Not as dense as David Simon’s last HBO project Show Me a Hero or as intense as The Wire, the September 10–debuting The Deuce and its multi-layered depiction of the rise of the modern porn industry in the seedy New York City of the early 1970s is still well worth investing in. Put it this way: Unlike Vinyl, the premium cabler’s now-canceled previous look at the rotting Big Apple and the Me Decade, The Deuce keeps its game up.
No less than you would expect from Simon and co-creator George Pelecanos, the sprawling, eight-episode first season ultimately is less about sex than systems. Diving into familiar Simon tropes of civic and moral corruption and the death and life of great American cities, the series also features a large ensemble with outstanding lead performances from Gary Carr, Lawrence Gilliard Jr., Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Franco.
In Gyllenhaal’s eye-of-the-storm role as a pimpless streetwalker on that once-sleazy stretch of 42nd Street who becomes a dirty-movie actress and director at a time when the obscenity rules seemed to cease to apply, The Deuce also reaffirms what a prevailing performer the Oscar- and Emmy-nominated Gyllenhaal is in a cast with not a single weak link.
From its strongly handled Michelle MacLaren-helmed pilot and onward, the 1971-set opening season also makes clear just how talented Franco is. Doing double double duty here in a role as Brooklyn-bred twin brothers Frankie and Vinnie Martino, with the latter — a more low-key, mob-entrapped but stand-up-guy bar owner — the greater focal point. Franco also directed a couple of episodes — he is on fire.
Additionally, as you would also expect in a series full of porn, pimps, mobsters, cops on the take and prostitution, there’s a lot of flesh, sex and violence in The Deuce. But as you would also expect for the likes of Simon and Pelecanos and the talent they’ve assembled, it isn’t used as cable eye candy but rather for narrative thrust (so to speak). You know the devil is on the doorstep for the city and the characters of The Deuce, which often goes right up to the edge of cliché but never over.
If you haven’t picked up what I’m putting down, The Deuce is damn good, and I can’t wait for it to return and move deeper into the ’70s and beyond. In the meantime, if you have time this long weekend, check out the 80-minute-plus first episode on HBO Go or HBO Now.
Meanwhile, click on my video review above for more of how down I am with The Deuce. How about you?
This review was previously posted on September 1, 2017.