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Published: Monday, 9/14/2009

Long live the 'King of the Hill'

Welcome to the Blade blog Culture Shock, a three-times-a-week riff by Pop Culture Editor Kirk Baird on pop culture news, events, and trends. The blog will appear Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings here, with the odd night or off-day posting if something is merited.

It was a quiet goodbye Sunday night to one of my favorite TV shows. After 13 seasons, Fox's King of the Hill is off the air, the victim of sinking ratings and a lack of buzz.

Watch a few minutes of any of Seth MacFarlane's animated shows on Fox and you'll understand why King of the Hill didn't fit in anymore. It's not edgy and littered with pop culture references like Family Guy, American Dad!, and even The Simpsons. Perhaps that's the main reason the show's ending was under the radar, other than a few Fox promos I saw Sunday afternoon during the NFL games.

Still, I can't complain too much about the network's decision to cancel the animated series considering I don't watch King of the Hill liked I used to.

But, I made sure to tune in to the hourlong finale to pay my respects to Hank Hill, his wife, Peggy, and his son, Bobby.

The first half-hour episode, in which son Bobby falls into the wrong crowd — a trio of mean-spirited popular school girls — was OK; the second episode, in which Bobby joins a meat-judging team, much to the delight of Hank, was much wittier and reminded me of why I liked the show so much: its honesty and good-natured spirit.

The characters, despite all their quirks, seemed real and human. And, unlike most animated shows today, King of the Hill didn't rely on crass humor to get laughs, and its jokes were never vicious or cruel. It also wasn't afraid to end with a family feel-good sappy moment, like Hank and Bobby bonding over an outdoor barbecue for the neighbors during the closing moments of the final episode.

King of the Hill, which was set in the fictional Texas town of Arlen, was also chocked full of great supporting characters. Being a native Texan who lived in the Lone Star State for 33 years, I can tell you I know every one of those characters: Hank and his love of propane grills, his lawn, and football, Peggy and her oversize feet and her over-enunciation of Spanish words, and dorky Bobby, a young teenager who hasn't quite found his way in life. They remind me of family members. Some remind me of friends. Jeff Boomhauer, Hank's nearly indecipherable neighbor and old high school friend, reminds me of a guy I knew in college who was every bit as unintelligible.

I'd say that maybe I related to King of the Hill so much because of the Texas connection, but my wife loves the show, too, and the only time she's set foot in the state was to visit my family.

So now King of the Hill is gone, to live only on reruns on Cartoon Network and in syndication, DVD, and Hulu.

Like most classic sitcoms, though, I think King of the Hill will stand the test of time, and will certainly age better than other more-popular, prime-time animated fare that rely too heavily on pop culture references. Two decades from now, will anyone find jokes about Britney Spears funny anymore? (Does anyone find those jokes funny now?)

So, I offer a toast to the beer-guzzling Hank Hill and his family, friends, and neighbors. Sunday nights won't be the same without you.

Agree or disagree with a posting? Lemme know. Have a topic or suggestion? Lemme know that, too. Send an e-mail to kbaird@theblade.com or call 419-724-6734.

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