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Hap and Leonard
Reviewed by Xander Johnson, © 2016

Format: TV
By:   Jim Milke (director) and Joe R. Lansdale (creator)
Genre:   Swamp Noir
Review Date:   March 09, 2016
RevSF Rating:   9/10 (What Is This?)

"You can take a man's job, but you can't take his cookies." -- Leonard

After having been green-lit on November 10 of 2014 and the grueling two-year wait following, SundanceTV finally delivers the long-awaited Hap and Leonard screen adaptation of Joe Lansdale's sensational East Texas-based series.

Hap and Leonard follows two men well into their forties, barely scraping by, conscripted into anarchic adventures by vice of misfortune. White working-class draft-dodger Hap Collins (James Purefoy), and African-American homosexual Vietnam War veteran with anger issues Leonard Pine (Michael K. Williams) take center stage. Together, the two do dirty jobs and violence in equal measure to survive in 1980s East Texas.

The first season is an adaptation of the first book of the series, Savage Season. Hap is approached by his ex-wife Trudy (Christina Hendricks) with a lucrative proposition: retrieve hundreds of thousands of dollars lost in a creek under a bridge in an area Hap knows well. Preying on Hap's lingering emotions and a few more lurid feelings, Trudy is able to coerce him into accepting the job. Hap enlists Leonard's assistance, who is distrustful of Trudy's intentions, fueled by past political differences, and the fact that she broke the heart of his good buddy Hap. With a trunk full of guns, and armed with Leonard's audacity, the trio journey forth to make their fortune.

The show remains faithful to its irreverent, yet notably poetic, source material. Purefoy's portrayal of Hap Collins is a perfect parallel to Williams' portrayal of Leonard Pine. Purefoy is level and vulnerable, while Williams is unstable and rigid. The chemistry results in a spectacle nothing short of captivating. Hendricks' performance as Trudy is a classical but tastefully subdued femme fatale. She's cordial in her interactions with Hap, yet remains reticent of him. Another staple of Hap and Leonard is the use of East Texas as a character on its own. The pilot has keeps true to this storytelling device. Early on in the episode, we're treated to a close-up shot of a six-pack of Dr. Pepper and an old racist cashier, firmly establishing an identity and attitude undeniably Texan.

The series only misses one mark, but it's a rather crucial one. The immersive settings and adventures that couldn't be described as anything other than mad are great selling points, but the magic of a Lansdale work is from his creative voice. Hap and Leonard is a first-person narrative from Hap Collins' point of view. Take the first couple pages of Bad Chili, the fourth book in the series: Hap eloquently characterizes a scene in which Leonard has been let go from his job as a bouncer for his excessive brutality towards a rowdy patron and concluding by urinating on him, only for Leonard to try to justify this action as a potential selling point for the establishment. The pilot misses this narration, which drives this series with such velocity.

What the pilot misses is immaterial when held against everything it gets right. Purefoy and Williams are impeccable, the setting and atmosphere are mesmerizing, and while Lansdale's narration is lacking, his presence is unmistakable. Hap and Leonard's on-screen debut is a glowingly positive welcome to a duo that have demonstrated their value in ink, and showing enormous progress on picture.

Watch This

Episodes of Hap and Leonard are watchable now at SundanceTV.com.

Recently returning to Texas after a lengthy Canadian exile, Xander Johnson wonders if it has always been this hot and this crazy in the land of his birth. He's discovered that Lansdale's zany books are scarily closer to fact than fiction.

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