King of the Hill holds a special place in my heart. I might not have been there to see it when the show originally aired in January of 1997, in fact it wasn’t until my high school year of school that I properly discovered it, but since then, it’s been a staple in my television diet. It’s something of a comfort show to watch at night or on a down day.
I’ve probably rewatched the entire series a dozen times over the years, often as I’m falling asleep. I love how layered the jokes are, the development of the characters and their arcs, and how each episode tackles some dilemma or moral issue with just the right amount of charm. All the fun kicks off in the Pilot, so let’s talk about that.
Straight away, the opening scene is packed full of jokes while also perfectly setting up the characters. Hank is the clear leader, Boomhauer is incomprehensible, Dale is a conspiracy nut who is a bit of an idiot, and Bill is slovenly and just kinda there.
As for the jokes, we get treated to the classic of learning what “FORD” stands for, despite Dale butchering the punchline. Then there’s the outlandish analysis by Hank that his truck needs leadership in order to function which then promptly ties in the pride of an all-American car manufacturer with a rather embarrassing moment for George Bush. “Detroit hadn’t felt any real pride since George Bush went to Japan and vomited on their auto executives.”
I love the idea that FORD was able to feel a sense of pride over the USA President vomiting on the Prime Minister of Japan. As if the act was done by the president on behalf of North America’s greatest car manufacturer.
The scene also positions King of the Hill as existing in the real world with real people. The buddies talk about the latest episode of Seinfeld, with Boomhauer summarizing it as, “It’s just a show about nothin’.” An astute observation but also a meta reference to King of the Hill’s own focus on being an a show about an everyday American family, experiencing everyday American things and problems.
Of course, the Pilot goes on to introduce the rest of the cast. Bobby is listening to a practical joke cassette. Hank is obviously unimpressed, but the fact he questions where Bobby recorded it is hilarious to me. While somewhat underdeveloped, Peggy is there to help facilitate communications between her husband and son while also highlighting how proud she is of her family.
We’re also treated to a brief look at the town of Arlen itself. The Mega Lo Mart, which features prominently throughout the series, is the classic, massive corporation shopping center that enters a town and inevitably puts smaller businesses out of commission. It’s here that the main crises of the Pilot begins, with someone thinking Hank has a temper, which he does, though it quickly spirals out to Bobby potentially being taken away by Child Protective Services.
As a whole, the King of the Hill Pilot does a tremendous job at introducing viewers to a brand new set of characters, while establishing individual motivations, and setting up a small community with plenty of backstory to dig into. The only thing missing? A scene of the four guys standing in the alley talking.