Hap and Leonard Season 3 Episode 2 Review: Ho-Ho Mambo

Hap and Leonard serves up humor and social commentary in another strong episode.

This Hap and Leonard review contains spoilers.

Hap and Leonard Season 3 Episode 2

You have to love an hour of television that includes Christmas ants, Elvis trading cards, and a bicycle built for two. On the surface, this sounds like a happy-go-lucky episode, but the quirkiness belies an ugliness begat by decades of unchecked bigotry. Throw some supernatural hoodoo into the mix—in this case a cursed song that purportedly brings bad luck to whoever listens to it—and you have the makings of another great Hap and Leonard episode. 

But what’s perhaps most interesting about “Ho-Ho Mambo” is not Hap and Leonard opening up a serious can of whoop-ass on a pair of racists in broad daylight (and what a cathartic, fist-pumping moment for the good guys that is); it’s the violence we don’t see. What could have happened in Grovetown that not only left both men battered and bloody, but also spooked them enough that they’d bring loaded guns to bed? What we do know already doesn’t bode well for a quiet season finale (not that anyone necessarily wants that out of a show like this anyway).

After two episodes, Hap’s car has been vandalized, a local DJ’s house has burned to the ground, and L.C. Soothe’s grandson, Bobby Joe Soothe, was found hanging from the town bridge. Local law enforcement cares not a whit for any of it, willfully turning a blind eye to the kinds of problems that colorblind people foolishly bring upon themselves. The darker you are, the less Grovetown’s police department considers you worth their time. After all, if you’re less than human in the eyes of the law, you’re less than nothing if you’re a body on a slab. Escapist drama Hap and Leonard is not; the headlines of the day seem to permeate the very fabric of this show. This is not a knock against Nick Damici’s script or Jim Mickle’s direction—both of which compel viewers to take notice of important social issues with biting dialogue and haunting visuals. No, we need our entertainment to be intelligent, to contribute to the larger conversation that’s now taking place in our streets and in our capitols.

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And yes, casting Corbin Bernsen as Grovetown’s chief of police is a masterstroke in putting a face and a voice to said local law enforcement. Chief Cantuck is nobody’s fool (much the same way Brian Dennehy’s steely Sheriff Otis was a man with a stranglehold on small-town truths). He plays against type, even if he embodies that same type—namely the crusty, distrustful man with a badge and a penchant for bigotry.

And the flip side of this power dynamic, we have Louis Gossett, Jr.’s Bacon. When he’s not working in the local diner, he pinch-hits for the coroner—but only when it’s a body from the wrong side of the tracks. In this case, the body belongs to the aforementioned Bobby Joe Soothe, who’s been beaten, bound, and hanged. Is this his grandfather’s curse catching up with him, or is this simply a town hungry for blood? Whatever the case, in the absence of an autopsy, it’s Bacon’s job to make the body presentable before it rots in the ground.

Which brings us to Florida, who is only in Grovetown because of grandson Soothe. Now her client is dead and Florida is nowhere to be found, despite Hap and Leonard’s continued sleuthing. The longer they continue to dig, though, the bigger the target on their backs becomes. Detective Cranston or no, we know Hap and Leonard are in this for the long haul.

In the meantime, “Ho-Ho Mambo” weighs forth on uncomfortable truths about the way the shade of one’s skin can color their experiences in this country. Leonard sums it up best when he tells Hap, “Must be nice being white and trusting people.” Leonard follows this up later in the episode with, “I hate to bust your liberal bubble, Hap, but bad shit still happening to black people.” As good and well intentioned as Hap Collins might be (and he really is one of the good ones), he’ll never understand the otherness that comes from constant oppression—and the attendant fear that’s part and parcel with subjugation. We already know bad things are afoot in Grovetown. But we also know they’re going to get a hell of a lot worse before this is all over.

Some closing thoughts

Andrew Dice Clay makes a good turn as the local DJ. Like the local mechanic, he’s one of the very few people in town who doesn’t buy into the toxic “us versus them” mentality. He’s already lost his home for his troubles (and his Elvis trading card collection), so I wonder if Knox will make it to the end of the season.

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Officer Reynolds (Laura Allen) is a bigot through and through—but I’m not so sure about Sneed (Evan Gamble). He tells the boys he’s experienced a change of heart after what he did to Hap and Leonard last season (framing them for murder among other things), and for some reason I believe him. Or at least I want to believe him.

If Hap’s vandalized car is an apt visual for the state of this country, seeing Hap and Leonard on a tandem bicycle is an apt visual for these lifelong friends. Sure, it’s goofy, but it’s incredibly endearing, too. Plus, it made me smile. Sure, we need more intelligent discourse, but we need to make the most of life’s simple pleasures, too.

And speaking of simple pleasures, Leonard telling Hap to “be white” by playing golf or buying the new Hall and Oates album is wickedly funny. 


4.5 out of 5