The Pleasant Mediocrity of King of the Hill

Updated: Mar 30


As I mature, I find myself empathizing more and more with one of Mike Judge’s greatest creations, King of the Hill. I find it extremely comforting that Hank Hill exudes domestic zen in spite of the challenges and curveballs life continues to throw at him. I can appreciate yet another layer of jokes on display in this tightly packed sitcom, that an earlier version of me completely overlooked. Hank’s pleasure is displayed by the good, hard work of homeownership and his wishes to be as boring, average, and straight-laced as possible. This is in addition to some of his narrative arcs and other storytelling devices which echo this lovely simplicity. The platitudes displayed in this sitcom can easily be translated into a guide of how to derive pleasure from an otherwise aggravating activity and live a happier, more fulfilling, life by doing so.

I used to love this show for Bobby’s idiosyncratic nature and the ferocious, untethered passion of Peggy ‘Hoo-yeah!’ Hill. Both of them drew me in to Mike Judge’s classic show with their absurdities, but as I rewatch it now, it’s all about Hank. In one of my favorite episodes, you can see his unwavering concentration – and pleasure – as he repaves his driveway. It's such a clear example of the feeling of accomplishment after finishing an otherwise seemingly menial task. This is displayed by numerous examples throughout the tenure of the show, but one of the most memorable and poignant examples is when Hank grapples with the concept of how to attain a euphoric high by saying, “Why would anyone do drugs when they can just mow their lawn?” This is his ultimate satisfaction. Hank exudes pleasure from performing good, virtuous work. In other words, this is the Aristotelian concept of Eudaimonia.

This continues to be a trend in the series and is displayed in Hank’s passion for precision. This pension for accuracy is echoed during Luanne’s debut show of the Manger Babies, and Hank – for a brief second – appears to be proud of his surrogate daughter, only to have his focus shift away, once he realizes that he didn’t hammer in one of the nails all the way, which detracts from his “craftsmanship.” Hank’s undeterred focus is something I strive to achieve, and recreate. This focus is also applicable to his steak cooking, lawn mowing, and of course, his propane selling. It’s like the Ron Swanson idea of “you can’t half-ass two things, you have to whole-ass one thing.” Except in Hank’s case, maybe he half-asses one thing, and he lets his butt boobies do the rest.

One thing that Hank always puts his whole ass into is Strickland Propane. As someone with a middle-management job, I can concretely say that the strive for mediocrity is real. I could only hope and dream for something as prestigious as a “blue flame of valor jacket” in this world of less-pay-for-more-hours on the clock. His work however, is not only limited to Strickland; Hank does quite a bit of community work as well, which alludes to the concept of altruism. Hank's tasks, although small in nature, sometimes align him with a greater good for Arlen. This is displayed in the episodes where Hank talks down Dale from the university chapel “shoot out” scene, or when he tries to get the Dallas Cowboys to relocate to Arlen. The narrative thread of some of the absurdities encountered in this show depict Hank trying his best to be a stand up citizen.

Even when the show’s narrative explores fantasy, daydreams, or memories, it’s still tied to the deliciously monotonous quotidian of our wants and desires. In a brilliant episode reminiscent of the Rashomon effect, of Akira Kurosawa’s brilliant film, Rashomon, (which can be boiled down to the notion that everyone has their own valid truth) the redneck quartet volunteer as firemen, and the firehouse ends up burning down as a result of their actions. In Dale’s memory, he has a long, gorgeous head of hair and is in shape. Bill’s memory includes a fully bald version of himself, daintily cutting a toaster oven pizza with a swiss army knife, only to put it away and gorge on the pizza face first with no utensils and a napkin-tucked into his shirt (in reality, he was shirtless and used no napkins; we’ve all been there though, right?) Finally, in the saddest of all memories depicted, Boomhauer envisions everyone talking in the mile-a-minute indistinguishable nonsense he is known for, and he clearly enunciates and expresses himself in a calm manner. In Hank's flashback, he is an accurate representation of himself, and ends up taking care of everyone else’s shortcomings. Again, Hank acts for the greater good of the community, even if his community consists of delusional, self-absorbed idiots.

Overall, at this stage in my life with everything going on in the world, I’ve found it harder to appreciate things and I’ve become a deeply cynical man. My cynicism however, melts away at each episode’s conclusion. Normally, Hank completes a task, the music swells, and the camera pulls back to reveal a sunset over the Arlen water tower and the end credits play. At these moments, I often find myself with a smile as wide as Ladybird's jowls as the credits roll. I now can finally understand the joyous monotony of accomplishing this day-to-day type of work, and more specifically, the pride that comes from those accomplishments.

Jordan Young

Jordan graduated in 2009 from Susquehanna University with a degree in Creative Writing and Film Studies where he met his wife. In spite of God's will, he published his first book PESTS with Lloyd Kaufman; the CEO of the independent stalwart Troma Entertainment. You can see him being snarky and cynical on Twitter and Instagram @settlingstatic , and you can find him being deeply, deeply nerdy on Reddit @SkywardJordan.

#Newsletter #Articles #KingoftheHil #TV #Animation #JordanYoung #MikeJudge #Propane

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