James Purefoy and Michael K Williams in “Hap and Leonard” (Credit: Jace Downs/SundanceTV)
Nightmares play a prominent role in “Hap and Leonard: The Two-Bear Mambo,” the worst originating from the anxiety-ridden subconscious of Hap Collins (James Purefoy). This is not surprising, given Hap’s heretofore irrepressible idealism and his propensity to unleash his mind to wander down the various paths of “what if.”
But in the SundanceTV drama’s latest season, airing Wednesdays at 10 p.m., Hap’s bad dreams infect his common sense to the point of jeopardizing the life and safety of his best friend Leonard Pine (Michael Kenneth Williams). Again. And it’s all over a woman Hap’s hopelessly in love with who doesn’t love him back . . . again.
“Hap and Leonard” viewers are well-acquainted with the pair’s dynamic now that we’re three seasons in. Hap’s sweet, determined and a touch simple; Leonard is ornery, pragmatic and tart-tongued. He’s the brains of the outfit while Hap is the heart. They need and love each other in a way many in their orbit cannot wrap their heads around. All they see is a straight white guy and a gay black man hanging out together and attracting trouble they don’t need.
A procedural familiarity fuels each season’s mystery, all based on Joe R. Lansdale’s novels. But the remarkable difference with “Hap and Leonard” is its willingness to consistently place its heroes in direct conflict with a sinister, pervasive and brazen enemy poisoning their world and ours.
It may be the only scripted series on television right now that portrays racism boldly and without qualification. This also is the most likely reason that its audience size remains relatively modest in comparison to most cable series, even if it’s SundanceTV’s highest-rated original. “Hap and Leonard” is consciously atmospheric, crisply paced high-noon noir, and Purefoy and Williams have an onscreen presence that’s tough to top.
But its stories wade into territory Americans still would rather refrain from confronting, and its status as a period piece only sharpens the discomfort of knowing that bigotry is still as alive now as it was in the late ‘80s, when Hap and Leonard’s adventures take place.
With each new round of episodes, showrunner John Wirth and his fellow executive producers and writers display our fractured race relations more plainly. In its first season we could take comfort in the notion that the epithet-spewing antagonists were psychotic outsiders. Season 2 moved it closer to center stage, as Hap and Leonard contended with the racism of a local justice system rigged by a corrupt judge and local sheriff content to allow a plague of disappeared black boys to go unchecked.
In these six new episodes pit the duo against the Ku Klux Klan, a hate group that only a couple of years ago naively was presumed to be a relic of the pre-Civil Rights era. Reports indicate that they’re openly recruiting again, and shortly after Donald Trump was elected president, we came close to getting an unscripted series …read more