Show Me a Hero – New HBO Series by David Simon: Part 1

Not in my neighborhood….

From the corner of Lexington and Fulton in West Baltimore, it is about 210 miles to Yonkers, NY. Three hours and 46 minutes by car, and this route has tolls. That’s some of the geography and much of the route involves driving on I-95. But I am not interested in making this drive. What is interesting is that David Simon, the creator of the award-winning TV series called The Wire, which is set mostly in various Baltimore neighborhoods, beginning right there at Lexington & Fulton, has penned a new mini-series which premiered on HBO last night.

The Wire was about drugs, and drug wars, the seaport system, poverty and low-income public housing, and the struggles of the police, the city government and its bureaucracy, the media, the school system and many of the residents to improve the quality of life in Baltimore, which at the time of the series (June 2002 – March 2008) was one of the most crime-ridden cities in the USA. The series comprised 60 episodes over five seasons.

Now , while Simon has moved his setting 210 miles north, he’s backed up in time to 1987. Our settings are now Yonkers City Council Chambers,

courtrooms, the Mayor of Yonkers office, and assorted back-room meeting spots where deals were made, or not made. We will also find ourselves on the street where we have two groups of angry residents – the white majority, and the black minority.

West Yonkers

West Yonkers

East Yonkers

East Yonkers

Why were they angry? Because a federal judge told the City of Yonkers that a 200 unit public housing development had to be built smack dab in the middle of a white-middle class neighborhood. The show, called Show Me a Hero, is about that neighborhood’s resistance to the federal mandate, as well as about the Mayor of Yonkers. a Nick Wasicsko, who made every effort he could, initially to fight against it. But as a City Councilman, he had designs on becoming the Mayor. He figured that by being against the housing mandate – he’d win the Mayorality election.

As the series begins, Nick is a City Council member who voted to appeal the Federal Judge’s decision. The sitting Mayor, Angelo Martinelli, (Jim Belushi) did not vote in favor of the appeal. He thought it would prove to be a losing effort.

And it was. The courts tossed out the city of Yonkers appeal on all grounds. And in an upset, the voters in Yonkers told the six-term Mayor Angelo Bertinelli to take a hike by voting in the younger man, Nick Wasicsko. That means we are really going to see the story in full motion going forward.

In a discussion in the judge’s chambers between the Mayor the Judge, we get this exchange:

Judge Leonard Sans (Bob Balaban): Justice is not about popularity

Judge Leonard Sands (Bob Balaban): Justice is not about popularity

Mayor Nick Wasicsko (Oscar Isaacs): No it's not, but politics is...

Mayor Nick Wasicsko (Oscar Isaacs): No it’s not, but politics is…

Which is basically what the series is about. Politics. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch of one’s imagination to see the young, and opportunistic Mayor, get his head bashed in, metaphorically, because when all else fails, and you move away – the neighborhood is still there.

Catherine Keener

Catherine Keener

Upcoming in the Second episode are the introduction of Catherine Keener,

Jon Bernthal

Jon Bernthal

and Jon Bernthal ,

Clark Peters

Clark Peters

Clark Peters, 

Winona Ryder

Winona Ryder

and Winona Ryder’s characters. You will notice Michael Kostroff, who played the lawyer for the drug lords in The Wire, as the king-maker, the pol behind the pols, urging Oscar Isaacs who plays Wasicsko to run for Mayor. Since Wasicsko is only 28 at the time, it looks like Kostroff is trying to get his man, or is it his puppet into office?

Alfred Molina - the only difference between him and a mustache-twirling villain - is the missing mustache

Alfred Molina – the only difference between him and a mustache-twirling villain – is the missing mustache

Watch for Alfred Molina almost steal every scene he’s in.

So in this opening stanza, Simon is basically setting up the two sides of the housing issue with the Judge, and the Mayor at the fulcrum. I’m quite eager to see where Simon takes this, as the federal Judge, played by Bob Balaban – who looks born to play this role – has marked a definite line in the sand.

You know it's all about property values ... life and liberty. Beneath those values - it's about fear...

You know it’s all about property values … life and liberty. Beneath those values – it’s about fear…

Either the City of Yonkers starts this project immediately, or I’ll see it [the city] straight into receivership. Meaning he will issue fines and penalties to Yonkers, effectively forcing the city to put up the housing or go broke.

Simon titled this Mini-series – Show Me a Hero. This is a phrase he borrowed from F. Scott Fitzgerald who said, Show me a hero, and I’ll write you a tragedy. I’m guessing it will be Nick Wasicsko who will be both the hero, and the tragic figure.

By the way, the series has six one hour parts. Beginning (last night Sunday August 16th) with parts 1 & 2, the next pair will be aired next Sunday on the 23rd, then the final two on Sunday, August 30th. To be totally upfront, this isn’t going to be another series like The Wire. Part One was free of violence, guns, police action, and there were just a couple small time street drug sales. One on the street, and the other in the elevator of an existing housing project. That one was on the west side of Yonkers. The east side of Yonkers was literally 180 degrees opposite.

I’m fairly certain we will hear some one say about the Judge, how come he doesn’t order the housing units to be put up in his neighborhood. While that in itself may not be politics, it is all about property values which is, and always will be the bedfellow of politics.

For the record, David Simon adapted the book written by former New York Times reporter Lisa Belkin for this series. The book has the same title as the series and is available at amazon.com.

The series is directed by Paul Haggis, the Canadian film director who is most famous for directing Crash a film that won 3 Oscars. Also noteworthy is the fact that Bruce Springsteen’s music contributed a major part of the music to the series.

I’ll have another piece, about Part 2 in a few days.

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