillier of the four, Boomhauer more relaxed, and Hank the uptight one who keeps them all in line.  All these characteristics are played up big time here, with this episode featuring some of the series' best visual gags.  This may be the funniest episode of the series.

1. "Ms. Wakefield"
Season 9, Episode 12

Best Line: "That poor old woman. She committed the crime of loving Hank's house too much. Are we not all guilty?" - Bill

If I ever get the chance to interview Mike Judge, there are a lot of things I'd want to ask him.  Probably the question that would top my list would involve how the plots for certain episodes were thought up, most especially this one.  Ms. Wakefield is an elderly woman who grew up in the Hill's home, who, at Christmas, would like to now die in the house.  The story for this episode is so strange, I just have to know how the writers came up with it.  I'm a bit biased putting this as my number one pick as this is most definitely my favorite episode of the entire series.  Seeing the Hill family's expected reaction to Ms. Wakefield's request compared to everyone else along with a fantastic suspenseful sequence of trying to find Ms. Wakefield hiding in the house help to make this not only a funny episode, but one of THE most memorable.  If you can only stomach one episode, make it this one.

What are some of your favorite episodes of King of the Hill?  You can check out these episodes and more on iTunes, YouTube, DVD, and nightly on Adult Swim.

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