In an America generations removed from the greatest civil rights struggles of the 1960s, the young mayor of a mid-sized American city is faced with a federal court order that says he must build a small number of low-income housing units in the white neighborhoods of his town. His attempt to do so tears the entire city apart, paralyzes the municipal government and, ultimately, destroys the mayor and his political future. From creator David Simon (HBO's Treme and The Wire) and director Paul Haggis (Crash), and based on the nonfiction book of the same name by Lisa Belkin, the six-part HBO Miniseries presentation Show Me a Hero explores notions of home, race and community through the lives of elected officials, bureaucrats, activists and ordinary citizens in Yonkers, NY.
The title to the miniseries (based on a book of the same name) 'Show Me a Hero' is taken from F. Scott Fitzgerald, who said "Show me a hero, and I'll write you a tragedy." That's a little foreshadowing of what to expect in this HBO production, which was co-written by The Wire's David Simon and William F. Zorzi and directed by Paul Haggis (Crash).
The miniseries tells the true story of Yonkers, New York councilman Nick Wasicsko (Oscar Isaac), who finds himself running for mayor during a controversy over court-approved public housing in a middle-class neighborhood. Be it for economic reasons or pure racism (or a little of both, as this series will show), the locals don't want the low-income families moving in, and a big part of the reason Wasicsko gets elected mayor is due to the fact that he promises to protest the court's demands.
However, the new mayor soon finds out that there's not much he can do legally to stop the housing from being built, which quickly turns his constituents even more against him than they were against the previous mayor. Wasicsko begins to believe the housing is the right thing to do, however, and even after he loses his re-election campaign, he starts to get credit from others for being the man in charge when the housing was finally approved.
'Show Me a Hero' also puts its focus on a handful of the families that will eventually move into the public housing, including a middle-aged woman (LaTanya Richardson Jackson) who is slowly losing her eyesight, a teenage mother (Dominique Fishback) who has gotten involved with the wrong sort of guy, and a young woman (Natalie Paul) who is struggling with drug addiction. Additionally, a barely recognizable Catherine Keener plays one of the local residents, who initially opposes the housing but comes to recognize her prejudice and begins to work with her new neighbors for community harmony. While these subplots are watchable, they really are distractions from Isaac's character, who is so interesting to watch as Wasicsko that every time he's not on screen, you can't wait for him to show up again.
The miniseries – particularly the first few episodes – spends a lot of time focusing on the political wheeling and dealing going on with Wasicsko, but as a viewer I found myself more interested in and more drawn to his growing romance with Nay Noe (Carla Quevedo), a city staffer whom Wasicsko will eventually marry. The chemistry between Isaac and Quevedo is so good, one almost wishes the whole miniseries was just about the two of them, and not all the other stuff.
And that's probably my biggest complaint here. For all the powerful scenes with Oscar Isaac, there are also big chunks of 'Show Me a Hero' that – while not bad – just seem to distract and stretch this six-parter (all the episodes run about an hour in length, with the finale running just over 71 minutes) out longer than it really needs to be. Both the opening and closing episodes are very strong, but it really feels like those middle four episodes could have been condensed into just two. And while this miniseries never bores, it's also the kind of thing most viewers aren't going to have the desire to watch a second time. That means this is something you're going to more likely want to rent instead of purchasing.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Show Me a Hero' arrives on Blu-ray in an eco-friendly Elite keepcase, which houses the two 50GB Blu-ray discs along with an insert containing a code for both an iTunes and an UltraViolet copy of the miniseries. The flip side of the keepcase's slick (seen from inside the box) contains a short synopsis of each of the miniseries' six parts. A slipcover with artwork matching that of the keepcase slides overtop. There are no frontloaded trailers on either of the two discs, whose main menu consists of a montage of footage from the episodes, with menu selections on the left side of the screen.
The Blu-rays in this release are region-free.
Each episode of 'Show Me a Hero' was shot digitally on Arri Alexa equipment and is presented here in its original television aspect ratio of 1.78:1. As with most movies and television series shot on the Arri, details here are pretty good, although scenes shot in natural outdoor lighting always seem to show a lot more detail than those shot indoors and/or on stages. As a result, viewers will notice that those scenes that take place in the city council chambers or those that take place inside residences sometimes come off as a bit soft.
Overall though, this is a pretty strong presentation, with decent black levels (needed in those heavily brownish and darker council sequences) and no apparent problems with any technical glitches, such as banding, marcoblocking, or aliasing.
The featured audio for each episode is a 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio track which provides a nice presentation throughout. One might guess that 'Show Me a Hero' focuses heavily on the spoken word, and it does – but there's always something more going on aurally. Almost every council meeting in this miniseries features dozens of citizens yelling and ranting over the council members, and the tracks do a pretty good job of making those scenes sound both loud and rambunctious, without making it hard to understand what the primary actors are saying in the ruckus.
While the soundtrack includes an original score by Nathan Larson, the audio really comes to life when it features one of its hit 1980's tunes – a huge chunk of them from Bruce Springsteen, who gets two or three featured songs in every episode. The Springsteen tunes are used for montages, and pumped a little louder than the normal level of the audio, but it's a welcome increase and these moments really show off one's home theater system.
While the episode tracks don't always prove immersive, the rear speakers are almost constantly in use, and there's even some directionality from time to time. There's a scene where Oscar Isaac and Carla Quevedo's characters leave a meeting and have their car pummeled by angry citizens pounding on it that is really a fun scene to listen to from an audio standpoint, as the fists pounding on the car surround the home viewer/listener.
In terms of any glitches or other problems, there were none that I detected. As 5.1 tracks go, these episodes provide very good ones, and while not quite reference-quality, they're very well done.
In addition to the English lossless track, both 5.1 French DTS-HD Master Audio and 2.0 Spanish DTS Digital Surround are available for each episode. Subtitles are available in English SDH, French, and Spanish.
Note: In addition to the extras listed below, each episode comes with a "Preview" option, which gives viewers a short (roughly 30-second) preview of the episode in question. The six previews are available on both Blu-rays, even though only three episodes appear on each disc (like many HBO releases, the studio has listed all of the episodes with a synopsis of each on both discs).
While a politically driven miniseries such as this one may not be the type of thing one would want to watch multiple times, Oscar Isaac has enough on-screen charisma here to make 'Show Me a Hero' a very enjoyable viewing. Although I wasn't quite as engaged with some of the subplots going on here, I was glued to the screen almost every time Isaac was on camera. He's the real reason to watch this miniseries, although – again – this is something most aren't going to want to see more than once. It's worth a look.