Critical Condition: Hap and Leonard

Hap and Leonard (SoHo, 8.30 Sunday)

“Based on a series of novels by the great Texas writer Joe R. Lansdale, Hap and Leonard is in no hurry to get to the point — and that’s part of what’s so pleasurable about it. It has been compared in reviews to Justified, probably because of its laid-back characterisations, courtly drawls, and working-class to working-poor milieu. But the show it reminds me of most is the primary tonal influence on JustifiedThe Rockford Files, which was ultimately less concerned with whatever case James Garner’s private eye happened to be solving than with the oddball personalities he met along the way and the seedy-beautiful southern California settings he traveled through.” — New York Magazine.

“The best friends of the show’s title are a soulful ex-con (Hap, played by James Purefoy) and a gay Vietnam veteran (Leonard, played by Michael Kenneth Williams). We first see them being fired from their menial jobs at a rose farm. We next see them being approached by a femme fatale, Trudy (Christina Hendricks), who knows of a job that will pay them $100,000 each (big money in the late-1980s time frame). It’s an old story, though there’s an unusual wrinkle: Trudy needs Hap, her ex-husband, to locate a particular bridge near which a submerged car holds the proceeds from a robbery. (It’s a plot that only makes sense pre-Google Earth.) The man running the scheme, Trudy’s current lover (Bill Sage), is a ’60s holdout whose doctrinaire radicalism clashes with Hap’s more principled idealism, a thread that lends the show some Altmanesque flavour and a general air of melancholy and defeat.” — New York Times.

“The Hap and Leonard friendship is a fantastic mixture of politically incorrect, boundary-free banter, loving antagonism and do-anything-for-each-other dedication, and the writers push hard to convey the friendship, even if some of the back-and-forths feel more natural on the page … The 45-minute episodes and the sometimes light narrative leave the initial three episodes feeling somewhat thin, but that feeling could abate in the presumably intense closing three episodes, or maybe the first season will be best binged as prelude to a second season.” — The Hollywood Reporter.

“The adaptation is generally faithful to the novel, with some added elements, notably some psycho-for-the-hell-of-it ultraviolence to introduce a couple of (redrawn) characters early into the mix …It doesn’t all make perfect sense, especially where the action departs from or adds to the book, and the players, as talented and likable and natural as they are, sometimes seem to be actors on the job rather than people whose fate has brought them to such and such a pass; the script keeps them busy, without (so far) bringing them to life. They’re good, but not compelling company.” — Los Angeles Times.

“Sometimes you like a TV show because you’re caught up in the story. Other times, something else pulls you in, and in the case of Hap and Leonard, the magnet is characters who speak intoxicatingly eloquent dialogue … The script is a masterpiece of Texas noir, with the kind of dialogue Raymond Chandler might have written if he’d found his way to the area. Hap and Leonard banter incessantly, often heaving one-liners at each other with sexual overtones. Other times, it’s just hyperbolic japes such as Hap telling his black friend, ‘When you take a s—, you look like you’re melting.'” — San Francisco Chronicle.

“Tonally, Hap and Leonard appears to be aiming for the sweet spot that FX’s Justified hit for most of its run. Like that show, this one is adapted from a series of novels that depict the shaggy adventures of wayward men with a penchant for booze and the wrong bed partners … This show should be a swampy, escapist saga with poignant overtones, but that version of the tale can only occasionally be glimpsed amid the overwritten dialogue and the stilted pacing. For the most part, there’s not much of a spark here.” — Variety.

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