What is ‘Hap and Leonard’?

Ryan Covey

Hap and Leonard is a crime-drama on Sundance that was created by Jim Mickle and Nick Damici the director and writer duo behind such films as Mulberry Street, Stake Land, We Are What We Are, and Cold in July.  The show is based on a series of crime novels written by novelist Joe R. Lansdale whose short stories and novels have been adapted into the films Cold in July, Christmas With the Dead, and the Bruce Campbell starring elderly-Elvis-versus-a-mummy-in-a-nursing-home movie Bubba Ho-Tep.  The duo has been the focus of nine novels, two novellas, and a handful of short stories written by Lansdale and season one of the show concerns the first book in the series: Savage Season.

Hap Collins (played by Rome and The Following’s James Purefoy) is a former hippie who spent a few years in federal prison for refusing to be drafted into the Vietnam war, he’s soft spoken and not prone to violence though he is capable of it when needed.  Leonard Pine (The Wire’s Michael Kenneth Williams) is gay, conservative, African American Vietnam war veteran who is prone to anger and quick to resort to violence.  Despite their very opposite idealogies the two are best friends, living and working in the fictional town of Laborde in East Texas in the 1980s.

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In Savage Season, Hap is approached by his ex-wife Trudy (Firefly and Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks), an idealist of the Vietnam war era who hasn’t moved on from the dream of the 1960s.  Trudy offers Hap $20,000 if he can help her locate a car full of stolen money that a couple of bank robbers crashed into the Sabine river years prior.  Hap agrees to the proposal on the caveat that Leonard come along and the two are off on a bizarre adventure fraught with sermonizing, bickering, and bloodshed.

For those who haven’t experienced Joe R. Lansdale’s particular style of writing, you are in for a treat.  Lansdale has a style that’s very familiar yet stands on its own as a very unique experience.  His style is brutal and borderline misanthropic, yet full of love for his characters and the worlds they live in, tinted with idealism and witty, yet also at times deliberately juvenile, and capable of being grotesque and funny often at the same time.  Jim Mickle and Nick Damici have fully captured that feel for this show, the pop-art qualities and the Southern charm.  East Texas feels alive and both Hap and Leonard are well-rounded and fully developed characters.  Hap’s calm demeanor balances out Leonard’s temper and Leonard’s bravado gives Hap a little more backbone.

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The interesting thing about the characters is that, unlike most serial crime novel characters, they aren’t law enforcers of any sort.  Hap and Leonard aren’t cops, private investigators, reporters, or anything investigative (though in later novels they do work for P.I.)  The duo are just two normal middle-aged laborers who manage to stumble into trouble nearly everywhere they go.

The actors bring the characters to life, the writing is superb and actually manages to genuinely capture the feel of its source material, the scenery and cinematography are amazing, and the music is atmospheric and grand.  Hap and Leonard is must-see TV especially if you’re a fan of Mickle and Damici or Joe R. Lansdale.

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