At its core, King Of The Hill has always been a show about manhood. Hank Hill is the main character, an Arlen, Texas resident simply trying to get by in the world—support his family, run a successful propane sales branch, do what he believes is right by his friends. The other characters have problems that come and go, but throughout it all, Hank is there to comment. And comment he does. It's been argued to death (including on this website) that King Of The Hill is repetitive; it is, yes, but I don't think it ever cared. Hank Hill's a stubborn guy, so sometimes the lessons he learns about manhood bear repeating. It's annoying; it is what it is.
The interesting thing about this 13th season, though, is that the show rarely touched on what can arguably be called its central relationship: Hank and Bobby. Every thing Hank does is meant to set an example for his son, the one who will later carry out the Hill legacy. And I think it's safe to say Bobby and Hank rarely see eye-to-eye; Bobby doesn't want to be a man yet, and he's hardly one now. Hank is happiest when he sees himself in his son, and most disappointed when he sees someone he knows, deep in his heart, is not his son.
It's fitting, then, that the final episodes of King Of The Hill dealt explicitly with these issues, and focused almost exclusively on the relationship between Hank and Bobby (with a little Peggy thrown in). Despite trepidation I've had with the show in the past, I thought these episodes fit the series perfectly, and were some of the most enjoyable the show has done in recent history. King Of The Hill may not be as flashy as Family Guy or have as celebrated a history as The Simpsons, but dammit, the writers still know how to tell a decent story in a humorous, compelling way. And in today's animated landscape, that counts for a lot.
Surprisingly, like its animated brethren, these final two King Of The Hill episodes were a lot more, well, cartoonish than previous ones. In the first, Bobby falls prey to a group of popular girls looking for their next "project"—they adorn his face with cat make-up, win pink teddy bears for him, and flat-out treat him like one of the ladies. The second finds Bobby being discovered in a steak restaurant for his uncanny knowledge of meat cuts, by a so-called "Professor of Meat Science" who goes to the restaurant every day looking for the final player for his meat-identifying team. ("I've never seen anyone so young with such meat savvy.") I didn't mind these plots too much, mostly because the episode had a clear wink-nudge sensibility about them: Hank's proclamations first that his son is turning into a girl, then how he's always hoped his son would join the meat team, aren't treated ridiculously at all; they're accepted, and conflict ensues.
In "The Boys Can't Help It," Hank's biggest problem is that he wants Bobby to act like how he imagines a man would act—calling girls and riding, at the very least, in front of the girl on a bike. (When Hank first freaked about where Bobby was sitting, I thought it was because his, um, man-parts would be all up in there, not because it was a girly thing to sit in the back. Oh well.) But the problem isn't so much that Hank is set in some outdated version of machismo, but that Bobby is so obviously being played by these girls; the whole time, he thinks he's seriously dating all three of them. Things come to head when Bobby goes with the girls to an under-the-bleachers party, where they proceed to hit on other guys in front of him—and Hank shows up to get Bobby out of there. And on Bobby's way out, he notices the girls getting hassled by some skateboard punks, and steps in to chivalrously make sure the girls are doing alright. Hank's proud; Bobby's back on the man track.
The major complaint I have about this episode, though, is that while I understand Hank is an old-fashioned guy, it never becomes quite clear if his concern is for Bobby's feelings or this delusion he has about Bobby being a girl still (fueled by Dale's claim that if this gender-blurring keeps up, in the future both men and women will visit the gynecologist)—even after he sees the way Bobby's being treated. Once you start Hank down a path, he will not sway. I still thought it was a good episode, especially Kahn's blanket hatred of everything related to "hillbilly science" and the rest of the guys' attempt to give their favorite homeless guy a really heavy shopping cart monstrosity, pushing it all the way to the park ("No wonder the homeless are so thin"). It's just frustrating to see that Hank's concern is still pretty self-centered.
At least the second episode of the evening, the King Of The Hill series finale, nuanced Hank and Bobby's relationship a bit more. It starts seemingly right where the last one leaves off, with Hank struggling to connect with Bobby. So he takes him to a steak restaurant—with no live music—knowing full well he can shove a breadstick into his mouth if he runs out of things to say to his son. That's where Bobby meets the aforementioned meat coach, and suddenly Hank and Bobby have something in common: Hank wants to see Bobby excel at something, and so does Bobby. (Peggy's just happy Bobby has "inside jokes and smells like raw beef." Once again, Hank gets too involved—chartering a bus to the state championships—at the expense of ignoring what his son's really upset about—fear of failure, which happened in the qualifying match. And just like the last episode, Bobby comes through in the end, performing just how his dad wanted him to, but on his own volition. Well, because his dad bought him a grill.
By the time I got to that final scene—the entire cast gathering at the Hill's house for an impromptu BBQ—I had pretty much forgotten about any qualms I had with Hank's parenting style and was simply enjoying watching the characters interact. And the nice surprise at the end, Bobby's up there grilling like his old man. That's about the highest honor you can get in a family living off the propane dime, and it only took Bobby Hill 13 seasons to get there. Hank tells Bobby at the end that he's got a lot of grilling in his future, and I'd like to think Bobby would be paving his own way from here on out. But on King Of The Hill, men are made through emulation—you copy your dad until your dad sees enough of himself in you, then he hands over the reins. There's little room for flair, at least at the beginning, because you're building a legacy around your name. It's a simple way to look at the world, and King Of The Hill has always been a simple show. But a memorable one nonetheless.
"The Boys Can't Help It": B
"To Sirloin With Love": A-
- "The card with the rules on it."
- "I do my talking on the carcass."
- It's true. There's nothing but meat in team.