TV Recap: Show Me a Hero, Episodes 1 & 2

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Show Me a Hero Plot Summary

Based on the nonfiction book of the same title by Lisa Belkin, Show Me a Hero follows the battle over federally mandated low income housing in white neighborhoods of Yonkers, New York. The first two episodes center around newly elected mayor Nick Wasicsko (Oscar Isaac), who ran for and won the position by vehemently opposing the housing mandate.

Oscar Isaac in Show Me a Hero
Photo Credit: HBO/Paul Schiraldi

The creators of The Wire (David Simon, William Zorzi), and the director of Crash (Paul Haggis) have come together to create a wildly enthralling, masterfully acted mini-series.

However, before we begin, let’s put a disclaimer out there. While Paul Haggis is a major part of this mini-series, the hype being built around Show Me a Hero is that this is the latest writing project from the men behind The Wire. The Wire is probably one of the best television shows ever created (particularly Seasons 1-3), and it’s had a major impact on the acting landscape of television. Show Me a Hero is not The Wire. If you’re expecting to come into this series expecting The Wire 2, you’ll be greatly disappointed. However, if you’re expecting great acting and storylines that examine the people and culture of an American city (that concurrently examine the underlying themes of our present day) then you’re in for a treat.

The timing of this series could not be more perfect. In fact, the series has more of an impact now, because it plays as more of an allegory to our current social climate (actually better yet, the unending social climate in this country), than just a docudrama about a situation that took place in the mid-to-late ’80s. This parallel to today is what makes the impact of the mini-series that much more personal, and emotional. The arguments being made for and against low-income and affordable housing can be substituted for anything that involves racial division. These arguments, aren’t ones that are left in the history books, they’re still (unfortunately) thriving arguments that are out there today. So far, the writers have no made this point with a sledgehammer, nor have they been preachy and soapbox-ish about it. It’s just laid out for all to see.

As one would expect from an HBO mini-series, the acting is top notch. However, the source of this strong acting is quite surprising. First, there’s Jim Belushi as Angelo Martinelli, Nick Wasicsko’s mayoral predecessor. Belushi has never been confused for Olivier, but his performance here was solid, and it was unfortunate we didn’t get more go him. The Walking Dead’s Jon Bernthal puts aside his action gear for a terrific turn as NAACP attorney Michael Sussman, while Christopher Guest regular Bob Balaban puts his trademark no-affect to dramatic use as Judge Sands. As expected, the always scene-stealing Alfred Molina was perfect as Wasciko’s rival, and Catherine Keener was strong in her limited, but soon to be expanded role, as an older Yonkers woman.

Oscar Isaac and Winona Ryder in Show Me a Hero
Photo Credit: HBO/Paul Schiraldi

Yet, this series is all about one man, Oscar Isaac. Since we first caught a glimpse of him eating up scenery as Prince John in the mediocre 2010 retread of Robin Hood, he has proven to be one of the most versatile actors out there. He’s elevated bad films (Sucker Punch), he’s carried good ones (Inside Llewyn Davis), and is one of the main reasons we want to back to a galaxy far, far away (He’s one of the lead dogs in the Star Wars films). In the opening episodes we see him evolve from a bright-eyed politician, to a candidate blinded by greed, to a man beginning to drown under his ambition. Isaac is utterly captivating, and with the real life events of Nick Wasicsko lying ahead, his performances will only get more engrossing.

The (initial) weakness of the mini-series lies in the storylines that take us away from politics and puts us in living rooms of low-income housing. The characters and the stories here are paper thin. There’s an older African-American woman whose going blind, a drug hustler and his pregnant girlfriend, and a hard-working Latin American mother of three. Sadly, we only get glimpses of these people, and while you are stung with the pangs of sadness and sympathy, they’re ultimately just fleeting feelings. The series seems to be flashing a big sign of ‘care about these people’ over each of these character’s heads, but they are not given enough screen time, or enough meaty dialogue for us to really allow them to put their emotional hooks in us. Now, with this being the opening chapter of the mini-series, there may be hope that this was just an introduction, and they’ll be fleshed out next week.

Overall, Show Me a Hero‘s first two episodes are a brilliant, must-see piece of television. There are some flaws that will hopefully be ironed out in the coming weeks, but despite these, Show Me a Hero will fill the void of good television currently occupying your summer schedule.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10


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Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites