If you were to try and sell me on the concept of HBO's "Show Me a Hero" on the most basic premise, "Yonkers' mayor (the youngest of a big-city in US history at the time) gets thrown into a caustic battle over public housing," I'd likely say, "sure, as long as it's a 90-minute story." However, tell me it's a six-hour miniseries, and I'm going to need a little more to sell me. Enter David Simon and William F. Zorzi of "The Wire" fame and Oscar Isaac in a starring role; now you got me. Thus, an easy sales pitch for a late summer miniseries on HBO is born. Written by Simon and Zorzi, adapted from the book of the same name by Lisa Belkin, "Show Me a Hero" chronicles the political rise and fall of Nick Wasicsko (Isaac), a 28-year old mayoral upset, unseating the status quo and quickly finding life in bureaucracy to be much more emotionally hazardous than his previous life as a cop. Taking office to oversee a city council who repeatedly defies a court order to implement public housing in Yonkers (a classic class struggle tale, but one that sadly is based entirely in fact), Wasicsko soon finds himself in an unwinnable situation.
Despite the nearly six-hour runtime, "Show Me a Hero" is broken into six-segments, originally airing over three weekend's in back-to-back installments, comes together thanks to Simon and Zorzi's screenplay, brought to life by Paul Haggis and a more than competent cast, headlined by Isaac, who hits a true hat trick of acting, beginning with his enigmatic role in "Ex Machinca" before shifting gears here and then finishing out the year, cementing his big screen charisma as Poe Dameron in "The Force Awakens." Isaac has been an actor on the rise for roughly half a decade, with his work in "Inside Llewyn Davis" being his breakout moment. In "Show Me a Hero" Isaac delivers a consistent, understated performance; refusing to grandstand, Isaac's Wasicsko is a man of inner conflict who is constantly trying to keep things around him held together. When allowed to share the screen with Alfred Molina's Hank Spallone, an eventual contender for Wasicsko's mayoral seat midway through the series, Isaac's calm demeanor solidifies Wasicsko's conviction to what is right.
Not all of "Show Me a Hero" is dedicated to Wasicsko's rise and fall; throughout the course of the series and most prominently in its final act, the lives of various Yonkers residents affected by the strife the housing turmoil has inflicted are touched upon in short, but powerful sequences. Simon and Zorzi are masters of the unsaid in these sequences; there is no moral grandstanding or schmaltzy speech to drive home the quiet message that is conveyed to audiences. The problems of these residents, from Catherine Keener's Mary Dorman to LaTanya Richardson Jackson's Norma O'Neal, are all the same and held entirely in the hands of an obstinant city council and mayor, whose on-the-job training might not be enough to tackle deep-seeded issue of racial and class conflict. Haggis' direction lets the performances of the series entire, stellar cast, bring the screenplay to life in a natural way. The result is a miniseries that doesn't feel like a six-hour epic, but at the end of the day, is just that.
There's very little to criticize about "Show Me a Hero" apart from the odd scene that just stretches on a little too long or covers a thematic notion that has appeared elsewhere; with some episodes running around the 50-minute mark and others breaking an hour, a case could be made for a little bit of closer editing, but in the grand scheme, it's a minor quibble that's only likely to be more apparent on repeated viewings. "Show Me a Hero" is a title that lives up to its origins as the start of a quip by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The story of Nick Wasicsko is ultimately a tragedy, politically and biographically. What HBO has done by allowing David Simon and William F. Zorzi to do what they did so well on "The Wire" is powerful glimpse into the life of a man, most of the country likely never heard of; the story of Nick Wasicsko is a reminder that while many things have changed for the better in America, there's still a lot that hasn't and one man changing the world isn't always the ending we get.
The 1080p 1.78:1 transfer allows Andrij Parekh's work as director of photography a chance to shine. There's a definite 80s vibe to the set design and color pallette and the drab browns of an 80s office building is recreated quite nicely here, as are the uninspired, but period specific fashions. Detail is a bit of the soft side in more active sequences, while more one-on-one moments with the characters allow some detail to shine through, generally free of digital noise. Contrast levels are spot-on, with nearly the entire series taking place inside the occasionally dimly lit office or outdoors in an overcast sky; blacks are natural and not overly intense. Overall the visual look of the production adds and doesn't subtract in anyway from the storytelling, remaining free of any glaring technical glitches.
The English 5.1 DTS-HD MA track is an interesting example of subtlety winning the day. The show is dialogue driven, no ifs-ands-or-buts about it; however, key sequences do lend itself to a fully fledged HD audio track. In particular the cacaphonic city council sessions are immersive to the point of being unsettling, while the diegetic use of music in key sequences give the show it's most rich, audio moments. Overall, it's a well-mixed, natural sounding track. A French DTS 5.1 track and a Spanish DTS 2.0 track are included as well as English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles.
Sadly, the release of "Show Me a Hero" arrives on Blu-Ray with a brief promotional featurette titled "Making Show Me a Hero" that isn't likely to pique the interest of most viewers.
While "Show Me a Hero" is truly a phenomenal miniseries and HBO presents it a technically competent level on Blu-Ray, it's a shame the phenomenal trifecta of writing, directing, and acting by Paul Haggis, David Simon and William F. Zorzi, and Oscar Isaac respectively wasn't supplemented by some earnestly intriguing bonus features; a commentary track or at least some deeper with those involved in the production or the real-life story would have been greatly appreciated. Still the series stands on its own as a classic tale of American politics, without a thick varnish of Hollywood falsehoods. Highly Recommended.