Mike Judge and Greg Daniels’ King of the Hill is one of the greatest shows that ever aired on television, animated or otherwise. If you need me to explain why, you really need to go back and watch the show. Start at the beginning. Then do your best to sort of grin and bear everything after Season 6. It’s not bad. It’s just not the same.
Anyway, there have been a few Christmas episodes and I recently re-watched the first three of them: Pretty, Pretty Dresses; Hillennium and ‘Twas the Nut Before Christmas.
Two of these episodes center on the series’ (arguably) most pitiful player: William ‘Bill’ Fontaine dela Tour Dauterive, played impeccably by the boundless talent that is Stephen Root. Bill is the series’ whipping boy, having gotten fat and useless after the glory of his high school football years and been left by his then wife Lenore, who we won’t see in person until Season 5 when she resurfaces for the same reason that toddlers often decide they want to have a toy because another toddler has picked it up. Bill is among the most convincingly sad characters ever put in a comedy.
Pretty, Pretty Dresses is about the discovery of Bill’s annual ritual of putting out Christmas gifts for Lenore, in the vain hope that she will come home and appreciate his thoughtfulness in keeping them ready for her. After a brush with suicidal tendencies and a complete psychological break, he turns up at series protagonist Hank’s house during the office Christmas party, wearing a dress and claiming to be Lenore himself.
The episode takes a wonderful turn from this rapid nosedive when Hank dons one of his wife, Peggy’s dresses to save Bill’s face, and, following him outside, confronts his delusion by forcing him to stand up for himself against Hank’s role-play as Lenore.
Skipping over the odd-man out thematically and turning an eye toward ‘Twas the Nut Before Christmas, we again focus on Bill’s holiday seasonal depression. In an attempt to cheer him up, Hank involves him in a post-office effort to provide presents to needy children. Bill is disappointed to find that one does not dress as Santa and deliver these gifts one’s self, but rather, entrusts the duty to the charisma-free entity known as the United States Postal Service. Arguing that “every kid should get to see Santa”, Bill decides to suit up as the jolly fat man himself and host a sort of Winter Wonderland on his lawn, with themed activities and a bounce house, and the Arlen Midget dressed as an elf.
The Christmas carnival puts smiles on a lot of faces, including a single mother of two who offers to make Bill dinner in exchange for his generosity. But when she returns, weeks later, to make good, she finds that he’s still wearing his now-stained and well-worn Santa costume, still dragging this charade out through the duration of January. She wisely leaves the food, and dish, with Bill before beating a hasty retreat, and we then go into a subplot where Bill gets used by a local layabout vagabond sort.
Both of these are good episodes (the former better than the latter) but they aren’t the best examples of a “Christmas special” out there. They are character episodes about Bill, and how he survives different holiday seasons. They’re fine. They’re just not super Christmasy.
Much more appropriate for the season is the episode Hillennium, wherein the Hill family tries to reconcile the tradition of Christmas with the impending doom that newspapers were warning us all the Millennium would be. When Peggy wants a new computer for Christmas to replace her Kaypro, Hank means to replace it for her, before being swept up into the idea that at Midnight of January 1, 2000, “The Grid” would “go down” and the world would descend into utter chaos. I can still remember my dad researching diligently whether or not his Windows 98 PC could survive “Y2K”.
What follows is a funny little breakdown of normality as we see various KOTH characters reacting to “the millennium” in a variety of ways. Hank hallucinates from the lacquer on a a poorly-thought-out Christmas gift and learns a lesson (instead of suffering irreversible brain damage) and Luanne has to sit with the fact that, unawares, she bought everyone thoughtful and expensive commercial gifts while she was gifted a pack of quilted toilet tissue and a laundry mangle. The whole thing culminates in everyone coming to their senses and is one of those fun moments when pop culture manages to catch up to the present day as Hank orders Peggy “the blueberry one”, a blueberry iMac (which were becoming so popular at the turn of the century).
Of the three, I’d say Hillennium is the truest “Christmas episode”, and Pretty, Pretty Dresses rivals it as a worth episode in general. All three are wonderful early-season episodes of a stellar television show, and you can’t go wrong with any of them. I think there is at least one more Christmas episode of this show, and I believe it is Mrs. Wakefield, and I’m not touching that 22-minute slog with a ten-foot pole.
Ho-ho-ho. King of the Hill’s first 3 holiday episodes, as a collective, get ★★★★☆ and a Good rating.