Friday, May 11, 2018
May 11, 2018: Hap & Leonard Studying: Interracial Friendship
[One of the best parts of my 2018 so far has been discovering SundanceTV’s Hap & Leonard. Based on the series of novels by Joe Lansdale, and starring James Purefoy and Michael K. Williams, the series has completed two wonderful 6-episode seasons and as I write this is in the midst of Season 3. So this week I’ll AmericanStudy a handful of Hap & Leonard contexts, leading to a special weekend post on the unique career to date of Michael K. Williams!]
On adding the title characters to a fun and important list.
I’ve focused on some pretty heavy and dark sides to Hap & Leonard this week, and might not have given folks who don’t know the show enough of a sense of just how fun and funny the show is (while still engaging with all those histories and themes). There are lots of factors that make it so, including consistently wonderful dialogue (some drawn from Lansdale’s novels, and some provided by the great showrunning team of Nick Damici and Jim Mickle and their writers). But I would say that the most consistent source of entertainment is the relationship between Hap and Leonard—apparently Purefoy and Williams are very close friends in their private lives, and they bring that dynamic to these characters (who have themselves been very close since they were pretty young boys) perfectly.
Friendship is friendship, and of course transcends (or at least should transcend) any identity categories. But Hap and Leonard themselves recognize the unique nature of an interracial friendship in their time and place, and are also constantly reminded of the fact of their different races (never more so than in the opening episodes of Season 3). So I don’t feel it’s inappropriate for me to note it as well, and moreover to say that I now have to add a new entry to this long-ago post’s list of five inspiring American interracial friendships. Granted, those were pairs of real-life historical and cultural figures, as inspired by the post’s main topic (Clarence Clemons and his forty-year friendship with Bruce Springsteen). But to quote (well, paraphrase) George C. Scott’s Ebeneezer Scrooge, “Not real? Hap and Leonard, not real???” They’re real all right, and have a really inspiring friendship.
When I say “inspiring” I mean it. Of course there are many more interracial relationships (personal, romantic, professional, you name it) and dynamics on TV and in popular culture than ever before, and that’s a good and important trend. But as brought to life so wonderfully by Purefoy and Williams, there’s a depth and potency to Hap and Leonard’s lifelong friendship, and to just how much the two men care and look out for each other, that—especially coupled with the show’s time and place and its many themes of racial prejudice and violence—makes this one of the most inspiring cultural depictions of an interracial friendship I’ve ever seen. Judging by the first two episodes of Season 3, that friendship will be tested by this season’s events—but I’ve never been surer of anything in a cultural text than I am that Hap and Leonard will remain Hap & Leonard, come what may.
Special post this weekend,
PS. What do you think? Thoughts on H&L, or other shows you’d highlight?