Hap and Leonard is the perfect show for people who liked the feel of True Detective's first season but found its ponderousness grating and just wanted a smart but unpretentiously pulpy crime series. Hap and Leonard has a similar swampy, noirish style. It's heavy on atmosphere and centered on mismatched buddies (in this case James Purefoy and Michael Kenneth Williams). It even has a similar location — It's set in East Texas and filmed in Louisiana, a little bit north of the coastal area where True Detective was set. There's even a blink-and-you-miss-it reference to the HBO show. Hap and Leonard has a meandering plot and magical realist flourishes as well, but it's fun in a way that True Detective never was.
Hap and Leonard, which premieres March 2 at 10/9c on SundanceTV, is based on the novels by Joe R. Lansdale. The six-episode first season will track the plot of Savage Season, the first Hap and Leonard novel. It introduces best friends Hap Collins (played by The Following's Purefoy), a white East Texas good ol' boy who served two years in prison for refusing to serve in the Vietnam War, and Leonard Pine (Williams, from The Wire and Boardwalk Empire), a gay black Vietnam vet. They get recruited by Trudy (Christina Hendricks), Hap's ex-wife, to help excavate a car with a trunk stuffed full of cash from the bottom of a river, where it's been sitting for decades. Trudy's other ex-husband Howard (Bill Sage) learned about the car from an old cellmate, a man awesomely named Softboy McCall, who was involved in the heist back in the day. Hap and Leonard team up with Trudy and Howard and his crew of leftover '60s radical leftists, and of course things go sideways. Complicating things is the nearby presence of a chipper psychopath (Jimmi Simpson) and his murderous New Waver girlfriend (Pollyanna McIntosh), who have mysterious but surely bad intentions.
The series was written and developed by Nick Damici and Jim Mickle, who previously adapted Lansdale's Cold In July into a film in 2014. It's powered by darkly witty dialogue, much of which, like the repeated mantra "a hard d--- knows no conscience," is lifted directly from Lansdale's novel. Williams and Hendricks in particular turn in high-quality performances. Williams, who embodied one of the all-time great characters, gay stickup artist Omar Little on The Wire, is comfortably in his lane as Leonard. Like Omar with his Cheerios, Leonard even has specific snack preferences — Nilla Wafers and Dr. Pepper. Williams always makes his characters feel like real people, even when they're basically collections of traits. And Hendricks is 100% committed as Trudy, the femme fatale who still has Hap wrapped around her finger all these years later. Trudy isn't glamorous — Hendricks barely wears any makeup and dresses like, well, it's the late '80s in rural Texas, which it is — but she's still irresistibly sexy. Hendricks makes Trudy manipulative and vulnerable at the same time.
But more than anything else, Hap and Leonard is about atmosphere. It immerses itself in time and environment. The music and costumes and set design all come together to transport the viewer to a hot, damp, dingy and dangerous place. If you've ever wondered what would happen if Elmore Leonard came back from the dead and took over True Detective Season 3, Hap and Leonard is your answer.
Hap and Leonard premieres Wednesday, March 2 at 10/9c on SundanceTV.