This month 25 years ago, the Fox network aired a new, decidedly different animated sitcom: King of the Hill. Created by Mike Judge and Greg Daniels, the show – about everyman propane salesman Hank Hill and his family and friends, who live in the small town of Arlen, Texas – boasted a sly, low-key sense of humour typically only found in live action comedies back in 1997.
This more grounded approach to cartoon comedy paid off. Not only did King of the Hill end up one of Fox’s longest running series, but it also nabbed a bunch of industry awards and nominations. Since then, it’s featured on several prominent “best of” animated series lists, too.
So, to celebrate King of the Hill’s quarter century milestone, here’s a round-up of the five best episodes from across the show’s 13 season run.
5. “Megalo Dale”
Paranoid exterminator Dale Gribble quickly emerged as one of King of the Hill’s breakout characters. Season 7 episode “Megalo Dale” is arguably the greatest – and most hilarious – distillation of why.
After the local Mega-Lo-Mart hires Dale to sort out its rat problem, Dale’s penchant for wild conspiracy theories takes over. Before too long, he’s implicated Mega-Lo-Mart celebrity spokesman (and real-life jazz legend) Chuck Mangione as the culprit behind the shopping centre’s supposed pest problem – which alarms Hank, since he was person who recommended Dale for the job!
Determined to save his friend from humiliation and protect his own reputation, Hank decides to intervene. This doesn’t go as planned, and after a series of increasingly outrageous developments, leads to the episode’s shocking, oddly uplifting climax.
4. “Cotton’s Plot”
Has there ever been a more objectionable character in a mainstream sitcom than King of the Hill’s Cotton Hill? Hank’s diminutive WWII veteran dad is belligerent, racist, sexist, and just about everything else in-between, so on paper we should hate him. But there’s also something compelling and – let’s be honest – downright funny about Cotton that’s impossible to deny – and these qualities are showcased best in Season 4 episode “Cotton’s Plot”.
Centred around a previously unexplored dynamic – the strained relationship between Cotton and Hank’s wife, Peggy – “Cotton’s Plot” does the unthinkable: it redeems Cotton. Okay, that might be a stretch (the guy has a lot to make up for, after all), but we finally see Cotton do something right by his family as he draws upon his special brand of ultra-tough love to get wheelchair-bound Peggy on her feet again.
Along the way, we’re treated to more of Cotton’s outrageously exaggerated war stories – he climbed the cliffs of Normandy with a 50lbs ice cream maker on his back, apparently – and hear the full, tragicomic explanation for his inexplicably short stature (something only alluded to previously).
3. “A Fire Fighting We Will Go”
Season 3 episode “A Fire Fighting We Will Go” is one of the most structurally ambitious episodes of King of the Hill – and one of the funniest. In the wake of a firefighter’s strike, Hank, Dale, Boomhauer and Bill eagerly volunteer to fill in, only to make a series of blunders, culminating in the Arlen firehouse burning down.
As “A Fire Fighting We Will Go” kicks off, the irate fire marshal is interrogating the quartet about their misadventures, leading to a Rashomon-like scenario where Hank, Dale, Boomhauer and Bill offer wildly different accounts of the events which are equal parts self-serving and uproariously entertaining.
2. “Ho Yeah!”
Hank Hill is an inherently decent and sensible man, however, he’s not always the most street-smart guy on the block. These qualities collide to side-splitting effect in King of the Hill Season 5 episode “Ho Yeah!”, in which Hank unwittingly winds up as the new pimp for his propane-selling protégé, Tammi, who moonlights as a prostitute.
“Ho Yeah!” milks this inspired premise for all it’s worth, with incredible visual gags ranging from Tammi giving a Peggy a glow-up charitably described as “street walker chic”, to the feathered cowboy hat she gifts to Hank, which he wears with oblivious, good-natured pride.
And then there’s the inevitable confrontation between Hank and Tammi’s former pimp, Alabaster Jones (voiced by none other than Snoop Dog) – an encounter which surely rates among the funniest moments in the entire series!
1. “To Sirloin with Love”
“To Sirloin With Love” is the last ever episode of King of the Hill. It’s also the best – and certainly ranks among the best series finales (animated or otherwise) ever made. Not only does this Season 13 episode serve up some great gags – a throwaway reference to Bobby’s toy unicorn ranch is killer – but it’s also a disarmingly moving farewell that brings the show’s central Hank/Bobby father and son dynamic satisfyingly full circle.
That’s probably the best word to describe “To Sirloin with Love”: satisfying. Rather than dial up the stakes or overcook the emotions, the final King of the Hill entry ends with a simple, drama-free BBQ – staying true to the understated spirit of the show and giving the residents of Arlen the perfect send-off in the process.
The icing on the cake? The final shot of the town before the credits roll which mirrors the opening shot the King of the Hill pilot, bookending this classic series in elegant yet fittingly unfussy fashion.