'King of The Hill': Arlen, Texas Is Geographically Impossible
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Beyond Hank Hill's passion for propane and propane accessories, Boomhauer's mumbling, and Dale's endless supply of conspiracies (and pocket sand), it seems there is yet another factor that makes King of the Hill, well, King of the Hill – its setting of Arlen, Texas. A lively, grounded, and still decidedly southern, take on adult animation's Everytown, USA trope, Arlen has played an integral role in King of the Hill's enduring legacy over the two odd decades since it first hit the small screen, helping the show earn the superlative of being the “the most acutely observed, realistic sitcom about regional American life bar none,” as Time magazine put it back in 2007. But over the course of 13 seasons, 259 episodes, and even a 1998 promotional campaign aimed at tricking fans into believing the show was moving to Los Angeles, California one question remains – where the hell is Arlen, supposed to be anyways?
The answer to this inquiry is fairly straightforward upon first glance, with creator Mike Judge directly naming his inspiration for the fictional town in a 2009 interview with the New York Times. “It’s Richardson, a suburb of Dallas,” Judge recalled. "I actually grew up in Albuquerque, N.M., and had a paper route in a blue-collar neighborhood. West Texas and eastern New Mexico blur a little bit, and I remember my brother and I just noticing that every adult authority figure used to have a Texas accent. There was always someone going <with a twang>, ‘Excuse me, boys.’”
But even with Judge's drawl-y promise that Arlen is most definitively Richardson, Texas (with a splash of New Mexico for good measure), several bizarre and contradictory clues have popped up throughout the series hinting that the fictional town's logistics are much, much more complicated than simply mirroring the real-life Dallas suburb.
In "It Aint Over ‘till The Fat Neighbor Sings" – the season nine installment that so boldly dared to ask “under what extenuating circumstances would Bill voluntarily wear a hippie costume in public," we see a sign denoting that Bill and his glee club, The Harmonaholics, are 96 miles away from Dallas, Texas while on a bus presumably leaving Arlen. In real-world geography, Richardson sits just 15 miles away from the city.
Arlen's various zip and area codes also provide us with a few hints – and a series of increasingly unhinged implications – about the show's whereabouts … or amorphous lack thereof. In season eight's “That's What She Said,” we finally get to see Hank in his element, behind the wheel of a Strickland Propane truck presumably en route to sell his beloved propane and propane accessories. As he drives by, we catch a glimpse of Strickland's phone number emblazoned on the side of the vehicle, beginning with the area code 409. Although this code generally serves Galveston and Beaumont in east Texas, this still makes some semblance of sense if you assume Strickland is a state-wide propane empire – which hey, at least Hank's talents are going to good use.
Similarly, among Arlen's three zip codes listed in the series, 77066 is by far the most rational, covering Harris County, Texas – a.k.a. the greater Houston area. It may definitely not be Dallas, but at least it's still within Texas state lines -- something that can't be said for the town's other zip codes, 73104 and 78302. The former, listed on Hank's driver's license in “Dale To The Chief" serves Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The latter, which appears on a very patriotic Dale's tax return later that same episode, is not located in Oklahoma, the south, or anywhere in the continental United States for that matter. 78302 is actually the area code for a French commune named Poissy, located roughly 18 miles (or 30 kilometers, I guess) outside the European nation's capital of Paris -- not to be confused with the real city of love, Paris, Texas.
But even with the implication that King of The Hill may secretly be a pretentious French satire dunking on Texan culture, a Parisian suburb isn't the only international locale that may inform Arlen's location – or where Arlen should theoretically sit if the laws of space and time remain consistent in the HHCU (Hank Hill Cinematic Universe). Throughout the series, Hank, Dale, Bill, Boomhauer, and, well, basically everyone else on the show all drive to Mexico with relative casualness and ease, seemingly on a whim's notice.
The only problem? Traveling to Mexico from Richardson or Houston takes a very, very long time (we're not even going to touch Oklahoma City or La Hauteville here, both for the sake of Hank's sanity and the fact that car/boat hybrids have yet to commercially exist). At their closest points, just reaching the border is an all-day affair, respectively totaling roughly seven and five hours on the road -- one way. Considering that in “Lupe's Revenge,” Peggy casually pitches and orchestrates an ill-fated class trip to Mexico and that in “Beer and Loathing,” Hank, Dale, Bill, and Boomhauer pop across the border to buy several cases of their beloved Alamo beer during a state-wide shortage, arriving back to Arlen with just enough time to narrowly avoid sh-tting themselves while all crammed together into a car (yada yada, “Rule 34”), something isn't adding up here.
But these inconsistencies are only a few examples of Arlen's location making zero f--king sense. Several years back, Redditor – nay, hero – u/stringed took it upon themselves to map out several mentions of geography throughout the series, referencing many of the above points as well as some one-off lines discussing relative distances between Arlen and other Texan locales.
In season three's "Nine Pretty Darn Angry Men" Peggy states that Arlen is a two-hour drive away from the fictitious Six Malls Over Texas, presumably a non-lawsuit igniting dupe for Six Flags Mall near the Six Flags Over Texas theme park in Arlington. In real life, Six Flags Mall is roughly 30 minutes away from Richardson.
Later that season in “Escape from Party Island,” Hank attempts to dissuade his mother from taking a road trip to a miniatures museum in Port Aransas, Texas near the state's southern city of Corpus Christi, warning her that she's "still got four hours of driving" before arriving at the attraction. In real life, Richardson is over a seven-hour drive from Port Aransas. Hank's qualms about this distance also raise several questions about the characters' carefree trips to Mexico, which is a similar – if not slightly shorter -- drive away.
In “As Old as the Hills,” which also takes place in season three, Bobby tells Didi, who is in labor with G.H., that the Arlen hospital is "two hours away,” as he is somehow driving through Houston, a sentiment accompanied by a sign indicating that he is exactly 96 miles away from his hometown. Considering the road marker in “It Aint Over ‘till The Fat Neighbor Sings” also pins Arlen 96 miles away from Dallas, the town is apparently equidistant between the two cities, which is not true to life at all. Again, Richardson is a suburb of Dallas, just 15 miles away from its downtown district. It takes approximately 12 times longer to make the four-ish hour trek from Richardson to Houston, which are 251 miles apart.
Finally, during the show's Thanksgiving – or Hanksgiving -- special the following season, a brouhaha surrounding the time it takes to arrive at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport also hints at Arlen's locale. “Let's go Bobby it's almost 10,” Hank tells his son. “With the Dallas traffic we won't get to the airport 'til noon and that flight leaves at 4 with or without us.” Later in the episode, Kahn flexes on his neighbor for, well, being a stereotypical dad on his way to the airport. “Hey Hank, our flight same time as yours,” he says. "I saw you leave house at 10 a.m. We leave 5 hours later. You still waiting you dumb redneck." If the show were truly a Richardson dupe, Kahn would be right – it takes roughly 35 minutes to travel from Richardson to the Dallas Fort-Worth airport.
Based on the above evidence and a few other points, including the frivolousness with which Hank and co. visit San Antonio, Texas in “Yankee Hankee,” (which theoretically should constitute a five-and-a-half-hour one-way trip from Richardson) u/stringed devised a hypothesis: Arlen is probably a lot further south than its real-life inspiration, likely located near Waco, Texas.
Assuming Hank and co. were all neighbors with a gun-toting religious cult does rationalize several geographical quandaries on the show -- or, well, as close to “rationalize” as one can get when it comes to the enigma that is Arlen, Texas. Waco is approximately 90 minutes away from Six Flags Mall, five hours from Port Aransas, three hours from Houston, and two-ish hours from the Dallas-Fort Worth airport (the latter implying that either Hank is definitely a stereotypical dad attempting to catch a flight or that Kahn knows how to haul ass on the road unlike any other mere mortal – both of which are highly probable).
But even though the above locales do check out, a few others still don't. Aside from mismatched zip and area codes, driving from Waco to Mexico still takes a significantly long time, approximately six hours one way. And as for being an equidistant 96 miles between Dallas and Houston? Although Waco is 101 miles away from Dallas, which tracks all things considered, it sits 186 miles away from Houston.
So what does this mean? After starting at maps, scrolling through an endless sea of Reddit comments, and rewatching several episodes of the series, it seems pinning down Arlen, Texas on a map is a feat much like cooking with charcoal, or talking to Boomhauer – you can try, but you're just gonna end up with a headache.
Although it makes zero geographical sense and/or holds the long-hidden secret to teleportation, one it has refused to address over the show's 13 season run, Arlen, Texas will always be real in our imaginations (that apparently exist without the pesky limitations of space, time, or maps). To paraphrase Hank Hill himself in an archived 1999 interview with Texas Monthly, we had best hope we never break down in Arlen, Texas, because the folks around there don’t appreciate having their town called fictional. Yep.
Top Image: Fox