What "What America Means to Me" Means to Me

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Animated sitcoms are a proud symbol of American can-do, even when most of the physical animation is produced in Asia. King of the Hill was no exception, reflecting the Middle American experience for thirteen seasons, bringing its own unique sense of humor to the genre. As we prepare to celebrate the birth of this country, let’s look back at an episode of King of the Hill that looks at what America means.

“Old Glory,” which first aired in January of 2000, works both as a comedic episode and as a lesson in civics and in plagiarism. While there are episodes of just about any U.S. sitcom that celebrate American patriotism, Bobby Hill learns that the American flag is not just a piece of cloth, but a representation of everything (good and bad) his country has to offer. It is also light on the didactic touch associated with its later seasons, and refreshingly, Hank here is relegated to a supporting role, albeit with a few choice lines.

Peggy Hill tries to balance her careers as a substitute teacher and as a “musings” columnist, but neither are going well. In later seasons, Peggy tries a few other jobs, settling for real estate, but the multi-time Substitute Teacher Of The Year works best as a character with her original vocation. When a fellow sub fails Bobby for what Peggy calls “a solid D” paper, both mother and son collaborate on an essay which garners an A, not to mention unwanted attention from the sub, Mrs. Donovan.

Heather Locklear has a ball as Mrs. Donovan, who furthers her career by getting her Masters degree, but is still miffed that Peggy now has her old parking space. I’m not sure who else would have had the right combination of bitchiness and pettiness Ms. Locklear exudes in this role.

Bobby is so praised for this one good essay, that he eventually uses his mom’s columns as fodder for other students’ papers. Having been caught, Peggy and Bobby are forced by Mrs. Donovan to admit their guilt at the assembly where Bobby is supposed to read the essay. They steal the flag from Bill Dauterive, which is caught on a truck axle and dragged through the mud, for starters. We don’t see the final desecration of Old Glory, but the sight of Peggy’s changing emotions tell us what we need to know as it is burned and drenched.

Bill Dauterive is usually the most pitiful character on the show, and while this episode is no exception, he does get a few solid moments of respectability. The shot of him playing tetherball with himself (and losing) makes for a good intro, and a great way for him to come across Chekhov’s American Flag, which he saves and plants in front of his house. When Kahn Souphanousinphone wakes up late because of the flag, Bill defends it the only way he knows how, naked and bordering on rabid. When the flag is finally disposed of properly, poor Bill is once again defeated.

A lot of the emotional impact “Old Glory” has rests on Bobby’s character arc. He manipulates his mother into writing his essay, only to be drawn into her petty war with Mrs. Donovan. When Bobby both acknowledges his errors and the effort his mother put in, he finally finds his voice. This revelation kinda gets lost in the deus-ex-machina ignorance of Principal Moss and the subsequent appearance of the TLMS band. They do a good cover of “Walking On Sunshine”.

Norm Hiscock (who is incidentally from Canada) is credited with writing “Old Glory,” and before moving on to writing and producing for Parks And Recreation, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and elsewhere, wrote some of the most memorable episodes of King of the Hill, including the infamous “Bobby Goes Nuts.” Nobody gets punched in the testicles or dances with dogs, as in the Hiscock-penned “Dances With Dogs,” but the material here is still awfully funny.

King of the Hill is a very patriotic show, even when it lightly jabs the military and other institutions. Some of the show’s attempts at patriotism near the end of its run suffer a bit from a heavier touch, like when Bobby becomes an adolescent evangelist and destroys Hank’s false god of an Uncle Sam parade float. That said, when King of the Hill was at its best, it made for an excellent representation of what it truly means to be an American.

Tom Keiser lives and writes outside of Philadelphia, but his heart lies inside of Philadelphia.

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