- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 2, 2002

Fox's "King of the Hill" might be the most subversive sitcom on television. What other comedy embraces somebody like Hank Hill a stiff, conservative archetypal Texan as its hero without a trace of irony?
The animated "Hill," the brainchild of "Simpsons" co-creator Greg Daniels and "Beavis & Butt-head's" Mike Judge, has been mining respectful humor from the tragically unhip Hill clan for six seasons.
Lately, though, "Hill's" laugh ratio has taken a hit. Too many episodes last year mustered lukewarm smiles at best.
The seventh season premiere, airing tomorrow at 8:30 p.m. on Fox, could portend a revival. It's laugh-out-loud funny while staying true to the program's core values.
The opener, "Get Your Freak Off," begins with Hank hard at work on a custom shoe tree for his wife, Peggy, and her oversized feet, one of the show's less successful running gags. His pack of misfit pals, Boomhauer, Dale and Bill, stand back, agog with admiration for his handiwork.
Imagine the smirks if Joey attempted a woodworking project on "Friends."
Meanwhile, Hank's son, Bobby, is enamored with the latest hip-hop music, which naturally rankles Papa Hill.
"When we were young, we had these things called songs. They were two-minute stories about falling in love or burning down Georgia," Hank explains to Bobby, a reliably complex and sweet teen portrait.
Father and son visit a local record shop where they can agree on only one album, the latest from a teen group called 4 Skore.
Satirizing boy bands seems a bit dated, but their sticky harmonizing provides a segue into the episode's generational crossfire.
Hank takes Bobby to what he thinks is a wholesome 4 Skore concert, only to find Bobby dancing inappropriately with a neighborhood girl. The simply drawn cartoon captures adolescent love and confusion without getting too graphic.
"They weren't dancing the way you and I danced, they were enjoying it," a despondent Hank tells wife Peggy.
The Hills eventually meet the parents of Bobby's new friend. The duo turn out to be the kind of progressive parents who like to be their child's pal, not authority figure. They even stage chaperone-free sleepover parties.
"Hill" also squeezes in two punchy subplots, including the neighborhood women ranking the "sexiness" of the men on their block. Hank's low score rankles Peggy, whose hurt response is to say he never misses her birthday or a mortgage payment. The women titter while Peggy burns.
And Dale, ever the conspiracy theorist, blames the Dairy Council for teenagers' growing up too soon. They're feeding hormones into the milk supply, he rages in his inimitable drone.
If "Three's Company" can be faulted for exploiting misheard conversations in every other show, then "Hill" is equally guilty of contrasting the family's more traditional values with the touchy-feely crowd's way of life. Typically, the Hills bend a bit toward today's mores without losing their Texan sensibilities.
The formula still works, even if the episode's resolution comes off as pat. First-rate "Hill" stories in the past drew more realistic conclusions without undermining the subtle messages at play.
"Freak Off" features a few guest voices, including "Will & Grace's" Debra Messing and actress Milla Jovovich ("Resident Evil"), but few will notice their presence without scanning the credits.
The regular voices, supplied chiefly by Mr. Judge (Hank, Boomhauer) and actress Kathy Najimy (Peggy) still provide the emotional nuances left up for grabs by the Spartan animation.
Besides, Disney-level animation probably would seem too highfalutin for Hank and his brood. ***
WHAT: "King of the Hill" season premiere
WHEN: 8:30 p.m. Sunday on Fox
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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