HBO’s The Deuce brings gritty authenticity and a bevy of memorable characters to its story of 1971 New York and the emerging porn industry.
The pilot of HBO’s The Deuce reeks with authenticity. That’s a compliment. New York City’s gritty early 70s look and feel seldom appears more authentic than it does in the first hour-and-change of David Simon and George Pelecanos’s urban epic. Trash lines the cluttered streets. The city nights feel electric and buzzing with drugs, sex, and booze. Even the sounds feel exactly right (or so I would imagine) with the period soundtrack weaving in and out of the action overlaid with car horns and crowd noise.
The Deuce emerges as the latest entry in a crowded stable of HBO prestige programming. Thanks to two stellar performances from James Franco and a strong female cast led by Maggie Gyllenhaal, the series feels near-guaranteed to feature heavily in the new awards season. How awards strategists will juggle HBO’s own Game of Thrones or Westworld Season 2 is a wonder.
The Deuce introduces us to a kaleidoscope of fully fleshed characters including a period-appropriate line up of pimps and hookers. Yes, it’s a delicate subject matter to entertain in 2017, but Simon and team smartly anchor that storyline with Gyllenhaal’s “Candy,” a self-employed prostitute with no need for a pimp. Franco plays twin brothers Frankie and Vincent Martino. Frankie racks up gambling debt faster than his bar-managing brother Vincent can pay it off.
Both leads deliver excellent performances. Franco offers none of the annoying pot-smoking eccentricities he’s offered up lately. This is an actual, fully fleshed performance that proves what a great actor he can be. Gyllenhaal probably could play this role in her sleep, but that doesn’t detract from her talent. Her best scene comes when convincing a young “birthday boy” john to pay extra for another go after he prematurely ejaculates. Gyllenhaal has the whole “head for business and a bod for sin” thing going on, and it works wonders for her. In fact, the whole enterprise of selling your body, despite the nauseating period-specific attitudes toward women, becomes a fascinating and engaging storyline.
The Deuce this isn’t just the Franco / Gyllenhaal show, despite their enormous contributions. The series emerges as a complex ensemble piece that has yet to reveal how each character fits into the overall story. The fun in this exceedingly entertaining venture will be seeing how they all intersect with each other in this vividly illustrated world of 1971 New York City. Imagine Robert Altman actually directing Boogie Nights, and you’re halfway there. It’s a trip well worth taking.
The Deuce premieres September 10 at 9pm ET on HBO.