Friday, April 28, 2017

Hap and Leonard: Mucho Mojo Review

            Joe Lansdale’s gruesome twosome return for a second season.

            Hap Collins and Leonard Pine, the eponymous duo of Sundance TV’s Hap and Leonard, stand in a field outside a small, East Texas carnival, posing as day-laborers waiting to be assigned their carnie tasks. They’re hot on the trail of a child murderer, one whom they have reason to believe will strike again this very night at this very carnival. The foreman takes one look at the duo, and immediately knows where best to apply their talents: shit shoveling. For Hap and Leonard, they just have that kind of luck. Life takes one look at the pair, hands them a shovel and says, “Get to it.”
            After a solid debut season that adapted the first Hap and Leonard novel, Savage Season, the second go-round turns its focus to the second book in the series and uses it for a fancy subtitle: Mucho Mojo. A subtitle that proves apt, as there is much mojo to be had in this brief, no-frills run of six hour-long episodes. The last season ended on a tantalizing and thoroughly-creepy cliffhanger, following Hap and Leonard as they attended the funeral of Leonard’s estranged Uncle Chester. Chester’s house is left to Leonard in his will, and the very last shot of the season showed a tiny skeleton crumpled beneath the floorboards in Uncle Chester’s basement. It turns out that Chester Pine held more secrets than anyone thought possible, although we find out his motives weren’t quite as sinister as initially thought. Leonard’s uncle was trying to solve a spate of child killings, and once he and Hap discover the literal skeleton in Chester’s closest, the two find themselves inheriting the mystery.

            Last season focused mainly on James Purefoy’s Hap, so it’s only appropriate that this go-round turns it’s attentions to the other half of the equation. In Leonard Pine, Michael Kenneth Williams gets yet another role he was born to play, and the multitalented actor gets to really dig deep on the character this season. Whether he’s dealing with the implication that his uncle could have been a child murderer or taking a vengeful piss on the unconscious body of a drug dealer he just waylaid, Williams has a run on the gamut of emotions displayed for everybody’s favorite gay black Republican badass. We also get to see the softer side of Leonard, as he takes in a young runaway named Ivan and becomes something of a surrogate father. In the book, Ivan is a young kid Hap and Leonard find overdosing underneath their porch, who goes on to die at the hospital. I think it was a smart move to have Ivan live and become one of the main characters on the show, as his relationship with Leonard mirrors Leonard’s own with his Uncle Chester while growing up. Seeing the prickly Leonard soften up in the presence of Ivan leads the series to both its most amusing and poignant moments.

            Hap’s main story this season revolves around his blossoming relationship with the smart and attractive Florida Grange, Chester’s lawyer who now has to represent Leonard once he becomes a suspect following the discovery of the body beneath Chester’s house. The romantic entanglement between Hap and Florida was a much bigger part of the novel than it is here, but the upside is that Florida gets a bit more play-time in the show than in the novel, where she virtually disappears once the hunt for the killer is on. In the show, Florida remains a strong presence throughout, staying neck-and-neck with the East Texas boys as they attempt to track the killer down at the carnival on the night of his next victim. Tiffany Mack acquits herself to the role well, as a tough African-American woman who had to fight tooth and nail for everything she’s accomplished thus far, and still finds herself having to prove her worth constantly due to both her race and gender. And although the end of their relationship doesn’t leave Hap as heartbroken here as he was in the source novel, Purefoy once more embodies the wounded masculinity of Hap, an eternal hopeless romantic who can’t help but hope for the best but always seems to catch the worst.

            The mystery that Hap and Leonard get involved with here is engaging throughout, with the reveals and reversals all well-placed across the tight, six-episode season. The unsolved murders of nearly a dozen black children allows the show to cast a wide net in the topics that it explores, touching on religious fanaticism, institutional racism and the depths to which mankind can sink when it is allowed. It’s here that the show most diverges the most from the source material. The mystery and it’s resolution are essentially the same, but the show throws in a last-minute twist (two, if we’re being honest) that is all its own. The multiple resolutions wind up being a bit of a mixed bag, honestly--they come a little too late in the game, making them feel tacked on at the last minute, and the reversal in the very last episode suffers from a kind of “reveal” fatigue. It does pay off a thread that was set-up all the way back in the first season, involving the powerful Sheriff Valentine Otis (played by the incomparable Brian Dennehy) and his son Beau, who is responsible for killing Hap and Leonard’s fathers when they were younger in a drunk driving incident. It’s a satisfying payoff, although the narrative pretzels itself one too many times to get to that point, robbing it of much of the intended effect. 

            But leveling it all off is the chemistry between the two leads, who prove that no matter what avenues the show explores or which direction they take next, Purefoy and Williams will be able anchors to hold everything in place with funny quips and martial arts badassery. Much like the last season, this one ends with the promise of the story taking some wild turns into even darker territory. As far as cliffhangers go, it doesn’t quite measure up to season one’s shocker, but the prospect of Hap and Leonard getting to put the hurt on the KKK is a tantalizing prospect that only the most hard-hearted will be able to resist. 

Bring on Hap and Leonard: Two-Bear Mambo.

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