Sundance

Is Hap And Leonard A Treasure Worth Diving For?

Or will pacing issues sink Sundance's six-episode caper series?

What is this thing?

Longtime besties Hap (James Purefoy) and Leonard (Michael Kenneth Williams) get fired from their jobs picking roses, just in time for Hap's sassy ex-wife Trudy (Christina Hendricks) to sashay onto Hap's broken-down property with a proposal: surface the car her current husband's former cellie in Leavenworth says he drove into the river somewhere, full of a million bucks the guy stole.

Complicating matters are Vietnam vet Leonard and hippie hanger-on Trudy's mutual enmity; the torch Hap still carries for Trudy; the other derp-sperados Trudy's hippie huz Howard has assembled for the job, including a one-eyed short-bowman and a guy named Chub; and the "southern" accents whizzing around like bottle rockets in a Smart car.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

When is it on?

Wednesdays at 10 PM on Sundance.

Why now?

TV audiences have a demonstrated love of watching Michael K. Williams tote a shotgun around and crack wise. Why not put him in an eighties Elmore Leonardian caper with two super-watchable actors recently freed from the bonds of restrictive period costuming (Hendricks) and a serial-killer-procedural campfest whose only bright spot was him (Purefoy)?

Also, it's based on characters from a book series by Joe R. Lansdale, so I assume there's a built-in audience, at least initially (I haven't read the books).

What's its pedigree?

Co-creators Jim Mickle and Nick Damici seem to have come out of feature films, none of which I've seen.

It's the on-camera talent that sells Hap And Leonard, of course: Hendricks (Mad Men), Williams (The Wire), and Purefoy (Rome) all have prestige series under their belts. And it's always nice to see Jimmi Simpson (House Of Cards), who turns up in the first episode.

...And?

I find all three of the leads enormously appealing, but I get the distinct feeling that that was the entire pitch. "Everyone likes these three. Throw in a caper and we're done. Anyone got an option on anything like that?"

And you don't need a whole lot more than that to keep me happy, actually, if the caper itself keeps moving; this one doesn't. Purefoy and Hendricks don't have quite as much chemistry as they need, and while I'd watch Purefoy and Williams sitting around waiting for a train for hours, the first ep saddles them both with a lot of too-much dialogue; every line strains for bon-mot status, or gets bogged down in nobody-talks-like-that abstractions: "You always overcommit in love and war," Leonard grunts at one point, making sure to add that Hap's had that problem "ever since we were kids."

Even the entrance of Leonard's grumpy uncle, taken into police custody for starting a fracas over expired coupons at the drugstore, doesn't quite work. For starters, every detail the writing embroiders onto the story and characters is like that -- just a liiiiittle cutesy (see also: Trudy and Hap reminiscing about their pet bird, like, of course they had a bird and of course now Hap has an empty cage and of course it's all very symbolic). Then the uncle has to have a "keep ya faggot hands off me" outburst at Leonard to make sure we know Leonard is gay; and Leonard has to stare sullenly out the window, unable to crack wise in the face of a relative's hatefulness; and of course Hap has to tell the old man that if he talks to Leonard like that again, Hap will shove his cane up his ass. It's not badly done, but it's utterly expected, and it's trying too hard to underline the heroes' honorable position on the right side of history.

Oh, and this exchange:

"What happened to you?"
"Life."

Not even ironically should you try that shit, and this wasn't.

...But?

Occasionally someone gets a good line off, like Hap snarking on Howard that he sounds like a college freshman. And it's so nice to see Purefoy NOT on The Following -- and Williams, period -- that it takes you a couple of acts to realize that you are in fact checking Instagram while watching the show.

The caper could turn into something fun.

It's nice to look at?

...So?

...God, I've really made it sound grim! It's not grim; it's fine. I just don't have time for "fine," not when it's trying so hard. I get why people will keep watching, but I'm good.

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