|"He's like an alternative Andy Griffith," says Greg Daniels (co-creator). "We kept saying, 'Andy Griffith is back -- and he's pissed!' "|
"Hank and his family are one of the realest families on TV right now," TV Guide critic Matt Roush.
'King of the Hill' creators Greg Daniels and Mike Judge are both 35 but otherwise are a study in contrasts. Daniels wears wire rims, lives in Los Angeles and has the slouchy demeanor of a young Walter Matthau. Judge wears a black T-shirt and jeans, lives in Austin, Texas, and, thanks mostly to his ebbing hairline, bears a rough resemblance to Sting.
But they're no Odd Couple -- and certainly no Beavis and Butt-head, the
popular MTV series with which Judge first made his name. In contrast to that show's sophomoric sensibility, King of the Hill, which debuted in January 1997, finds its humor in crafty truths and edgy observations about family life.
In creating Hill, Daniels and Judge decided to avoid the clichÃ© of the bumbling TV dad, finding inspiration in a mutual TV favorite.
"He's like an alternative Andy Griffith," says Daniels. "We kept saying, 'Andy Griffith is back -- and he's pissed!' "
Like The Andy Griffith Show (1960-68), Hill is more sophisticated than it seems, merging Judge's irreverent views of blue-collar America with the Harvard-educated Daniels' National Lampoon-inspired political incorrectness (Daniels was a writer-producer on the equally irreverent The Simpsons). Though an early episode about constipation may have set the stage for pushing the TV envelope, the producers say that is not what Hill is about.
"A lot of what we're doing is to try something original without doing something we all find personally repugnant," says Daniels. "The generation Mike and I are from is a tiny, skinny generation. It's not the big slacker thing. We're the very tail end of the baby boom. I don't want to make generalizations, but one thing we have in common is a distaste for the excesses of the people who would have been our older siblings -- all the older brothers of friends I had who went through weird phases where they had to dry out or got into weird trouble at the end of the '60s."
Being part of this generational wedge may have left them feeling culturally adrift, but that's often a good thing when it comes to breaking comedy molds.
"To me, the job's never been about trying to be edgy," says Judge, who is probably more conservative and soft-spoken than his critics would expect. And while episodes often end with a lesson learned, as in most family shows throughout television history, it's sometimes an unpopular lesson.
"People think a TV show has to show the way the world should be instead of the way the world is," observes Daniels.
Not Hill. Take the "Husky Bobby" episode, in which the Hills' pudgy progeny becomes a model for extra-large clothing without Hank's blessing. Apparently embarrassed by his son's new celebrity status, Hank stubbornly pulls him out of a fashion show -- and just in time. Bullies pelt the stage with doughnuts, proving that sometimes even a seemingly insensitive father knows best.
Says Daniels: "Hank was really saying, 'I care about my son, but cruelty exists, and why let him be the butt of it?' It's hard to tell that story."
Tweaking sitcom conventions, these two talents have tapped a vast constituency of Americans who may fall between the cultural cracks -- not unlike Hank and Peggy Hill, whom Daniels describes as "out-of-the-loop baby boomers."
"Most people aren't hip," says Judge. "I like the fact that the show is about completely unhip people and we're not making fun of them."