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Show Me a Hero

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Sounds promising.
 
'Show Me a Hero' Trailer Brings Oscar Isaac to 'The Wire' in David Simon's HBO Miniseries
 

Since "Treme" went off the air nearly two years ago, the outcry for David Simon's insightful and incisive socio-political storytelling has only increased in demand. Simon responded to national tragedies in Ferguson, MO and Baltimore, MD — where Simon spent 13 years working for The Baltimore Sun — in his own words through his blog, but many fans are eager to engage in a narrative created, designed and executed by the man behind "The Wire." 

"Show Me a Hero" looks to do just that. Starring Oscar Isaac as a mayor of a small New York town, the six-part HBO miniseries chronicles the fallout of community relations when the city is federally mandated to build low-income housing in a white neighborhood. Based on the nonfiction book by Lisa Belkin, the upcoming miniseries is directed by Paul Haggis ("Crash," "In the Valley of Elah") and co-stars Catherine Keener, Jon Bernthal, Jim Belushi, Alfred Molina and Winona Ryder.

 

 

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"From David Simon . . ."

 

Woo hoo!

 

"Directed by Paul Haggis . . ."

 

Wait . . . what?

 

"Starring Jim Belushi . . ."

 

Um . . . well . . . huh.

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I'm looking through Simon/Isaac/Ryder/Keener/Molina-tinted glasses.

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Matt Zoller Seitz:

 

The nagging little voice in the back of the viewer's head that says, Why are they spending so much time on these supporting characters who have nothing to do with the council? is the same voice that says, in reaction to a current news story, What does the misfortune of strangers have to do with me? You have to make a decision to care equally about every character in Show Me a Hero. That is a tiny decision, granted — this is just a television show, after all — but the mini-series deserves praise for insisting, maybe demanding, that viewers make it, because that request comes from the same impulse that moved a federal judge to order the construction of affordable housing in Yonkers.
 
Simon's projects do this sort of thing all the time. It is not a popular or pleasing way to make entertainment. A lot of people resent it, frankly, and his willingness to shrug off such reactions is probably one of the main reasons he’s struggled to win funding for his projects. And it's why, Peabody Award notwithstanding, he has never won many traditional industry accolades for his work. Although critics loved The Wire and supported the Iraq War drama Generation Kill and the New Orleans panorama Treme — more in spirit than fact, honestly — Simon’s work has been robbed of Emmy and Golden Globe recognition, and his audiences have never been big. His preference for subject matter is just one part of the reason widespread popularity has eluded him. 
 
[snip]
 
Show Me a Hero practices exactly this kind of storytelling, and the approach here might be the most radical yet in a Simon series. When you watch it, you often feel as if you’re simultaneously reading a novel about the main story (the council) and a collection of short stories about all the other characters. What you are seeing in that second set of narratives, of course, are the lives of people who are directly affected by the actions of people in the “novel” part of the tale, even though they don’t realize it, because they either aren’t interested in local politics or are simply too exhausted to follow them closely after a long day of work or taking care of their loved ones. All the stories do converge at the end, and it’s another Ziggy or Sonny type of situation, where you realize, if you didn’t already, that you care just as much about these characters as you do about Nick, with his sarcastic one-liners and disco mustache. You care because Simon and Zorzi and Haggis and all of the other people working behind the scenes on Hero made a decision to care as well, about characters who are typically shoved so far into the margins of this kind of story that they seem more like paper dolls than actual people: proof of the white hero’s goodness; symbols with names. 

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Anybody else watched this yet?

I loved it. Isaac was superb, imo, and there were plenty of other very good performances, although the parade of Wire actors was a bit distracting at times for me. Their familiarity worked against what Zoller Seitz draws attention to above. I was able to care for the (what would normally be) auxiliary characters to the extent that they felt like real people; every Wire face was a too-hard-to-ignore reminder that they were not.

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I have too much to say about this show to fit into a post. There are elements of it that are really, really good - on par with Simon's best writing. There are elements that were really poorly done. Both the best and the worst of the show are clustered around the last 2 episodes, which makes the end a bit of a roller coaster ride for more formally minded people.

Most of the shortcomings seem to be related to Haggis' directing, which isn't necessarily bad, it just doesn't blend well with the typical Simon quasi-verite approach. The camerawork is really polished. It cuts periodically through fades and matches on action. The constant Bruce Springsteen soundtrack is way too on the nose in important scenes, and the sound design can't decide exactly where to blend it in the audio mix. Sometimes it sounds soundtracky, at other times it is in the scene itself. An accumulation of unexpected choices like this add up over the six episodes.

The casting is excellent. Even Winona Ryder just kind of blends into the period elements of the storyline. The on location shooting really helps with this, but I wasn't thinking: oh there is Belushi, oh there is Molina, etc... And Isaac is excellent throughout. Really compelling performances here.

But as to the good, Show Me a Hero is compulsory viewing. It is an extended look at how racism remained encoded in real estate practice all the way to the 21st century. You get a very clear, detailed look at the political processes running behind the scenes during an era when we began to recognize the connection between civil rights and urban design. Such important history here, and from what I have read, Simon's account is accurate (even down to the complicated psychology of its lead character). But this storyline runs through several different iterations at the same time, local government, consultants attached to the project, the white neighborhoods, the black neighborhoods, and a few periphery characters (though I disagree with Seitz above, as there is not too much on the periphery here).

In one compelling scene, the white archetype (an empty-nester white woman campaigning against integration) is looking around the apartment of a black family soon to move into her neighborhood. The Digable Planets "Rebirth of Slick" plays in the background as it kind of dawns on her that these black families are real people with real desires and histories, etc... It is a really well-crafted moment. 

 

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I think I'm mostly with you, M.  This is not Simon at his best, maybe not essential viewing, but certainly important viewing.  I think I may crank out a mini-essay comparing this series to Kurosawa's Ikiru.  Both show what utterly hard and exhausting work it is to complete the smallest task to make life better for the urban poor.  In both works, the central character's soul/psyche/sanity/life hangs in the balance.  (For the biblically inclined, this would make a great illustration of the Good Samaritan parable.  "Who is my neighbor," indeed.)

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