By Peter Hummers on January 3, 2020
WHAT TO WATCH ON TV
1987 was the year newspaper cartoonist Matt Groening (Life in Hell) put his first show on television. In 1993 animator, actor and filmmaker Mike Judge (Office Space, Idiocracy, Silicon Valley) landed an animated show on MTV. I’m not going to talk about Groening’s The Simpsons or Judge’s Beavis and Butthead, but about those writers’ sophomore efforts, both of which I consider superior, while never managing the notoriety of their predecessors.
KING OF THE HILL (Hulu)
I’ve put in my time watching Beavis and Butthead with friends on smelly couches, and it was only when I discovered Mike Judge’s 1997 followup that I realized his earlier show wasn’t a celebration of the two titular stoners, but a pretty fierce condemnation of them.
King of the Hill is a conservative show with some sharp, cynical humor, yes, but at its heart it’s about family values, pure and simple. The closest series to it in spirit might just be The Andy Griffith Show.
Hank Hill (Judge) is a Texas dad who reveres his churchgoing family, propane (he’s a propane salesman), Lone Star Beer, the Dallas Cowboys, and his quirky friends: Dale Gribble is an exterminator and a paranoid conspiracy nut who often goes by “Rusty Shackleford” and has married a beautiful TV weather forecaster. Dale is ginger and his wife is a blonde, and he is the only one in town who doesn’t notice that his young son appears to be Native American. (His wife is having an affair with hipster massage therapist John Redcorn.) Bill Fontaine de La Tour Dauterive (Stephen Root, The Man in the High Castle) is an emotional slob who works as an army barber, and Jeff Boomhauer is a handsome mealymouthed ladies’ man. Nobody know what he does for a living; we only find that out in the final episode of the series.
Hank’s wife (Kathy Najimy, Veep) is a high-school Spanish teacher with a very high self-opinion who can’t make herself understood to the local Mexicans, and his apparently dullard son Bobby is a budding metrosexual who wants to become a prop comic, both of which are anathema to Hank, but Hank would do anything for him. Bobby’s girlfriend is the brilliant daughter of yuppie Laotian immigrants who live next door.
Guest stars include Tom Petty, ZZ Top’s Rusty Hill (who plays himself as Hank’s cousin), Willy Nelson and Texas Governor Ann Richards, who plays herself, as one of Bill Dauterive’s girlfriends. Tom Petty has an ongoing part as Hank’s niece’s boyfriend. The plots are standard 1960’s family sitcom affairs, but the humor is sharp and subversive.
I love this show. Here are 2 minutes of contemporary Fox commercials for the show. [TVPG]
FUTURAMA (Hulu; on-demand from other services)
King of the Hill is overtly concerned with family, as much fiction is, family being our default referent, the basic unit of human life. Futurama (1999) is a workplace comedy mostly concerning the ad hoc family found there, but subplots include the past, present — and future — family life of some of the characters.
Philip J. Fry (Billy West, The Ren & Stimpy Show) is an uncurious delivery boy for a pizza parlor somewhere in New York City; in the first episode he delivers a pie, the result of a prank call, to a cryogenic company and accidentally becomes frozen, waking up in 2999 New New York. He meets the cute cyclops Turanga Leela (Katey Sagal, 8 Simple Rules, at left in the screenshot above) who informs Fry, to his chagrin, that if he wants a job in NNY it should be as a delivery boy. (He thought he might make a fresh start since he has woken up 1000 years in the future.)
He then meets the one who is destined to become his best friend: Bender Rodriguez (John DiMaggio, Transformers franchise), an alcoholic, sarcastic, larcenous robot (second from left in the screenshot). Bender’s name comes from the facts that he’s a bending unit, built to bend metal in a factory, and that he was assembled in Mexico.
Leela (who quits her job in the employment office), Bender, and Fry find work at the Planet Express interplanetary delivery company, alongside Amy Wong (Lauren Tom, King of the Hill), who comes from money (her parents own Mars), and Dr. John Zoidberg (West), an anthropomorphic crustaceon who speaks with a thick Yiddish accent, and is the company doctor, though he knows nothing about human anatomy. (“There you are, good as new. Except for your dorsal fin. I’m afraid I couldn’t find it after the crash,” he tells Fry on the operating table. Fry asks, “Can I live without it?” Zoidberg replies, “If you call that living!”) The crew is rounded out by Hermes Conrad (Phil LaMarr, MAD TV), a Jamaican bureaucrat who runs Planet Express’s office and is given to poetic exclamations, such as “Sweet lion of Zion!”
The zany exploits that the crew of Planet Express get into are Douglas-Adams smart and very funny. That’s not all, though — the emotional lives of the characters are not neglected and a few of the episodes are genuine tear-jerkers. Here’s a 30-second teaser for it. [TVPG]
Next week I’ll talk about two other brilliant ongoing animated series on streaming TV, postmodern “cartoons” that are unprecedented, audacious and vastly entertaining. Email me and follow Stream On OBX on Twitter.