Starring: James Purefoy, Michael Kenneth Williams, Jimmi Simpson, Bill Sage, Christina Hendricks, PollyAnna McIntosh, Neil Sandilands, Jeff Pope, Henry G. Sanders | Director: Jim Mickle
Created and produced by Joe R. Lansdale (and adapted from his novel series), Hap and Leonard follows the exploits of a luckless pair of best friends who get in far too much trouble than anyone ever should. Running for six episodes, the first season of H&L offers television junkies an odd yet amusing mix of Western, suspense and noir genres, situated during the social and financial decline of the late 1980s.
MARVEL CREEK, TX – 1968
Hap and Leonard’s premiere begins with inept bank robbers ducking and dodging a fleet of police cars along a Texas highway. It’s apparent the duo aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed, with one driving erratically across both lanes while the other is caked in sweat and bleeding all over the backseat. Somehow they manage to evade their pursuers on a backroad but in their panic, the dolts take a deep plunge in the Sabine River for all their trouble.
Pulling himself ashore, the surviving criminal genius numbskull looks at an iron bridge before passing out. What all this has to do with a pair of eccentric rogues twenty years later will come around eventually, bet your bottom dollar on that. (hint hint)
LABORDE, TX – 1988
“A stiff dick ain’t got no conscience.”
In little time, viewers are given a concise summary on the current state of things for our unconventional leads. Hap Collins (James Purefoy) appears to be a man perpetually down on his luck, with no prospects or encouraging outlook for his future. Working in rose fields with his best friend Leonard Pine (Michael Kenneth Williams), Hap is a man who’s distrustful of people yet always tries to see the best in them. No matter how many times he gets kicked in the head. Purefoy provides a warmth to Hap despite his constantly sullen nature. He plays Collins with a sadness that’s subtle and relatable to us aging optimists who hoped to find our ray of sunshine in a world so cold and impersonal.
The friendship between the Hap and Leonard is full of playful jabs and self-deprecation about their cultural differences. However it’s only for their benefit, not anyone else in all of Texas, who would certainly frown on a gay Black male and White ex-con being such close pals now or in the 80s. There will likely be plenty of jokes made about this odd couple. After all, it is an odd show. In spite of this, H&L gives the aura that it’ll play on their rapport beyond the superficial; possibly more than any other male friendship on television. In a way, the companionship Collins and Pine exhibits is very much attuned to Freud’s theory of personality, i.e. the Id, Ego and Superego. Undoubtedly, Leonard is the Id, the instinctual drive that typically gets one in a whole mess of scrapes for the smallest reasons. Hap plays more to the Ego, the mediator between the demands of one’s impulses and the restrictive morals of society.
While the two appear inseparable – though the narrative tends to sway in Hap’s perspective – much could be said about Leonard’s resolve and ain’t-got-time-for-bullshit attitude. It’s easy to realize how much Hap depends on his strength and divergent perspective; Leonard is as much Hap’s conscience as Collins is Pine’s constant. Michael Kenneth Williams has never failed to craft a dynamic presence in every one of his characters, from Chalky White in Boardwalk Empire to Omar in The Wire and all guest roles in between. He continues to impress by effortlessly fashioning a layered persona in Leonard Pine.
It’s only the first episode but it’s apparent the genuine love both friends have for each other, despite their contrasting personalities, attests to the talents of Purefoy and Williams. Although one could claim Leonard may love Dr. Pepper a little more than Hap. Just a smidgen.
“There’s no beauty in perfection, honey.”
Anytime Christina Hendricks is guest starring or a supporting player in a drama, chances are her character is going to have an ulterior motive (or appear to have one). From the moment Hendricks glides into the scene with a coquettish smile and pop of her hip, every viewer knew Hap was in trouble and he wasn’t going to fight his way out of it. It’s clear Trudy knows her way around the world, at least in regards to getting what she wants out of the men who catch her attention. From what can be gathered about her and Collins’ shared history, there were plenty more downs than there were ups. No matter how many years have passed, their attraction remains magnetic.
Trudy uses their past and her guile to lure Hap (and Leonard through association) into a job that could land both rustlers a sizable payday. Naturally, Leonard has his reservations in accepting a) easy money b) easy money from Trudy. Nevertheless, Hap follows her lead like a lovesick puppy. Before they head out to Marvel Creek to attain their fortune, they receive a social call from the local authorities about an ornery codger.
Perhaps the most contestable person in “Savage Season” is Leonard’s uncle Chester, played by Henry G. Sanders. Everyone has an older relative like Chester: an unapologetic, racist, sexist, homophobic, contemptible old windbag whose time is winding down. So why not act like a complete asshole? No matter what Chester says to his nephew, Leonard still tends to the elder who seemingly doesn’t care how much he puts him through the wringer. Of course, more will be revealed why Leonard continues to look after Chester – along with why he and Hap are friends – in a series of flashbacks. Still, Uncle Chester is going to remain a handful in H&L if all goes according to the novels.
“I let you talk me into some dumb shit. But this right here? It take the dumb shit cake.”
After meeting with Trudy’s new beau Howard (Bill Sage), Hap has more of a bead on what this job entails. According to Trudy, while Howard was in the big house, he was cellmates with Softball McCall, the surviving bank robber from 1968. See? It all fits! The two became fast friends and shared all sorts of secrets, including the location of a million dollars submerged near a nondescript bank of the Sabine River. Posturing as a true believer from the Generation of Love, Howard intends to use the money as a means to fight the system, to which of course Hap and Leonard immediately call bullshit.
The inclusion of a rather dubious character named Paco (Neil Sandilands) also draws heightened concern about the purpose of this supposedly easy retrieval. At what time in one’s life does a group of opportunistic treasure hunters need a crossbow-wielding sniper? Besides, the entire situation smells like a set-up and only a few of those conspiring to retrieve the stolen money will actually have a chance to see it. Hence pretty boy with the eagle eye…
Perhaps the reason for Paco’s unfortunate appearance will be explained with the late appearance of a curiously whimsical psycho played by the always entertaining Jimmi Simpson. After memorable stints in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and House of Cards, Simpson firmly plants his flag as the resident weirdo in H&L as a colorful Camaro owner who likes blasting darkwave at gas stations in the middle of friggin nowhere. If his behavior wasn’t suspect enough, Simpson employs a rather impish demeanor as Soldier, who appears to take great pleasure in the death of others.
His sadism looks to be outmatched only by his equally demented girlfriend Angel (Pollyanna McIntosh), who rocks neon spandex almost as well as she wields a switchblade. Can we talk about her ensemble for a moment? Who knew they still made shredded leggings like those! Considering how the 1980s were a time of excess, it wouldn’t be surprising if the costuming department found the motherlode of neon unitards, scrunchies and Frankie Says Relax t-shirts during pre-production. Pennies on the dollar and well worth the investment!
From the look of things, life won’t be coming up roses for Hap and Leonard anytime soon. The oddballs will have to endure their new friends a bit longer to get their cut of soggy greenbacks in “The Bottoms” next Wednesday at 10/9c on SundanceTV!
Note: If you can’t wait for the next episode, it’s available online on SundanceTV. Feel free to share your comments on Hap and Leonard below or on Facebook!
Hap & Leonard S1E1
If there’s a single thing viewers can always rely on with Sundance and its original programming, it’s their steadfast dedication in equipping productions the opportunity and resources to create compelling and wholly unique storylines. Seldom will one view shows of similar tone and narrative across the increasing jumble that is cable television.
That all being written, Hap and Leonard should be a definite hit for the earnest network. It’s fresh, has a lively tempo, and a tinge of dark humor. However it all feels like a veneer for the wrenching drama that’ll eventually bubble up to the surface. Anyway, you should watch this. If SundanceTV isn’t in your tier of channels, UPGRADE YOUR LIFE ALREADY and don’t miss out!