I’m not really an avid TV watcher. Lest you think I’m some kind of ascetic, I assure you that I’m well-versed in cultural touchstones like The Sopranos and Twin Peaks; I just don’t tune in to many current series. I do often get the sense that I’m missing out on things that everyone else is talking about—rather, I am missing out on things that everyone else is talking about. So it’s frankly unheard of for me to feel like I’m onto something that everyone else is missing out on.
But that is the case with the recently aired HBO miniseries Show Me a Hero. Granted, not everyone is missing out on it, but the fact that I’d heard so little before actually sitting down to watch it is perplexing to me. (Also perplexing: The fact that it’s buried so deep in HBO Go. It came out a month ago, and yet you have to go all the way through the Series A to Z section to find it. What gives?)
I don’t want to spoil it for anyone—including myself, because I’m only on episode four of six—but this show is so good. Based on a nonfiction book of the same name, it’s set in the late ’80s to early ’90s and tells the true story of civil rights violations in Yonkers, New York, when the local government and its constituents become entangled in a vicious battle over housing projects set to be built in the well-to-do part of town.
Oscar Isaac is brilliant in the leading role, Jim Belushi, Alfred Molina, and Bob Balaban are as wonderful as ever, and Winona Ryder looks no older than 25. Show Me a Hero is riveting, at times darkly funny, and heartbreaking in the way that only real life can be—which is exactly what one would expect from writer David Simon, who’s responsible for both The Wire and Treme. It’s also produced by Paul Haggis, who worked on Million Dollar Baby and Crash (and once belonged to the Church of Scientology, but that’s another story entirely).
If your lack of interest in municipal politics has you doubting your ability to get invested in the series, I don’t blame you—I don’t care about local government, like, at all. But you weren’t that stoked on learning about the law enforcement scene in Baltimore before you watched The Wire, were you? I didn’t think so.
And about that title: Fitzgerald said, “Show me a hero, and I’ll write you a tragedy.” Fair enough.