scorecardresearch Skip to main content

Omar from ‘The Wire,’ this time with laughs

Michael Kenneth Williams (left) and James Purefoy in Sundance’s “Hap and Leonard.” Hilary Gayle/SundanceTV via AP

Hap and Leonard 10 p.m., Sundance

Welcome back, Michael Kenneth Williams, formerly doing business as Omar, now doing business as Leonard.

Williams is currently starring in an off-kilter and interesting new series from the channel that also brought us the off-kilter and interesting “Rectify.” Set in the late 1980s, in the swamplands of East Texas, “Hap and Leonard” is based on a group of novels by Joe R. Lansdale about a pair of unlikely best buddies. James Purefoy is Hap, a white, straight guy who spent time in jail for dodging the draft. Williams is Leonard, a black, gay guy who served in Vietnam.


Both broke, they get pulled into a search for $1 million at the bottom of a river by Hap’s ex-wife (played by a miscast Christina Hendricks) — but that’s all incidental to the show, which is really about the buddy relationship.

Purefoy is good, but I want to single out Williams here. Like most people who watched “The Wire,” I have a special place in my heart for the actor, who played Omar Little, the smart, much-feared guy who robbed drug dealers and lived by his own moral code. Williams was unforgettable in the role, which was singled out by Barack Obama in 2008 as his favorite character on his favorite show. The character was unique and riveting, and he was critical to making “The Wire” not just very good but great.

Williams was fine on “Boardwalk Empire” as Chalky White, but he didn’t have a lot to do and mostly got lost in the ensemble. On “Hap and Leonard,” he’s a central character and he’s so entertaining. Some have likened Leonard to Omar, particularly since both are gay. But Leonard is more fun, as he and Hap insult each other fiercely, often racially, but always with affection. Williams expertly spits out sharp sarcastic lines, stealing scenes with only the slightest of smirks on his frowny face.


Matthew Gilbert can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.