“I’ll tell you what.”

‘King of the Hill’ returns
NEW YORK (AP) – “I’ll have a normal orange juice, please,” says Hank Hill. “And make it normal.”
He wishes! Hank, plaintive hero of Fox’s comedy “King of the Hill,” is joining someone at a dang ol’ prissy juice bar. Not by his choice. This is not Hank’s kind of place. Nor are these his kind of times.
Never were. After a decade on the air, “King of the Hill” (starting its new season 8:30 p.m. EST Sunday) finds Hank pretty much where he was in January 1997: a Texas good ol’ boy in a world bent on serving up things that, in his mind, just aren’t normal. Hank’s a regular guy in a world that’s always redefining “regular.”
Hank doesn’t smile much. He’s sad-eyed, with fretful little furrows etched into his brow.
Even so, he loves his job as a propane salesman and also “loves barbecue, pickup trucks, edging the lawn, both kinds of music (country and western), and lamenting how a lack of common sense and a crush of meddling bureaucrats in today’s society make life all that much harder for the working man.”
At least, that’s how I described him 10 years ago, when reviewing the premiere of this animated yet staunchly uncartoonish sitcom.
I could’ve added that Hank’s a churchgoer and a family man (sturdy wife Peggy; slothful 13-year-old son Bobby; coquettish niece Luanne, 18) who, with his high school football days long gone, plays a new team sport – posting himself with buddies Dale, Bill and Boomhauer out by the street, standing side by side, saying little, beers in hand.
Hank was a remarkable invention 10 years ago. The fact that “King of the Hill” carries on to this day, still funny and savvy, is even more notable.
Sunday’s episode focuses on Peggy. She is feeling unfeminine (her size-16 feet and all the great shoes that don’t fit them are to blame).
“YOU think I’m feminine, doncha, Hank?” she presses.
“Sure y’ar,” says Hank, who, unequipped with a silver tongue, elaborates: “You’re a wife, and a mother.”
But then Peggy makes a new gal-pal, Carolyn, someone with whom she can comfortably share female concerns – and female tips.
Accounting for her square-rimmed eyeglasses, Peggy tells Carolyn they “hide thin brows, frown lines and wrinkles. People do not say it, but they make me look 10 years younger.”
In short, opening up to Carolyn is just what she needed.
But there’s a problem. Turns out Carolyn is a drag queen who, while shopping for plus-size ladies’ shoes, mistook Peggy for a fellow drag queen.
If it sounds sitcommy, it isn’t. “King of the Hill” is as understated as Hank’s laconic manner. Its stories rely not on gimmicks, but on shrewdly observed details.
Distraught at having been taken for a man, Peggy orders Hank not to answer the phone when Carolyn calls. But he’s obliged to object: “Well, Peggy, that’s just like telling a lie.”
“Fine,” she snaps. “Then, I’m not at home.”
“Well,” persists Hank, “that’s ALSO a lie.”
It’s a revealing exchange. Not for the first time, Hank has argued for following the rules, however much society prefers to rewrite them. The world may be shifting under his feet, but Hank is taking a stand on his tiny piece of turf.
He’s not a raging, Archie Bunker-like nostalgist singing “Those Were the Days.” Hank doesn’t yearn for the past. He stays busy clinging to a tenuous now: when “orange juice,” under normal circumstances, can still mean simply orange juice, without “nutrient boosters”; when being a wife and mother can still certify a woman’s femininity.
In his 11th season, Hank more than ever is a man on the spot, torn between squabbling, widening extremes. With his muted battle cry “Hold on a minute here,” he’s a man caught in the middle between the people in charge. He’s the man politicians always glorify in campaign speeches, but conveniently forget once they win. The ordinary guy, just trying to get by.
Nonetheless, dang it, Hank is getting by OK.
And so is “King of the Hill.”
Co-created by “Beavis & Butt-head” mastermind Mike Judge (who also furnishes Hank’s voice) the show premiered with dim prospects. Only two prime-time animated series before it had been hits: “The Simpsons” (then already seven years old) and “The Flintstones” (which premiered way back in 1960).
What were the odds for this newcomer succeeding? Not only was it a cartoon, but its setting and style were even more reined-in than the typical live-action sitcom.
And what of Hank and the other denizens of quiet, if quirky, Arlen? These characters weren’t tailored for the viewer to relate to, exactly. Nor were they engineered as joke machines. Instead, they came across as comfortably familiar – acting like real folks just might act.
As Hank is fond of saying, “I’ll tell you what.” Against the odds, that’s what his show continues to do.