Review: Holding Out for a ‘Hero?’

Based on the nonfiction book of the same name by Lisa Belkin, HBO’s newest miniseries, Show Me a Hero, focuses on Nick Wasicko, a reluctant mayoral candidate for the city of Yonkers in 1987. Directed by Oscar-winner Paul Haggis, Show Me focuses on one man, but it chronicles race relations of Yonkers with an easy quietness amid a roaring uprising from its residents. While the first hour of this new drama busies itself with introducing a tapestry of characters, the continued drama indicates a strong ensemble to come in the next coming weeks.

Due to the mishandling of federal funds, the city of Yonkers must build 200 units for low-income housing. The good ole white people of Yonkers do not like this decision and Wasicko builds a campaign on the promise that the decision will be overturned with an appeal if elected. When the appeal is very quickly overturned, Nick has a mess on his hands, and, surely, the drama begins to unfold. Nick’s excitement and ambitiousness drain from him almost quicker than his enthusiasm to become mayor. No one said being a politician was easy, buddy.

The first hour of Show Me is a bit trying, to be honest. The court jargon is flying a mile a minute, and one might assume all this mumbo jumbo is a tad boring. Haggis and creator David Simon (The Wire) don’t allow the characters enough time to connect with the audience, especially the residents of Yonkers who would benefit the most from the housing decision. The names of these people are actually unclear as the first episode draws to a close and Nick Wasicko celebrates his mayoral win.

Though the writing may turn off viewers for the first 60 minutes, the acting is impressive and lived in from all of the performers. One of the best elements of the first segment is the relationship between Nick and his confidant, Vinni, played by Winona Ryder. They only get a few scenes together, but it starts to really shine in part II when she expresses her boredom of being out of office. He nods his head sympathetically, but one might wonder if this new mayor is actually listening to his old work friend.

Oscar Isaac proves himself to be the best kind of troubled leading man. His Llewyn Davis was “unlikable” and fickle, and he plays a quiet mad scientist in this summer’s unnerving sci-fi thriller, Ex-Machina. He is an actor who obviously wants meaty material, and Nick Wasicko isn’t one-note or simple. Donning a sleazy, pornstache, his Wasicko is at once eager but easily wearied. It’s going to be fascinating how his character evolves throughout these short three weeks. Isaac seems to resist his own star-making allure with every role he takes on.

Show Me a Hero isn’t flashy, but it’s compelling once it gains its footing. The second episode loosens itself up a bit, and Catherine Keener pops up as a stern supporter of the housing appeal. These are great actors. Let’s just hope the material doesn’t let them down.

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