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NPR Arts & Life

HBO's 'Hero' Tells A Slow Story In Too Many Hours

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

David Simon - no relation - who created HBO's classic crime series "The Wire" returns to that channel Sunday with a new miniseries called "Show Me A Hero." NPR's TV critic, Eric Deggans, says the focus of his new series is a bit less exciting than cops chasing drug dealers in Baltimore.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Spend much time with HBO's new miniseries "Show Me A Hero" and one question quickly comes to mind - does television really need a six-hour drama on the desegregation of public housing in Yonkers, N.Y.?

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SHOW ME A HERO")

JON BERNTHAL: (As Michael H. Sussman) Like it or not, Yonkers has to put 200 units of low-income housing on the white side of the Saw Mill River Parkway. And when Judge Sand loses patience, they'll desegregate.

DEGGANS: That's "Walking Dead" alum Jon Bernthal playing a lawyer for the NAACP in the late '80s. A judge has ordered the city to build 200 units of low-income housing in an all-white neighborhood. But local officials have delayed acting as residents protest. Those protests are fed by city council members like Henry Spallone, played by Alfred Molina, who plays to the crowd's racism during a public meeting.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SHOW ME A HERO")

ALFRED MOLINA: (As Henry J. Spallone) There's something I would like to discuss, Mr. Mayor.

(APPLAUSE, CHEERS)

MOLINA: (As Henry J. Spallone) I'd like to discuss the fact that what this judge is doing is nothing short of social engineering by someone who doesn't live anywhere near our neighborhood.

DEGGANS: White politicians like Spallone were pressured by local activists, who saw the crime and poverty in other housing projects and didn't know any people of color themselves.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SHOW ME A HERO")

STEPHEN GEVEDON: (As Jack O'Toole) These people live like animals. And you're sitting around singing, kumbaya, please don't put trash on my street. Good luck with that, Mary.

CATHERINE KEENER: (As Mary Dorman) Jack, do you hear yourself?

DEGGANS: David Simon, creator of "The Wire," worked with an old pal, Bill Zorzi, for 13 years to develop this show. Simon told a group of TV critics he wanted to be fair to all sides, showing how tough it can be to find a solution.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAVID SIMON: I don't begrudge the truth of the fear that those white residents of east Yonkers felt when they were told this was coming, that the court had determined that this was the remedy.

DEGGANS: Simon has assembled an all-star cast for this story, including Winona Ryder, Catherine Keener and Oscar Isaac. The direction by Oscar-winner Paul Haggis is expert and subtle. "Show Me A Hero" works mightily to turn a fight over public housing into an allegory for how racism and fear can paralyze public policy. But six hours is way too long for this story. And Simon's deliberate style spends so much time on the details of the story that views can get lost. The miniseries that's resulted mostly proves that even HBO and David Simon can't make riveting TV out of a battle over court orders and zoning in Yonkers. I'm Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.