It's not often that affordable housing is a key topic in a movie or television show. That's why we have a strong interest in the HBO mini-series Show Me a Hero.
The drama takes place in Yonkers, N.Y., after U.S. District Court Judge Leonard Sand orders the city to build 200 public housing units followed by several hundred affordable apartments.
“Our object is not to create martyrs or heroes. Our object is to get this housing built,” Sand (Bob Balaban) tells local officials.
Viewers learned in the first two episodes, that this proves to be much easier said than done for 28-year-old Mayor Nick Wasicsko (Oscar Isaac). On one side, he has the court imposing hefty penalties for every day the city fails to approve a housing plan. (Yonkers will go broke by day 22.) On the other, he has a paralyzed city council unable to take action and angry white constituents protesting outside city hall.
The fight to build housing is central to Show Me a Hero, which comes from The Wire’s David Simon and director Paul Haggis (Crash).
Simon is a master at dramatizing difficult urban issues. Few can dissect a city better. Like Simon’s earlier work (Treme, The Corner, and Homicide: Life on the Street), Show Me a Hero burns at a slow simmer. If it feels less electric than Simon’s earlier shows, that’s because affordable housing is a tough topic to grasp. The battles are about city policies, zoning, and who will move in next door.
The series succeeds because of strong, flawed characters, especially the desperate-to-lead Wasicsko, a former cop and major Springsteen fan. Looking in the mirror, he practices asking the clerk to take a roll-call vote on the housing resolution. Show Me a Hero also has Simon’s signature grittiness. The touches of humor are all dark. A councilman who skips a closed-door meeting risks getting left with more public housing units in his district.
Looking ahead, it would be nice to learn more about the low-income families introduced in the opening episodes. That's likely coming in the remaining four episodes.
Based on a nonfiction book by Lisa Belkin, the series takes places in the late 1980s, but its issues remain relevant today. Fair housing continues to be battled in court. Racial tensions continue to boil over in many cities. Neighborhoods continue to be at risk.
What did you think of the first two episodes, which premiered this weekend? Share your comments below.