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Series / Show Me a Hero

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"...and I'll write you a tragedy"

Judge Leonard B. Sand: Justice is not about popularity.
Mayor Nick Wasicsko: No, it's not. But politics is.

Show Me a Hero is a 2015 miniseries, based on the book of the same name by Lisa Belkin, dramatizing the Yonkers housing controversy of the 1980s and early 1990s. It was written by The Wire co-creator David Simon and writer/journalist William F. Zorzi. All episodes were directed by Paul Haggis. It aired on HBO.

The plot begins when New York judge Leonard B. Sand (Bob Balaban) orders that new public housing units be built in predominantly white neighborhoods in the largely segregated city of Yonkers, New York. Many white, middle-class citizens are outraged, fearing that the lower-class and predominantly black and Hispanic tenants of the housing will turn their communities into slums.

Nick Wasicsko (Oscar Isaac), an ambitious city councilman, uses the controversy to get himself elected as the youngest mayor of a major American city. However, he quickly discovers that the courts will bankrupt Yonkers if he continues to fight the housing. To save the city, he's forced to champion the very housing that he ran against, all at the expense of his budding political career.

The political side of the plot is contrasted with the lives of several Yonkers families from both sides of the tracks, whose lives are affected by the new housing in different ways.


  • Ambiguous Situation: It's left unresolved whether or not Vinni is lying about Nick's affair with her in order to get revenge on him. When Vinni's friend witnesses her apparent confession, the woman tells her that what she's doing isn't right, suggesting that it's made up. Nick also reacts with believable ignorance when Nay probes him. However, we do see a very drunk Nick plant a kiss on Vinni one night.
  • Anti-Hero: Nick Wasicsko. He's an opponent of integration in the beginning and never really comes fully around to supporting it. He's just convinced that it's a necessary evil, so he's doing his best to get it done. On the whole, he's more concerned about his career than morality.
  • Ate His Gun: How Nick kills himself in the end, which is truth in television.
  • The Baby Trap: Despite them both already having a child together, John pulls this on Billie by poking holes in their condoms, thinking that another baby would keep her from leaving him.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The housing gets built and improves the lives of most of its residents, but Nick's career was left so broken that he commits suicide.
  • Book Ends: The show begins and ends on the same scene: Nick's suicide by the grave of his father.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Nick's service pistol he still owns from his days as a cop. He starts carrying it around when he receives death threats. He ultimately uses it to commit suicide.
  • Complete-the-Quote Title: "Show me a hero, and I'll write you a tragedy." A quote by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
  • Driven to Suicide: Nick kills himself because his political career is dead and his reputation is about to be ruined by a corruption investigation that he insists he's innocent of.
  • Government Procedural
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: A good portion of the show is Wasicsko, an opportunistic politician, trying to get a beneficial housing project past a bigoted population.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Mary Dorman, who goes from one of the most vocal critics of the housing to one of its most substantial supporters.
  • Hypocrite: One scene has several councilmen taking photos of a Yonkers housing project to illustrate how depraved they are. Two women on a corner catch the men taking their picture and mistake them for perverts, so they make obscene gestures. The resulting pictures are obviously used to depict the women as crass, even though the photographers were the ones behaving improperly. The photographers also spot an off-duty nurse walking home and opt to not take her picture, since it doesn't fit the narrative.
  • In Medias Res: Subverted. The show begins with a scene, then flashes back to several years ago. A scene in the middle of the show is made to look like it's a continuation of the first scene, but it's not. Only the final scene of the show has finally caught up to the first scene, making it a case of Book Ends.
  • Informed Judaism: Michael H. Sussman references his Judaism several times, though it has no particular plot relevance. It helps characterize him as an outsider among the Polish and Italian Catholic Yonkers locals.
  • Jerkass Has a Point:
    • Hank Spallone is mostly used to show the ugliest side of Yonkers xenophobia. However, when he calls out a New York Times journalist for turning a judging eye on Yonkers without actually living there, he has a point.
    • The older government housing projects really are filled with crime and vandalism. The new housing has to be specially designed using the defensible space theory to avoid fostering these problems.
  • Meaningless Villain Victory: It doesn't matter that the Nick loses his reelection bid and that Spallone replaces him and it doesn't matter how badly the anti-compliance mob wants the city council to resist the court order, the building of the public housing units continues and is completed because, otherwise, the court would inflict crippling fines on the city of Yonkers. In one scene, Mary Dorman realizes all the protesting is useless; whether Wasiscko is mayor, or Spallone is, the housing will be built and the people will have to change.
  • Nothing but Hits: A given when your protagonist is a fan of "The Boss." Uncommon for a Simon's work, a good number of tracks are non-diegetic.
  • Obviously Evil: Hank Spallone, the most vocal enemy of the housing, couldn't look more sleazy if he tried. He greases his hair back, puts his feet up on his desk during council session, and chews on a toothpick at all times.
  • Period Piece: An exceptionally well-done one, with very few characters actually owning clothes or vehicles from the exact time the show is set, giving the impression that it's been a while since they went shopping for those things, as makes perfect sense with how little money they have.
  • Punch-Clock Hero: Wasiscko doesn't believe in the housing projects, but it's his job to get them made.
  • Red Herring: A scene in the middle of the show looks like it's a return to the first scene of the show, where Nick visits the grave of his father in a state of emotional turmoil. In reality, it's not. The final scene of the show is the real continuation of the first scene.
  • Smug Snake: Hank Spallone is prone to chewing on toothpicks with his arms crossed and feet kicked up on his desk, even during council meetings.
  • Shout-Out: Simon slides some references to The Wire here and there. Examples include "same as it ever was" and "yellow tops"
  • Vanity Is Feminine: When the silver-haired Mary Dorman is describing her appearance, she starts to say that her hair is grey, then cuts herself off to say that it's "salt and pepper."
  • We Win Because You Didn't: In one of the last elections of the series, Angelo Martinelli runs as an independent, and while he doesn't win and his political career is over due to a second electoral loss, he takes it as a victory because his campaign sucked votes away from his rival, Chema, eliminating him from Yonkers politics as well.