Earlier this year, when I first saw late night [adult swim] bumps advertising their acquisition and scheduled programming of King of the Hill, I felt confused and betrayed. I mean…adult swim has been my favorite programming block on TV for close to a decade; its absurdist cartoons and unorthodox live action programs characterized by their surreal visual style and nonsequiter humor were extremely appealing to me as a young (and now very old) adolescent. My memories of King of the Hill recalled it to be mainstream mundane programming with a cheap visual style that could barely be considered comedy. What place did a typical, boring show like that have in my favorite programming block?
“When Did You Stop Remembering?,” a recent favorite bump.
Between adult swim programs (some of which can be as short as seven minutes), minimalist title cards, subliminal messaging, and abstract art/photography, accompanied by hiphop, jazz, and electronic music, round out the frenetic collection of shorts, episodes, and bumps into an entire nightly viewing experience. I can (and more often than not, do) fall asleep after hours of late-night unwinding to adult swim programming. I’m not going to say it doesn’t get old, but after a decade of doing this, some things just feel satisfyingly familiar. You can find all the bumps adult swim has ever done here. (Warning-don’t click that link if you have anything to do).
I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that Adult swim’s allusive, reflexive and postmodern programming has played a critical part in developing my own bizarre sense of humor throughout the years and still constitute a major portion of my entertainment regimen. Adult swim is home to such new(-ish) gems as Tim and Eric Awesome Show (which features indescribable sketch comedy), Look Around You (which parodies 70s-style BBC programming), and the hilarious and hyperviolent Superjail as well as some classic favorites, several of which repurpose or reimagine classic Hanna Barbara-style cartoons in a new and bizarre way (Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law, The Venture Brothers, Sealab 2021, and Space Ghost: Coast to Coast, to name a few).
Even though adult swim’s humor is often juvenile, its violence graphic, and its storytelling shallow, I would certainly describe it as intelligent programming on the whole thanks to its combination of interesting visual style, absurd humor, and derivative use of anachronistic characters that combine to create the culturally-eclectic experience I enjoy on a nightly basis.
To this list of favorite shows, I now begrudgingly add King of the Hill. Although I hate admitting I was ever wrong about something, this realization is obviously bittersweet because I’ve now discovered hundreds of really funny, intelligent, and culturally-aware episodes during what is normally summer rerun doldrums.
King of the Hill takes place in small-town America — fictional Arlen, Texas, a lazy suburb. The protagonist Hank Hill is a propane salesman who, in his leisure time, also enjoys drinking beers with his friends, being a handyman, and usually mitigating whatever problem arises in the episode. He’ is a a down-to-earth man (one self-admittedly devoid of imagination) dedicated to his family and traditional American way of life.
Conflict in many episodes comes from Hank’s difficulty (but not always resistance) in dealing with the rapidly-changing and progressive society around him, in anything from gender norms to race relations to marital problems and sexuality. The show addresses the dangers of ignorance and more often than not resolves with a progressive message. Even though Hank often initially desires to restore equilibrium to his traditional American values by attempting to remain deaf to opposition arguments, he often ends up listening to reason and reevaluating his own moral code. Hank is a reasonable man at his core, and when he sees something not working, be it in carpentry, his effeminate and overweight son, or his attempts to come to terms with his impotency cause by his narrow urethra, he springs for a functional solution.
What took me years to realize was how slyly Mike Judge captures the small-town conservative American mindset and how well the show subtly pokes fun of it using its own rhetoric . Each character has their own faults and shortcomings that represent a backwards or small-minded facet of rural middle class America, and these traits are depicted as weaknesses or disadvantages by the show.
You could imagine some oblivious viewer not realizing the tongue-in-cheek nature of the show and agreeing with a character’s diatribes against homosexuality or one of Peggy’s ridiculously unfounded beliefs. It’s really hilariously subversive–the show draws attention to the ineffectiveness and absurdity of whichever bigoted mindset the episode is assaulting without being didactic, and as a result the reason of the opposition arguments is indirectly supported.
So, I take it back. King of the Hill’s subversive message is really pretty good, the characters are far more developed than I initially thought, and I definitely appreciate the show’s particular style of subtle and reserved humor as a departure from the in-your-face and mindless social satires of Family Guy. I shouldn’t have ever doubted you, adult swim.