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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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