Mike Judge’s King Of The Hill, the animated adventures of a Texas propane salesman and his family, has been absent from the airwaves for six years, which is a shame, since the show’s even-handed, bipartisan humor is precisely the kind America needs in this bitter, deeply divided age of red state/blue state politics. That’s the assessment of writer Bert Clere in an appreciative essay about the show at The Atlantic. Before discussing the importance of the Fox series, Clere briefly summarizes the current state of the television union: Liberals watch quirky comedies, conservatives watch reality and crime shows, and there is little to no overlap between the two. What made King Of The Hill different, Clere writes, is that it poked fun at both liberals and conservatives in ways that everyone in the audience could enjoy. Protagonist Hank Hill and his beer-drinking “redneck” buddies were not the height of sophistication, but the show also scored some laughs at the expense of the liberal bureaucrats and New Age space cadets who regularly invaded their world.
The centerpiece of Clere’s article is his discussion of a second-season episode titled “Traffic Jam,” in which Hank attends traffic school and finds himself the butt of jokes made by a black instructor named Booda Sack (voiced by Chris Rock). Rather than oversimplify the issues at hand, “Traffic Jam” explores the racial tension at the heart of the episode in a responsible, balanced way. While Hank’s conservative sensibilities are offended by the teacher’s remarks, the truth is that a black man living in Texas would be facing an unemployment rate twice as high as that of white men. Eventually, by the episode’s end, Hank and Booda come to understand each other as people and are even comfortable enough with one another to be able to exchange jokes. It’s a simple comedic moment, but it’s one that would be very difficult to pull off in the current television landscape.