The Sundance TV series has no room for empty quotas. It's got a rip-snorting story to tell.
There’s been a lot of talk about Hollywood diversity of late, with liberals demanding more roles for nonwhites, women and other under-represented groups.
The industry must make up for past injustices, they say.
So now we get an all-female “Ghostbusters” and, coming soon, an all-female “Ocean’s Eleven” and “Lord of the Flies.” We’re seeing a new generation of “Star Wars” heroes who are women or minorities, half a dozen Marvel Comics characters that have been race-swapped, and so on.
These changes sometimes work. We all can agree Idris Elba should get to play whatever part he wants, for example. The problem comes when said characters are written (or rewritten) solely to fulfill a diversity quota.
When this happens, the character is rarely complex or interesting. Instead he or she is merely a token to signal the writer’s virtue. Did anyone like “The Force Awakens” scene when Rey gets huffy with Finn in mid-chase scene for daring to take her hand while they are running from bad guys?
How about when “Spider-Man: Homecoming” had a minority character lecture us that the Washington Monument “was built by slaves”?
Mostly these moments just take us out of the movie. Reducing a character to his or her race, gender or sexual orientation is a sure-fire way to make them boring and preachy.
“Hap and Leonard,” Sundance TV’s Southern-fried neo-noir, is not just a highly entertaining crime thriller with a conservative streak. It’s also a refreshing tonic to the Left’s forced diversity mantra.
The show is set in rural Texas in the ‘80s and based on Joe Landsdale’s novel “Savage Season.” All of its characters are well-drawn and compelling, but in particular its portrayal of Leonard – a black, gay redneck – provides a worthy template for how Hollywood should be doing diversity. Season One is now streaming on Netflix. The show deserves to find a wider audience than it has found on Sundance.
As the show opens, lifelong friends Hap Collins (“The Following’s” James Purefoy) and Leonard Pine (“The Wire’s” Michael Kenneth Williams) have fallen on hard times. They’ve just lost their jobs in the rose fields to make way for cheaper (i.e. illegal) labor.
Hap appears to be on the verge of bankruptcy when he receives an unexpected visitor: his ex, Trudy (“Mad Men’s” Christina Hendricks at her sultry best). She suggests they can find a fortune in stolen loot, currently located at the bottom of a river. Hap is dubious but susceptible to Trudy’s charms. Leonard is even more suspicious but goes along to watch his buddy’s back.
As it turns out, Trudy is searching for the treasure on behalf of her graying hippie lover Howard (Bill Sage) and his gang of miscreants. They want to use the money to create a giant left-wing organization to infiltrate and take down “The System” in some vague way.
It’s not the most inspiring plan, but Trudy reignites some of the ‘60s-era optimism that has laid dormant in Hap’s cynical heart for two decades.
Unsurprisingly, everything goes off the rails when they meet a pair of violent psychos (played to creepy perfection by “Westworld’s” Jimmi Simpson and “The Walking Dead’s” Pollyanna McIntosh). The duo hardly embraces an altruistic view of the world.
Just as the 1980s prosperity was a wake-up call for the Hippie Generation that their collectivist ideals failed, so is the gang’s confrontation with this pair a reminder that human nature dictates people will always look out for Number One. The dialogue even states this explicitly.
As the blood spills and the bullets fly, Hap and Leonard must use every ounce of their wits to stay alive.
As “Hap and Leonard” winds its way through its first season’s bloody, Noir-esque plot, what keeps it endlessly watchable is its darkly comic writing and fascinatingly complex title characters. Hap and Leonard are thick as thieves, from a bond formed by an unexpected childhood tragedy. They’re also complete opposites in ways that go far beyond skin color and sexual preference.
Hap is an ex-Hippie and draft dodger who lets himself get wrapped around his ex-girlfriend’s finger. Leonard is a Vietnam vet with a hair-trigger temper and a conservative streak a mile wide. It’s in Leonard’s soul where the writers display what true diversity looks like.
He’s black and gay, but he’s also a fierce individualist who doesn’t let either of those traits define him. He’s a Veteran, a patriot, a Christian and a stubbornly loyal friend who happens to be black and attracted to men.
He’s not anyone’s token anything, and he would be offended at the very idea of being put in a box based on surface traits. In other words, he’s portrayed as an actual person who, to the core of his very being, defies the standard Hollywood politics and stereotypes.
His ex, an effeminate Latino male nurse, is played so over-the-top he may be the screenwriter’s wink-wink way of pointing out how Leonard would be portrayed in typical Hollywood fashion.
— John Wirth (@WirthwhileTV) May 1, 2017
Season 1 of “Hap and Leonard” is currently available to stream on Netflix, with Season 2 coming soon. It’s well worth checking out if you want to see what Hollywood diversity looks like when it isn’t being done in a politically correct way, with complex characters and good storytelling being put first.
Jim Culver blogs about pop culture, politics and more at Threedonia under the username JimmyC.