Tuesday, May 24, 2022 May 24, 2022
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Television

An Englishman’s Appreciation of King of the Hill

I thought it was brilliantly funny. Then I realized it was a documentary.
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King of the Hill on FOX followed the Hill family and various residents of Arlen, a fictional Texas town reportedly modeled on the suburbs of Dallas.

Editor’s note: Richard Patterson is a painter who wrote in the November issue of D Magazine about (among other things) being an expat in Dallas. The article was titled “The Unbearable Lightness of Being Wlodek Malowanczyk.”

I’m pleased to read that King of the Hill is returning. It’s a genius show. It was how I learned Texan. When I first came here, I couldn’t understand a word anyone said or why they drove funny or why they used tractors to mow their lawns or why four men stood around in the street next to a truck for no apparent reason or why housewives in Casa Linda drove 350 Hemi pickups in order to pick up muffins and a pack of 24 hotdog buns from the nearby Albertsons. I guess 24 is quite a lot. I guess you need a pretty powerful truck for that. 

It was only when I thought back to watching King of the Hill from my 31st-floor Barbican apartment in central London in the late ’90s, that I had a eureka moment. Back in London, I thought the whole thing was hyperbole, but once I’d bought a house in East Dallas, I came to realize that King of the Hill is not really a satire; it’s just how people are in Garlington. 

I gradually realized that if I watched people’s lips carefully and then just imagined it was Hank or Peggy or Bobby or Boomhauer speaking, I could understand basic sentences here. Within weeks, I could make simple transactions in the grocery store and even ask for items over the counter. I learned to say, “I’ll take two of those,” instead of “Please may I have two of those organic bone-in chicken breasts? Thank you so much. Brilliant. Terrific. Sorry to bother you. Brilliant. Thanks. Sorry. Brilliant. Did you see the late goal by Rashford last night? Amazing. All three subs were involved. Thanks. Sorry. Thanks” like we say in England.

People in England say sorry the whole time, like everything’s an imposition. If someone treads on your foot on the escalator in the tube, you say sorry to them, even though they’ve trod on your foot. You also massively over use the words “massive” and “brilliant.” Something that’s simply been achieved in the minimum way you’d expect—like, someone lets you go through a doorway first or gives you your change from the burger you’ve just bought—you automatically say, “Brilliant.” When something genuinely is brilliant, like the passage of play that got Manchester United’s very vintage Fergie-Time goal with 23 seconds on the clock, you can’t use the superlative any more because it’s not nearly strong enough. Therefore you have to write a 4,000-word email to the editor of D Magazine there and then. Otherwise, you feel like you didn’t actually experience what happened. If a tree falls in the forest, but no one’s there to say, “Brilliant,” and so on. It’s this syndrome. I think it’s something to do with wartime rationing. We had rationing until well into the early 1950s. We had to make the most out of not very much, like making a steak out of powdered eggs and a shape you’d cut out of the back of a box of Force cereal, which you’d fed your family of nine with for a month, along with the one sausage your family was allowed that month. Whereas at the same time in America and Texas, everyone had giant brightly coloured fridges that also played 45 singles and that you could drive to the drive thru to have it stocked up by cute girls in bobby socks and a ponytail and a tight sweater but with their nipples not allowed to be poking through and roller skates, because Texas was still incubating the Hooters and Twin Peaks prototypes that weren’t to arrive for another 20 years, but as at NASA, these things took years of development and deep field testing in the desert, Arlington, Garland Road, and in particular Casa Linda. 

The episode when the tornado strikes in King of the Hill had me laughing so hard that it hurt. But that was before I realized that tornados are really a common threat in Texas—and just how scary they are. But when I first moved to Casa Linda, every April I’d hear those eerie sirens go off in our neighborhood and have no idea what they were and assumed it was something to do with the Fraternal Order of Eagles down near the railroad tracks, which I’d spotted when my Jag first arrived from New York and I took it around the area to explore and to check that the engine was running right since I’d been without it for a few weeks. I happened on a small treed lane and came across the FOE sign, and it was like something out Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

I might add that this was before hipsters discovered the place. In fact, my wife and two friends and I were the first ever hipsters there, and as we were standing outside one day in about 2004, an old lady stepped out and asked us if we were lost. We said we were just curious. She said it was a private thing and you could only join if you were in the neighborhood, and we then established that we lived only a few blocks away, plus I think my heavy use of the word “brilliant” threw her somewhat. She then said we could look inside. We asked if we could come back on Sunday to see it in full swing, and she said how about you do a trial thing as guests. We said, “How much?” And she said, “Oh, I don’t know. Would a dollar each be OK?” Like it was still 1956 and houses in the area cost $945 each and came with a free powder blue fridge with whitewall tyres, a radio, loads of chrome, and a full patio bolted to the back of it for impromptu BBQ anywhere on your street. We couldn’t believe the place. I thought it was going to be a KKK hut when I first saw it and hurriedly backed the XJS out of the driveway as fast as I could. But when we got inside, it was just old timers eating hamburgers from the mid-’50s and playing dominoes and checkers. I don’t even think anyone was drinking a beer. We got to use the pool. It was amazing. Soon a small group of friends joined and then another few groups, and within a year it had become the sort of hidden secret that becomes featured on Wallpaper Magazine in London a full decade later, and all the Hoxton hipsters who’d been moved to the outskirts of East London were saving up to buy plane tickets to fly to the FOE to grow an ironic Errol Flynn mustache and get tattoos and play “authentic” cowboy games entailing hurling horseshoes at a spike in the ground and tipping your hat at ladies and saying, “Howdy, ma’am, that’s a mighty fine lookin’ thing you’ve got there.” “Mighty fine thing” could refer to anything, their boyfriend, Chevrolet Volt parked out back, their tattoo mural plastering their entire bosom. Literally anything. That’s the other word, btw. “Literally.” Literally brilliant tattooed bosom, for example.

I digress. Anyway, initially I thought the air raid sirens were from the Klan, warning each other that the FBI were about to break up a meeting. I’d sit and stare out of our big picture window as neighbors scrambled to pull in deck chairs and then draw curtains and make for closets. It took me a couple of years before I could say whole sentences in Texan and know to head for the pantry with some candles in the event of a tornado watch. And so the King of the Hill episode where Hank can’t quite make it to the shelter in time and ends up wrapping his arms around a telegraph pole and the air pressure sucks all his outer clothes off and eventually his underpants, too, and he’s buck naked and horizontal and telling Peggy how much he loves her and Bobby and Luanne, “to a lesser extent”—this was one of the single funniest things I’d ever seen in a cartoon.

It was a full 18 years later before it dawned on me that I was having such experiences and that I was only a hair away from turning into Hank Hill. 

Massive show. Literally brilliant. 

Author

Richard Patterson

Richard Patterson

Born in the UK in 1963, Patterson graduated from Goldsmiths College in 1986. He has exhibited internationally with group exhibition…

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