Thanksgiving has always been a wonderful, if problematic, time for family gatherings and good television. Growing up there would always be an airing of The Wizard Of Oz, or some sweeps week special where they imploded a building and Jay Thomas was there to do the play by play. Most importantly, this would usually be where TV shows, especially sitcoms, would bring their A-game, bringing us such classics as “Turkeys Away” from WKRP in Cincinnati, and the Friends episode with the football, “The One With The Football”.
King of the Hill had a strong run of four out of five years, from its third season in 1998 to Season 7 in 2002, in which they rattled off Thanksgiving classic after Thanksgiving classic. The Mike Judge series was heavily promoted by Fox in its early seasons to be the next Simpsons, but eventually was preempted into a sort of long-running purgatory due to its 7:30 Eastern time slot. There were countless weeks when I would be ready to watch King of the Hill (or Futurama, which had similar bad luck in its original run), only for it to be pushed back by “bonus coverage” of some Panthers/Lions game few in the Greater Philadelphia Area would care about. And yet the show mainly maintained its quality until its second (and final) final episode in 2009. It’s on Hulu, and I greatly recommend binging through it, especially during the holiday weekend.
King of the Hill has not aged perfectly (cough the casting of Toby Huss as Kahn cough), but is full of special moments and sheer hilarity which millennial kids may not have gotten upon the first viewing. I was among a generation of children who aspired to be Bart or Lisa Simpson, but wound up being a weird, imperfect kid like Bobby Hill. It’s a great show to watch when Hank’s Dallas Cowboys continue to disappoint, and not in a hilarious way, or for anytime. That said, Thanksgiving (or is it Hanksgiving?) is a great starting point.
“Nine Pretty Darn Angry Men”, from Season 3, is an amalgam of TV and movie tropes. Thanksgiving is more of a backdrop to the action. At a Mason lawnmower focus group on Black Friday, Hank coerces his neighbors, car dealer Lane Pratley (voiced in this episode by Dwight Yoakam), and a disgraced preacher (Billy Bob Thornton) into disavowing the flashy but flawed Mason 2500 in favor of the classic Mason 1500. This being King of the Hill, it is also a proxy war with Hank’s father Cotton, after Hank fails to defend his mother from Cotton’s verbal abuse during Thanksgiving dinner. Meanwhile, Peggy tries to micromanage the family’s trip to Six Malls Over Texas, only to sleep through what she calls “the biggest shopping day of the year” at a shoe repair shop.
Season 4’s “Happy Hank’s-Giving” can’t fully overcome the “people stuck at an airport” premise, but there are quite a few good moments, including Hank’s disgust over seeing his turkey being blown up by airport security, and the sheer joy when the public address announcer pages one Ted Ganaway, and Hank points to Peggy, going, “I think that’s Ted Ganaway!” as if Chappie himself were at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. The episode is an artifact from 1999, when TWA was still around, and Y2K was a bigger threat to America than terrorism or the coronavirus, but getting through the gate was still very complicated. The episode ends with a nice gathering of everyone in the cafeteria for a very pitiful Thanksgiving meal.
“Spin The Choice” is one of my all-time favorite King of the Hill episodes. Written by Paul Lieberstein, best known as Toby Flenderson from The Office, the Season 5 episode involves Bobby Hill’s introduction to white guilt as collateral damage from John Redcorn’s struggles with his unacknowledged son, Joseph Gribble. Bobby’s intentions are well meaning, but go a tad too far, when he prepares a mock cannibal feast during Thanksgiving, for which Redcorn has to not only defend the Anasazi people, but mention how “that disc jockey in Philadelphia, who ate people… also white!” Meanwhile, Peggy Hill turns Thanksgiving into her personal games lab, introducing a hilariously complicated game (which gives the episode its name), where she makes the contestants pretend a refrigerator box is a 30-foot prize wheel, and her hand is a spinner. Jonathan Joss, who replaced Victor Aaron as the voice of John Redcorn after Aaron’s passing in 1996, hits it out of the park in a showcase episode for him.
“Goodbye, Normal Jeans”, from Season 7, plays on the theme that Peggy isn’t nearly as good a homemaker as she believes she is, and finds an ultimately expected rival in Bobby, when he’s forced to take a home economics class and loves it. Peggy, despondent over the apparent loss of her usefulness as a spouse and mother, steals Bobby’s Thanksgiving turkey, and goes over to the home of her hairstylist, Ernst, where she is shocked to learn that Ernst is straight and has a family of his own. There’s a great joke in the subplot where Dale takes Bill’s money to resolve a silly bet, and he asks the teller to get him a Utah quarter, years before its actual introduction.
Tom Keiser is a freelance writer for hire. He’s on Twitter @thomasdkeiser.