Up Around the Bend.
As I’ve made clear here, and here, I am a pretty big fan of Joe R. Lansdale. Not only is he one of the best writers working today, he has been lucky enough to have a couple of stellar adaptations of his work become films (Bubba Ho-Tep and Cold in July). Now Jim Mickle and Nick Diamici, the duo behind Cold in July, have brought Lansdale’s greatest creations — Hap Collins and Leonard Pine — to the small screen.
The Hap and Leonard books stretch out over more than two decades. The first release, Savage Season, debuted in 1990. Counting short story collections, there are 12 in total, the most recent of which was released in March. So how is the show so far?
Episode 1 – Savage Season
As the title intimates, this season will primarily be an adaptation of the first book. The two things that really sold me on the show when I first heard about it, beyond the pedigree of everyone involved, was the fact that at least the first season would be a direct adaptation of the first book, and that the series wasn’t set in present day. There are certain elements to the early stories that just wouldn’t work as well with a modern update.
Hap Collins (James Purefoy) and Leonard Pine (Michael K. Williams) are best friends. Although the two are very different and constantly bicker, they always look out for each other. After losing their jobs as tomato pickers, Hap’s ex-girlfriend, Trudy (Christina Hendricks), shows up with a job offer for Hap. Before long, Trudy has convinced Hap, and Hap has convinced Leonard, to go with Trudy and some shady friends of hers on a hunt to find close to a million dollars that was lost in a bank robbery gone bad.
Trudy’s friends end up being a motley crew of washed up hippies, led by Trudy’s boyfriend, Howard (Bill Sage). After meeting everyone, it becomes pretty apparent that Trudy was sent by Howard to recruit Hap by any means necessary, including seduction. This does not sit well with Hap, and especially not Leonard, who dislikes Trudy to begin with. The episode ends with two seemingly insane criminals (Jimmi Simpson and Pollyanna McIntosh) killing a cop for questioning them at a gas station.
Episode 2 – The Bottoms
This episode finds Hap and Leonard becoming more aware of the plan Howard has in mind. The boys, along with Howard’s guys Paco (Neil Sandilands) and Chub (Jeff Pope), go out looking for a bridge that is believed to be the location of the money. The car carrying the cash from a bank robbery supposedly went off a bridge into the Sabine river below. Hap knows the area very well and is the lead tracker.
In the midst of their search, Leonard is called back to his home in Laborde due to his Uncle Chester’s (Henry G. Sanders) heart attack. He and Chester are estranged due to Leonard’s homosexuality, but Chester doesn’t really have anybody else to look after him and Leonard knows this. Hap tells Leonard to go on home and take care of Chester, and that he will still give Leonard half of his share when they find the money. This leaves Trudy to help Hap try to find the bridge.
If there is anyone more suited to adapt Joe R. Lansdale than Jim Mickle and Nick Damici, then I would like to meet them. Hap and Leonard nails the characters from the get-go, and Purefoy and Williams are a great team. Christina Hendricks is also a stand-out. I had a totally different type of woman in my head for Trudy while reading the book (bombed out, 1980’s bleached blonde type), but Hendricks really nails the character and puts whatever interpretation I had to shame. The supporting cast is also great, from Sage’s sleazy portrayal of Howard, to Simpson and McIntosh as Soldier and Angel (who are still mysteries as far as the show is concerned).
The best thing about the show is just how much it “gets” the book series. Changes are always necessary with any adaptation, but the hallmark of a good one to me is that it maintains the feel of the source material. Hap and Leonard, the TV show, is one of the better adaptations in any form I have seen in quite some time. It gets at what makes the books so good (the characters and the setting), and stays true enough to the story that it doesn’t feel like things are being changed for the sake of changing. Here’s hoping the rest of the season is as good as the first episodes.
Until next time…