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King of the Hill

"Beavis and Butt-head" creator Mike Judge zeroes in on small-town America in his first primetime network series, taking easy and well-conceived shots at the world of pickups, trailers, dysfunctional families and supermarket busybodies.

Cast:
Voices: Mike Judge, Kathy Najimy, Pamela Segall, Brittany Murphy, Johnny Hardwick.

Beavis and Butt-head” creator Mike Judge zeroes in on small-town America in his first primetime network series, taking easy and well-conceived shots at the world of pickups, trailers, dysfunctional families and supermarket busybodies. Debut is plenty funny, yet Fox has a tough job ahead trying to lure “B&B” audiences, which may grow tired of the comic targets, or “The Simpsons” crowd, which may find the antics too restrained.

Still, Judge’s compelling humor deserves a slot in primetime. It’s a break from all the over-the-top sitcoms Fox has scheduled in hopes of building off the “Married … With Children” franchise. Humor here is far more sedate. Plenty of folks won’t get it.

Focus is on the family of Hank and Peggy Hill and their 12-year-old son, Bobby, living in the suburban town of Arlen, Texas, where Hank, who bears a strong likeness to Beavis and Butt-head’s neighbor Anderson, sells propane. Peggy’s a substitute Spanish teacher and Bobby has the usual disposition of a youngster trying to live up to his parents’ expectations. Attractive niece Luanne is living with the Hills while her mother’s in jail for attacking her father over a beer.

The trio heads off to Bobby’s Little League game, where he gets plunked by a line drive. Once the family gets home, Peggy takes a shot to the head when Bobby’s playing ball in the house. Hank, who speaks mostly in cliches, has a temper that flares at inopportune times, prompting gossip and a subsequent investigation by an overambitious social worker.

Clearly, the “twig boy” social worker from L.A. does not know the law of the land in Texas, and the probe is called off. Summation winds up focusing on Bobby’s lack of self-esteem as it relates to his father and Hank’s inability to express his love to Bobby – issues that are tossed around with the depth of a talkshow interview with a family psychologist.

The Hills clearly pop the balloon of contempo family well-being, choosing to rely on instinct. Hank’s three pals supply fundamental redneck humor: Dale’s the conspiracy nut whose wife is having an affair with Native American healer John Redcorn; Bill’s the fool; and Boomhauer is the mumbler with plenty to say about everything. He works in a barbed-wire factory.

Animation is neither as crude as “B&B” or as sharp as “The Simpsons,” which Film Roman also produces. Its simplicity bolsters the show’s ambling tone, which could be a welcome sedative on Sunday evenings and may eventually be what football fans appreciate after the afternoon rush.

King of the Hill

Sun. (12); 8:30-9 p.m.; Fox

Production: A 20th Century Fox production in association with 3 Arts Entertainment and Film Roman. Executive producers, Greg Daniels, Mike Judge, Howard Klein, Michael Rotenberg; producers, Joe Boucher, Richard Raynis; supervising producers, Cheryl Holliday, John Collier, David Zuckerman; director, Wes Archer; writers, Daniels, Judge.

Crew: Theme music, the Refreshments. 30 MIN.

Cast: Voices: Mike Judge, Kathy Najimy, Pamela Segall, Brittany Murphy, Johnny Hardwick.

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