Friendship as Family in Arlen is Darlin’

In King of the Hill, the four men who drink beer in the alley—Hank, Dale, Bill and Boomhauer—are all from broken families in one way or another.

Hank has an abusive, alcoholic father suffering from PTSD.  His mother is aloof and emotionally disconnected, finding solace in her obsession with miniatures.  When Hank found out he had a half-brother, that brother said he was ashamed of the name “Hill.”

Dale has a gay father that he thought had been a womanizer who forced himself on his bride-to-be.  He has a son that isn’t his own.

Bill… Bill is a mess.  He comes from a Tennessee Williams play, was left by his wife in what has been described as one of the ugliest divorces the neighborhood has ever seen, and he’s prone to suicide attempts.

Boomhauer has a fractured relationship with his brother, stemming from an attraction they both had to the same woman.  Boomhauer finds comfort in the arms of women, then discards them before an emotional connection can be made.

Even Khan, who detests the so-called hillbillies, has long yearned to be accepted by his militant father-in-law, a man who sees Khan as something less than human.

Neither of them can claim to have come from the “traditional family” that a state like Texas prides itself on (its politicians, anyway).  Their yearning for emotional connection has been satisfied by forging their own kind of family, a distinctly nontraditional one.  They grew up together and still live on the same street together.  They’ve known each other their entire lives.  Their yearning for acceptance has been satisfied by each other, with their own role to play in their dynamic.  When one of them is in crisis, the other three pull together to save them.  When Bill is suicidal, they take turns watching him.  When Boomhauer has his heart broken, they take him to go get laid, in a misguided attempt to cheer him up, but ultimately it’s Bill who connects with him, due to his intimate knowledge of depression, and guides him through.

Hank and Dale both have their own families, with a wife and a child, but each “family”—the traditional, or non-traditional one—provides them with something the other can’t.  There are things Hank can talk about with the guys that he can’t with Peggy and Bobby.  Likewise, there are intimate things that a shy, reserved person like Hank could only ever feel comfortable with in the presence of Peggy.

It’s fitting that the last shot of the series is not just of Hank, Peggy and Bobby, it’s of a tall aerial shot of the town of Arlen, raising up from a gathering of the entire neighborhood together.  No matter what differences they may have, or how very little they all may have in common, they have each other.

Rainey Street in Arlen, TX is a place where family is defined not by blood, but by choice.

(originally written as an essay for the fan-zine Zine of the Hill, Vol. 2)