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King Of The Hill: The Complete First Season (DVD)

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With Beavis And Butt-head, Mike Judge created the definitive satire of an attention-span-impaired, junk-culture-addled MTV generation, in the process attacking the demographic that most widely embraced it. It promised to be a hard act to follow, but two successive triumphs solidified Judge's place as one of America's premier satirists, illustrating the range and depth of his talent. Judge's live-action directorial debut, 1999's Office Space, received mixed reviews and anemic box-office, but has gone on to earn one of the decade's most richly deserved cult followings. Even more impressively, Judge returned to television in 1997 with King Of The Hill, an animated sitcom that trades in B&B's sledgehammer satire for a subtler but equally effective mixture of sociological insight and surprising warmth. Co-created by Simpsons veteran Greg Daniels, King Of The Hill follows the low-key misadventures of the Hills, a Texas family headed by father Hank, a conservative propane salesman who's far more reasonable than he initially appears, and substitute-teacher mother Peggy, whose carefully constructed persona as an overachieving superwoman hides a bubbling cauldron of eccentricity and arrogance. Rounding out the family are Bobby, a doughy boy on the cusp of adolescence with the playful spirit of a Broadway trouper, and cousin Luanne, a Jesus-loving, hormonally overdriven trailer-park exile struggling through beauty school. Hank bears a suspicious resemblance, both physically and vocally, to Tom Anderson, one of Beavis and Butt-head's dimwitted antagonists, but he's a far more complex character. In one of the DVD's dry-but-revealing commentary tracks, Daniels says that Judge's original script for the pilot presented Hank as a figure of mockery, rather than the sympathetic patriarch he would become. From its first episode on, King Of The Hill works to create a sense of empathy for its characters, which leads to a show that's not only emotionally resonant, but also funny. Hank's devotion to his job is often played for laughs, but there's an existential nobility to his pride in a job well done. He's stubborn and old-fashioned, but that's in large part because he has a core set of values that carries him through life's travails. Equally affectionate and unsparing, King Of The Hill often traffics in the disparity between the way things are and the way they appear to be. In the pilot episode, a well-meaning but clueless social worker (pointedly hailing from L.A.) mistakes Bobby's baseball injury for damning evidence of physical abuse. Tellingly, the show identifies with the solid and loving family rather than the psychobabble-spouting outsider, who sees Texas as a giant cesspool of ignorant rednecks. Texas is crucial to the show's success: Where Daniels' onetime employers at The Simpsons have made a running gag out of the geographic vagueness of their characters' hometown, King Of The Hill makes the Lone Star State and its myriad idiosyncrasies one of its stars. One of television's richest depictions of family life, King Of The Hill derives abundant laughs from relationships, characters, and its setting rather than from the standalone gags of lesser animated shows like Family Guy. In sharp contrast to the audio-commentary chuckle-fests that adorn the Simpsons and Futurama DVDs, the generally sober audio commentaries here emphasize the hard work and craft that went into the show's making. The DVD's most revealing special feature is a comprehensive list of rules for the animators, which illustrate just how meticulous the show's creators are in crafting their fully formed cartoon universe. As the stellar first season of King Of The Hill illustrates, their commitment to discipline has paid off.