NOW THAT AUSTINITE Mike Judge has developed an animated comedy for the Fox network, could it be that the Beavis and Butt-head creator has gone mainstream? Nah. His big-headed, simpleminded creations are already mainstream, with three Rolling Stone covers and a hit Hollywood movie dwarfing whatever limitations were erected (heh, heh, heh—oh, never mind) by their cable-ready roots. Nevertheless, King of the Hill, which debuted on January 12, threatens to take Judge’s sensibility to another level, the same way Fox brought wider exposure to Simpsons creator Matt Groening, a cartoonist previously known for the simplistic bunnies of his Life in Hell comic strip. In fact, King of the Hill airs on Sunday nights at seven-thirty, right after The Simpsons, a previously tricky position that has become the network’s choicest slot now that The X-Files is on at eight.
In other words, it looks like a hit. Set in what Judge calls “the imaginary factious town” of Arlen, Texas (think Mesquite), the show’s title refers to its hero, Hank Hill, a beer-drinkin’, auto-tinkerin’ propane salesman who is married to his high school sweetheart, Peggy, and has one son, a chubby fumbler named Bobby. (More kids were made impossible by Hank’s ultrarare medical condition: a “narrow urethra.”) “Andy Griffith is back, and he’s pissed off,” Judge says of the show’s teasing but affectionate take on regular Texas folks—also including a shapely teenage niece, a trio of Bubbas, and a Laotian immigrant family, the Souphanousinsphones—who all hang out in back yards and take Sunday supper at a cafeteria called Luly’s. Judge does the voice of Hank as well as his incomprehensibly drawling neighbor Boomhauer, actress-comedienne Kathy Najimy is Peggy, Austin comedian Johnny Hardwick plays another neighbor, and as with Bart Simpson, a woman (actress Pamela Segall) is Bobby. A native of Albuquerque, New Mexico, with a Ph.D. in physics, Judge became familiar with Hill’s world when he moved to Richardson to play the blues with former Fabulous Thunderbird guitarist Anson Funderburgh. While King of the Hill is his vision, however, he was so busy working on his hit movie, Beavis and Butt-head Do America, that the show was really nurtured by New Yorker Greg Daniels, an Emmy-winning Simpsons writer-producer.
Despite its creators’ pedigrees, King of the Hill is neither The Simpsons nor Beavis and Butt-head; sincere, unhip, and definitely not postmodern, it’s more akin to All in the Family. But unlike Archie Bunker, Hank is a hero rather than a foil, a man whose worldview is defined by the show’s writers as “what you get when common sense, impatience, and a high school education collide.” Also, with a wife named Peggy and Hank’s love for his Deluxe Craftsman riding mower rivaling Al Bundy’s relationship with his commode, another comparison comes to mind—but Daniels says any resemblance to Married With Children is entirely coincidental. “Actually, that’s even more cartoonish than our show,” he says.