Show Me a Hero has been a powerful and incredibly timely piece of television. Running at only six episodes long there was a fear that it wouldn’t have the impact it could with a longer running time, but six hours proved satisfactory in being able to tell a full, emotional and succinct story. From youngest mayor in America Nick Wasicsko; to Billie, a child who won’t listen to her mother and ends up being the mother of three and locked in a dangerous cycle; to Doreen who goes from addict to advocate, Show Me a Hero is about a brief period of time and how it altered these people’s lives for better and for worse.
David Simon and Paul Haggis have created a show that far outreaches the confinement of a television screen, and instead, have added to a current social narrative. The issues of race and class relations in the series aren’t far different than the ones we see today on the news. There’s a universal nature to the plights of these characters, both on the sides of justice and bigotry; and despite of its late 80’s, early 90’s setting, it wouldn’t have been surprising if it took place now. Simon has the mind of a journalist, and his dialogue speaks to this greatly as we’re both educated and entertained, which is what all good journalism should do.
In all frankness, the last few moments of this series hit me hard, in part due to the naked emotion and fear in Oscar Isaac’s wavering voice as Nick called desperately for his brother, and in part due to the power in which it was presented as lives went on with or without his input. Nick isn’t the tragic hero that he paints himself to be, but his story is a tragedy, as is many of those around him.
- Doreen’s story might have been my favorite complete arc from start to finish. When we first really get to spend time with her in the middle episodes, I expected a tragic ending, simply because in entertainment that’s how her story would typically be told. She is always anxious for drugs and becomes less and less involved with her son. She was becoming a shell of herself and it was a quick descent. Her broken and desperate phone call to her parents at the end of episode four was a breath taking turn around, as this young woman who had found herself in dire circumstances, might have just found herself a rope to climb out with. To see her then develop even more throughout the final episodes, by becoming a beacon of strength in her community, is as satisfying as character narratives go, especially coupled with a killer performance by Natalie Paul.
- I was so, unbelievably worried for the characters when they first moved into their new housing. Haggis did a remarkable job at heightening the tension with subtle changes in sounds and practicalities: Billie curled up in her bed, Doreen locking her door in what she’d presumed was supposed to be a safer, happier neighborhood. The threats feel very real and very present.
- I have a love/hate relationship with what happened to Vinny in the last two episodes. On the one hand, I was so excited to see Winona Ryder on my screen and getting to be charming by playing an intelligent, no nonsense character that I was able to look over some of the bothersome factors, such as her near kiss with Nick. But then she tried to sabotage his relationship with Nay just like he tried to sabotage her career (and successfully their friendship), and it was a bit of a sour note for the character to be left on. Hungry for success, passionate about politics and a great, supportive friend to Nick when he needed it, she should have never been reduced to such misplaced pettiness. However, Hollywood, Ryder needs to be in more, now.
- Mary’s characterization was one I’d been worried about. I was concerned that she’d turn into the “white savior” character but I instead was pleasantly surprised to see her evolve into what any ally should strive to be. Her ignorance was stripped down once she was able to see through the fear mongering and smear campaigns at play and instead just see people with children who they love who have been placed in a raw deal. She’s silent when need be, letting them take the reigns, but unwaveringly supportive. Doreen and Carmen are the heroes of their own stories, while people like Mary are there to listen and learn and help as they may. Catherine Keener’s silence speaks wonders in so many scenes and her presence helps give Mary the curiosity and humanity she needs.
- That ending. There is an enormous baseline of insecurity in Nick’s characterization and the way that Isaac played him. From his need for reassurement from Nay that she’ll still love him, to his sense of loss over not being re-elected mayor of Yonkers, to his late night visits to those in the new low income housing units, there is something noticeably youthful and it’s played with zero ego by Isaac. His confidence as a performer is apparent and there’s an effortless nature to his charisma. So to see him thrown, see him reacting to people so childishly and turning on his friends is upsetting. He is in nose dive territory in the last two episodes and while it’s all painful, it’s the moment I mentioned in the opening that absolutely gutted me as we saw the lost child in him. He paces a storage closet, trying to remember what it is that he’s lost, before breaking down after he chokes on his brothers name. Isaac is tremendous, making us ache for his pain and for the inevitably of his following actions. It’s a sad and sudden way for the show to end, made all the more resolute as we see the other characters go on with their lives.
Show Me a Hero is great television, simply put. It has some of the best in the business on it’s calling sheet, with a story as equally haunting as it evocative. If you have the chance, or six hours to spare, seek this out.