The Deuce is Pretty, Pretty Good

HBO’s The Deuce caught my attention when I found out that David Simon would be one of the creative forces behind it. (D Simon, of course, is of The Wire fame, blessed be its name.) The finale just aired last Sunday and after seeing the whole season I gotta say it was pretty enjoyable. I think if I were reading a review of the season I’d want to know one thing first and I’m sorry I have to report that it’s not up to The Wire levels–at least not yet. Perhaps it will build on itself and hit some kind of peak in a later season that measures up. But so far the throne hasn’t changed hands.

But! The show is good. It’s set in a seedy New York in the early 70s, with especial attention paid to the then-embryonic porn industry and the concurrent changes in prostitution, brothels and police corruption. (I was reminded by an interview of Frank Serpico that his activities occurred roughly during this same time period.) While The Deuce is much like The Wire in that the focus is a bigger concept rather than a few characters, there are closer character studies–and arguably more of a main character in that of Eileen/Candy, a prostitute-cum-pornographer played gloriously by Maggie Gyllenhaal. James Franco also qualifies as a main character for his turn as two twin brothers (ugh), one of which gets more attention from the series as he runs a bar on a street well-trafficked by those in the flesh trade.

Franco is good as the twins Frankie and Vince–mans is an excellent actor when he wants to be–and the rest of the cast puts in good turns as well, with possible exception of Lawrence Gilliard who is a bit unconvincing in his romantic subplot. Shout out to Gary Carr as the pimp CC, who is captivating since Carr plays him as likable and smart but with a terrifying undercurrent of menace. Carr does the implicit threat of violence that pimping requires unbelievably well.

As with The Wire, the show’s true focus is a larger concept than any individual humans–it’s a focus on how us as individuals are buffeted about by larger-than-life ideas. The idea in The Deuce is American sexuality and our changing cultural mores. A strong tension point exists between the old way of repressed sexuality (but still very much present) transitioning into the new way of a more open sexual economics. The 1960s opening up of youth sexuality and the Stonewall Riots hang in the background of the series, and the episodes examine how American culture changes as a result of the Baby Boomers’ collective re-imagining of sexual mores.

It’s an interesting insight into how people thought and acted in these antediluvian times. A few of the movements that were underway in this era are in full bloom now–LGBT rights are among the most driving political issues of our time and pornography is literally everywhere and it’s easy to find articles online decrying our pornified culture.

All in all, The Deuce was a great watch and one I’d recommend to anyone who can stomach the occasionally violent scene and the frequently sexual scene (albeit frequently commodified and loveless sex).