The series never had the cultural import of The Simpsons. A book titled Planet Arlen would sell about 12 copies, and most of those would be pity buys, from the author's immediate family. The series, more so than other comedies that air on Fox on Sunday nights, has always brought a knowing sensitivity to the meaning of competition to people in small towns. The only difference between a small town in Texas in a small town in Ontario, other than the weather, is often the name of the game -- be it Boggle, lawn mower racing, middle school football. In the spirit of that, here are five of the show's best sports-themed episodes.
THE MAN WHO SHOT CANE SKRETTEBURG (Season 2)
Hank and his drinking buddies, Boomhauer, Bill Dauterive and Dale Gribble find out the hard way that they have passed to the other side of the generation gap thanks to a gang of teenage punks, voiced by the members of Green Day. The teens are terrorizing the neighbourhood, through high-volume jam sessions in their garage and by driving around firing a paintball gun at helpless bystanders (namely, Bill).
Hank challenges the teenagers to a paintball match -- "I am a finely tuned ex-high school athlete. I spent four years holding guys like you over toilets." The teenagers win easily and Hank and pals resign themselves ("Yep....") to the reality that drinking beer in the alley will be their main source of amusement for the rest of their days. "Don't try to figure 'em out," advises Pop, the neighbourhood's elder statesman. "They can't be figured. Just shake your fist at 'em like this!"
Hank asks for a rematch and the guys get their asses handed to them again. However, Hank refuses to give up, and rallies the troops, despite Dale's objections -- "I thought we agreed never to discuss the horrors we saw on the killing fields of the Fun Centre." Hank gets Cane to agree to another rematch, for high stakes -- Bill's leaf-blower vs. Cane's amp. The guys then devise a game plan, which of course, results in Hank splattering Cane to decide the match: "I think you're going to enjoy the world of acoustics."
BOXING LUANNE (Season 7)
It is no Million Dollar Baby, but it's a knockout all the same when Luanne, Hank's niece with a heart of gold and a built-in magnet draws in every jerk, bum and out-and-out weirdo in Heimlich County, is hired by Hank's unholy pig of a boss, Buck Strickland, who's promoting foxy boxing matches.
It starts out as a joke, but Luanne takes boxing seriously and deals a haymaker to gender stereotypes. "Women boxing, huh?" muses Bill. "If they wear gloves, how do they scratch each other?" Not unlike the plotline from Rocky III, Luanne dispatches a string of inept opponents, which leads her to be matched up against the bona fide No. 1 female boxer in Texas, Freeda Foreman, daughter of the ex-heavyweight champ George Foreman.
Hank visits the elder Foreman to get the fight called off. The champ agrees and suggests that as a favour to him, maybe Hank should see about carrying the George Foreman Grill at Strickland Propane. Hank, the propane purist, refuses, calling the appliance a "novelty grill," which sets Foreman off: "Fight's back on!"
Overmatched, Luanne gets in the ring against the younger Foreman. She ends up with a black eye and bruised face, to Buck's dismay ("We're shootin' the company calendar tomorrow!"). Luanne loses the fight, but she earns something else from the guys who'd come for three rounds of jiggle and jab: Their respect.
CARE-TAKIN' CARE OF BUSINESS (Season 9)
It's football season, and Arlen appears to have its best team since the late 1970s when Hank, as he's wont to point out, set "Arlen High's single-season rushing record." The only weak link is that the school groundskeeper, Smitty, is a bit out to lunch, and the shoddy field conditions cause Arlen to forfeit a big game.
As dedicated fans, former team members and members of the booster club in good standing (save for Dale, the only booster who did not take out an ad in the game program), Hank and the guys start maintaining the field under the cover of darkness. They make sure to give the old coot -- Dale nicknames him the Wizard of Sod -- all the credit for growing the grass long to slow down the oppositing team's speedy running back, or for making the field soft so the other team's star kicker couldn't kick any field goals.
The attention goes to Smitty's head, though, and soon the field is unusable. However, Hank gets Lucky -- Luanne's new boyfriend -- and his truck-racing pals to come to the rescue.
A BEER CAN NAMED DESIRE (Season 4)
There has to be an episode on this list that plays off Hank's love of the Dallas Cowboys. He wears his hair in a "modified Roger Staubach." He once tried to get the NFL team to move its training camp to Arlen. Peggy also once accused him of, after a Thanksgiving dinner where Hank's parents quarreled, of "defending Troy Aikman more than you defended your mother," to which Hank replied, "He had six dropped passes. All Troy can do is get it there."
Hank wins a contest where he gets to try to throw a ball through a hole in a giant Alamo Beer can for a million dollars at halftime of a Cowboys-New Orleans Saints game at the Louisiana Superdome. He builds an exact replica of the can and practises for weeks in the backyard to get ready for the momentous occasion. Once there, Hank is told that he can attempt the throw himself for the million, or have Cowboys legend "Dandy" Don Meredith throw on his behalf for $100,000. Of course, Hank's play-it-safe natures backfires on him.
Meantime, dateless wonder Bill tags along for the trip in order to visit long-lost Louisiana relatives, including a trio of comely Cajuns eager to bed one of the last living male Dauterives. One challenge for him -- figuring out which two of the three women are not related to him by blood. Suffice to say, he succeeds: "Did you have a good time, Bill?" ... "Both of 'em!"
BOBBY ON TRACK (Season 9)
Although a devout Methodist, Hank knows from having a cross to bear, since his pudgy, prop comedy-loving progeny Bobby, the only sire he's been able to produce due to his narrow urethra, cares little for sports. When Bobby signs up for a 5K fun run at school but can barely make it a few hundred metres beyond the starting line, Hank takes him to the track and field coach to whip him into shape.
The coach devises a strategy of putting Bobby into events in order to punish his better athletes when they act like anything less than elite athletes instead of 13-year-old boys. At first Hank is delighted Bobby is on a team and even has a nickname, The Stick.
Then he finds out the source of the nickname from the coach, who explains the state championship is "the carrot and your boy is 'The Stick.' " Regardless, the Tom Landry Middle School track and field team is so good that it can afford Bobby's last-place finishes and the boy enjoys being part of the team, even though he comes last in every event he enters.
The strategy works like a charm until the state finals. With Arlen trailing by a few points entering the final event, the relay, Arlen's last runner pulls up lame -- forcing Bobby to compete, for real.
Almost as good, but too similar: "What Makes Bobby Run" (season 4). Bobby becomes Tom Landry's mascot, but embarrasses Hank and the town when he flees from the traditional McMaynerbury Whuppin' that the Landry Longhorn is supposed to receive if the team is ahead at halftime in the big rivalry game. Bobby, however, makes good by stealing a rival school's pet armadillo, which sparks a new tradition -- the "Belton Beating."
- How to Fire a Rifle Without Really Trying: Hank and Bobby participate in a father-son markmanship contest, but Hank's a terrible shot due to buried childhood trauma inflicted by his daddy, Cotton.
- Peggy Makes The Big Leagues: Hank is caught between his loyalty to his wife and to Arlen High's football team after Peggy fails the team's star fullback, David Kala'iki Ali'i ("The Flyin' Hawaiian"), making him ineligible for the annual grudge match against McMaynerbury.
(Stadium announcer: "He says 'aloha' to the end zone and 'aloha' to the Temble Tigers! It means both hello and goodbye! My wife is Polynesian!")
- Bobby Slam: Bobby joins the school wrestling team, but ends up having to compete against his girlfriend, Connie
- Three Coaches And A Bobby: Hank is mortified when Bobby elects to play soccer -- "ballerina ball." Will Ferrell voices the coach of Bobby's team, the Wind: "A tie! No one has to feel inferior!"