Hap and Leonard, based on the books by Joe R. Lansdale, premieres Wednesday at 10 p.m. on SundanceTV. The six-episode series follows Hap (James Purefoy), his best friend Leonard (Michael Kenneth Williams) and Hap’s ex-wife Trudy (Christina Hendricks) as they hatch a get-rich-quick scheme that is destined to go awry. Set in East Texas in the late 1980s, the series has a pulp fiction/film noir feel that’s as murky and moody as the swamp lands the trio is searching for cash.
Here are five reasons you should watch Hap and Leonard.
Purefoy, Hendricks and Williams created some of television’s most iconic characters on The Following, Mad Men and The Wire respectively. But there’s not a trace of their indelible characters in Hap and Leonard. Of course, they are actors trained to disappear into different roles, but TV is a medium that typecasts. So it’s great to see this trio given the opportunity to create fully realized and completely original characters, even if Purefoy’s Texas twang is a little all over the place.
Like the beloved ABC comedy, Hap and Leonard also takes place in the ‘80s, but it’s a darker take on the Reagan era. Like The Americans, the series is set with the Cold War as its backdrop and with the lasting effects of the Vietnam War still casting a shadow on the decade. But unlike The Americans, Hap and Leonard are average guys just trying to survive and stay above the poverty line. The characters are still trying to find something to believe in. Hope is elusive and the clash between the greedy ‘80s and the laidback, let’s-change-the-world ‘70s plays out on a micro level.
Hap went to jail for refusing to go to Vietnam while Leonard still bears the emotional scars of his time fighting. Hap is straight, even-tempered and succumbs to the siren call of his seductive ex-wife. Leonard is gay, quick to anger and won’t take any flak from anybody. On the surface the duo don’t have a lot in common, but you’ll instantly believe them as life-long friends who share an easy rapport. They bicker and tease, but they’ll protect and defend each other not matter what. And how wonderful, that we’ve come so far in television that someone’s sexual orientation doesn’t define his character.
The show has several shocking twists in the first three episodes, including [SPOILER ALERT] a deranged pair of serial killers and an alligator attack. I won’t say more than that because the show’s loopy narrative is bound to leave you with your jaw hanging open.
Since the drama is based on a series of nine books by Joe R. Lansdale, the possibilities for Hap and Leonard abound. This current season only covers one book. So get on board with this wacky cast of characters now. They’re probably going to be around for a while.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal ®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and a regular contributor to Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter or her blog.