Roush Review: Hap and Leonard Has Its Charms, The Real O'Neals Finds the Funny, The Family Gets Clichéd
Our resident TV critic shares his thoughts on three new shows premiering in early March.
Hap and Leonard: Rousing 'Redneck' Caper
They may look like washed-up washouts of the late 1980s, but Hap Collins and Leonard Pine are awfully good company, though a far cry from your typical Texas good ol' bad boys. The most pungently flavorful regional crime drama since Justified signed off last year, Hap and Leonard adapts Joe R. Lansdale's novels (which I'm now eager to read) into a terrifically offbeat caper, serving up a sultry, sexy stew of wry dark humor with flashes of psycho suspense.
Hap, played by The Following's James Purefoy with an engaging hangdog swagger, is a laid-back ex-con yoked in a codependent odd-couple bromance with Leonard (The Wire's intense Michael K. Williams), the least stereotypical gay character you could imagine. A surly Vietnam vet with a robust appetite for Dr. Pepper and Nilla Wafers—"You can take a man's job, but you can't take his cookies"—Leonard makes no effort to disguise his inner furies. He's particularly skeptical when Hap's siren of an ex, Trudy (Mad Men's playfully seductive Christina Hendricks), approaches these scruffy ruffians with a get-rich scheme involving sunken loot in a gator-infested river.
One drawback to this "redneck safari," as Leonard gruffly dismisses it: Trudy's motley entourage, which includes a sinister hippie idealist (Bill Sage) whose rants about social injustice and economic disparity evoke a Bernie Sanders stump speech. Hap isn't swayed: "This have-not is going to keep his money," he insists. But you know what they say about best-laid plans.
And we can't help but expect the worst every time the story abruptly shifts to a perversely gruesome local trail of terror involving a pair of deranged killers (Jimmi Simpson and the exotically Amazonian Pollyanna McIntosh). How everyone's paths will ultimately cross I'm almost afraid to find out, although I'd have greedily watched all six episodes—three were made available in advance—if I could. The delectable Hap and Leonard is savory, if disreputable, fun.
More Roush Reviews: See What Matt Thinks About Other Shows
The Real O'Neals: Crackling Irish-Catholic Comedy
Last season's shrill CBS sitcom The McCarthys may have covered similar ground—gay son coping with outrageous Roman Catholic family—but ABC's The Real O'Neals freshens the premise with an irreverent, fantastical approach in line with ABC's winning roster of family comedies.
Noah Galvin is an endearing bundle of wide-eyed panic as 16-year-old Kenny, a character loosely inspired by the life story of syndicated columnist Dan Savage. His awkward coming out rattles his estranged parents—a fiercely funny Martha Plimpton as a monstrous mother of denial, and a likably adorkable Jay R. Ferguson as the more accommodating dad—while everyone else, including Kenny's wacky siblings, tries to appear "normal," with predictably calamitous results. Especially given the nature of Kenny's inadvertently public declaration, with neighbors bringing hams ("pity pork," mom calls it) as if at a wake, because, as Kenny wryly observes, "That's what people send when you've had a gay in the family."
The Family: Perplexing Prodigal Puzzle
A mystery that initially feels almost as generic as its title, The Family aspires to hit those wrenching beats of devastating emotional suspense that the British pull off so well (see Broadchurch and The Missing). The set-up is intriguing enough: After 10 years, the missing and presumed dead son of a prominent Maine family suddenly returns, but not in the way of The Returned (as in the living dead), although 19-year-old Adam (Liam James) is as understandably disoriented as his family is rocked by his unexpected homecoming. But suspicion begins to mount that Adam may not be who he claims to be. If not, who? And why?
As the narrative shifts repeatedly and exhaustingly back and forth between the "then" of 10 years ago and the "now" aftermath of Adam's return, the sheer tonnage of familiar family skeletons becomes tiresomely overdone, despite the efforts of a beyond-qualified cast going through the annoyingly murky paces. Joan Allen is Claire, the controlling mother, who may be using this situation to further her political career. The rest of her family is a clichéd mess: Claire's husband John (Rupert Graves), who's made a career out of selling his grief story, is a philanderer; older son Danny (Friday Night Lights' Zach Gilford) is a miserable drunk; and daughter Willa (The Newsroom's Alison Pill in another thankless role) is so self-righteous and devout you know she must be overcompensating for some terrible secret or three.
Ironically, the only time The Family packs much of an emotional wallop is when the focus falls outside the family to track a very different sort of homecoming: that of Hank (Andrew McCarthy, gaunt and haunted), a neighbor and accused pedophile who was accused and convicted of Adam's presumed kidnapping and murder. Released from jail after Adam's return but not redeemed, he is a sorrowful enigma.
Even there, though, the show tends to overplay its hand, as in a scene when papa John confronts Hank in the dead of night by standing in his front door demanding to know why he made a false confession all those years ago. A fair question, but the way it's asked may have you rolling your eyes, an all-too-common reaction to this overwrought Family.
Hap and Leonard, Series premiere, Wednesday, March 2, 10/9c, SundanceTV
The Real O'Neals, Series previews, Wednesday, March 2, 8:30/7:30c and 9:30/8:30c, ABC | Timeslot premiere Tuesday, March 8, 8:30/7:30c
The Family, Series preview, Thursday, March 3, 9/8c, ABC | Timeslot premiere Sunday, March 6, 9/8c
Questions? Ask Critic Matt Roush!
TV critic (and occasional TV therapist) Matt Roush answers viewer questions and concerns in his Ask Matt column each week. Wondering about plots, characters and twists on your fave shows? Submit your query to Matt via the form below: