The entire first season was provided prior to broadcast.
“It’s the Deuce” – Vincent Martino
The sensory disorienting cesspool that is 1970s Manhattan, teeming with merciless pimps, amoral patrolmen, and entrepreneurial mafiosi, serves as the backdrop for David Simon’s engrossing, titillating HBO drama The Deuce. Co-created with George Pelecanos, who worked alongside Simon on The Wire and Treme, the eight-episode first season documents the evolution of the porn industry, the etiquette of prostitution, and the institutional racketeering propelling and consolidating them.
Breaking the skin is Vincent Martino (James Franco) and his twin brother Frankie (also Franco). A bartender of unparalleled trustworthiness, apart from deserting his flirtatious wife (Zoe Kazan) and children, Vincent bares the brunt of his kin’s gambling addiction and hotheaded demeanour. Incidentally, Frankie’s excessive debt to Rudy Pipilo (Michael Rispoli) lands Vincent a cushy managerial position at the thug’s newest bar, eventually allowing him to bring his brother-in-law Bobby (Chris Bauer), and yes, even Frankie, in on the action.
On the streets, pimps Rodney (Cliff “Method Man” Smith), C.C. (Gary Carr) and Larry (Gbenga Akinnagbe) oversee their individual herds of streetwalkers, ensuring they secure their respective “nuts” by any means necessary. Lori (Emily Meade) is the new meat in town learning her trade hands-on, literally, and just might’ve stolen C.C.’s heart in the process. Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is the curb-side wild card, a single mother slinking her way up-and-down the deuce without an owner, causing unease with the closest flesh-peddler.
Typical of Simon, The Deuce casts a wide character net and I’ve barely nicked the surface. There’s no transparency when deducing leads from supporting players. A capacity that coerces viewers to identify with each identity rather then drift in-and-out of storylines. The manner in which Simon and Pelecanos unfurl their semi-fictitious creations is wondrously restrictive, regarding pace and exposition. Handled by any other showrunner(s), this content would’ve crash and burned.
The griminess and stench radiating off the concrete and asphalt of 42nd street, stretching from Sixth to Eighth Avenue is repellingly tangible. Simon’s attentiveness to period detail is nothing new, but nonetheless exemplary. Rundown bars, adult theatres, trashy motel rooms, not to mention the seedy goings-on taking place inside these establishments. The Deuce affirmatively refurbishes modern day New York back to the disreputable and dirty atmosphere of 1970s Manhattan.
In addition to his dual role on screen, Franco pulls double duty off camera, directing two episodes and serving as executive producer. However, it’s his work in the lead role that’s truly gratifying. There’s not much differentiating Frankie and Vincent, and while it isn’t exactly apparent why Frankie exists within the show’s confines, apart from facilitating his brother’s story arc, Franco thrives as a selfish, ill-tempered vagrant and his other half who’s just a little bit better at hiding it.
Simon stalwarts like Dominique Fishback, Lawrence Gillard Jr. and Chris Coy all give powerful performances, too. Truthfully though, there aren’t enough superlatives in the world to be handed out amongst the plethora of talented people who deliver sound theatrics in The Deuce. Apart from Franco, however, the series standouts thus far are Maggie Gyllenhaal and Gary Carr.
C.C. is a master of mind games who isn’t afraid to use a blade and Carr plays sweet and devilish so well. Meanwhile, the argument can be made that Gyllenhaal is the series’ emotional core, with Fishback being the only logical alternative. Motherhood and resoluteness aside, it’s Candy’s vocation that Gyllenhaal captures so believably that will allow watchers to establish a strong connection.
At the rate Simon and Pelecanos are progressing this golden goose, The Deuce is likely to stick around for a lengthy run. Finding the art in pornography and the grace in prostitution, viewers will be in for a heap of violence, nudity and sex every Sunday should they choose to climb on board.
The Deuce supersedes David Simon’s Show Me a Hero as an equally impressive drama featuring an ensemble performance that trounces competitors.