Leave it to David Simon, the creator of The Wire, to turn a story about housing developments into the one of the richest miniseries television has seen in years. Show Me A Hero is a six-episode miniseries that adapts the real-world story behind the enforcement of federally-mandated public housing in the American city of Yonkers.
Like Simons’ previous efforts, the series is as much about the people as it is the city itself and the tensions running through it. That said, the man at the heart of Show Me A Hero is Nick Wacisco (Oscar Isaac), a former-police-turned-city-councilman who uses local resistance against the housing to run as mayor – only to find himself caught in a tragic political quagmire of his own making. Isaac won an award for his performance here, and he absolutely deserves it. He brings both a swagger and intense-humanity to the role that really elevates the personal stakes of the series.
The cast around Isaac are of a similar calibre with Peter Reigart excelling as the architect behind the public housing crisis and Alfred Molina nailing it in his role as the antagonistic and opportunistic Hank Spallone. Other standouts include The Wire alumni Clarke Peters and newcomers Dominique Fishback and Catherine Keener who add a lot to the series through their respective subplots.
The key to the series lies in its ability to take the these issue and conflicts which are on the surface boring and tell the story around them in a way that only a writer like Simon can. Like The Wire, it’s happy to embrace and dive into the complexities of social progress and civil rights. There isn’t a single wrong note here and it’s powerfully nuanced in its understanding of things like mob-mentalities and the ways in which social structures and cultural-assumptions guide and perpetuate inequality. It’s a series that’s brutally honest not just about how we think politics work – but how it actually works.
The series’ production values are top-notch and Paul Haggis direction is technically-crisp in a way that David’s previous efforts weren’t, maintaining without losing the same effective storytelling that defined them. Yonkers may be a different city to Baltimore but Simon remains adept at tapping into the urban undercurrents and using them to fuel the narrative.
If there’s any real turn-off to the show it’s that, like The Wire, it’s very heavy on the talking. It’s all very written but there’s a lot to take in. The show refuses to simplify, to abstract and to compromise on its central themes. While there’s something I find really compelling about a series that expects you to stick around long enough to get on its level – this approach to big-picture storytelling isn’t necessarily going to gel with all audiences.
There are a lot of people who won’t tune into Show Me A Hero – and that’s a shame. It’s a masterclass of TV storytelling that tackles ideas all too relevant today. David Simon is still at the top of his game.
SCORE: FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Like the six-part series, the special features that come with Show Me A Hero’s DVD and Blu-ray release favor quality over quantity. There’s little on offer here in terms of commentary tracks but the ‘Making of’ feature offers a crash-course in both the historical events the series depicts and the individuals who brought the series to life. The trailer for the series is also included.
SCORE: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Show Me A Hero is available on DVD and Blu-ray now.