A look at life in New York City during the 1970s and ’80s when porn and prostitution were rampant in Manhattan.
I had heard great things about the new show from HBO, “The Deuce,” starring James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal. And boy were they right. This show is not for the faint-hearted as it is filled with colorful language and plenty of nudity. The show takes place in the early ’70s in and around Times Square, particularly 42nd Street, which back then was nicknamed ‘The Deuce.’ At that time, it was known as the cultural center of American grindhouse theaters which showed adult movies and was also home to the red-light district. The show introduces us to a plethora of characters that we follow throughout the first season and with season two having just been greenlit by HBO, I cannot wait to continue down 42nd Street.
James Franco plays twins, Vincent and Frankie Martino. Vincent is the calm and collected one who works as the manager at a local bar while Frankie is the hothead who racks up debt all over the city, owing money to card sharks everywhere. Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a prostitute who walks the streets and refuses to be owned by a pimp, taking her hard-earned money and giving her morsels in return. We meet an NYPD patrolman, Chris Alston (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) and his partner, Danny Flanagan (Don Harvey), who patrol the streets and know all the prostitutes and their pimps. While there are too many characters and storylines to mention here, the central arcs are on Vincent, Frankie, and Candy. Vincent has a reputation as an honest man who never steals and this takes the interest of local Gambino family capo, Rudy Pipilo (Michael Rispoli), who is looking to open up a few bars around the city and needs a good manager to take control. He meets with Vincent, shows him a location for a bar he wants to open and Vincent signs on. When Rudy, later on, decides to cash in on the sex trade dominating the streets right outside their front door, he opens up a massage parlor, giving the girls some protection from the weather and rowdy customers but Vincent wants nothing to do with it. Instead, Frankie and their brother-in-law Bobby Dwyer (Chris Bauer), a construction foreman who is recovering from a heart attack, decide to take on the parlor as their own.
Meanwhile, after Candy is beaten up by a psychotic client in her apartment one night, she tries to look for a way out of the only life she knows. A chance meeting with Harvey Wasserman (David Krumholtz), a filmmaker who makes pornographic movies, changes her life. Once a month, Harvey sets up his camera at a local theater and ‘pretends’ to film a couple having sex. This draws in large crowds of men and makes a lot of money for Harvey and his actors. When Candy asks to see one of his movies, he tells her that because of obscenity standards, he is not allowed to put film in the camera but that quickly changes when many of the laws that were put in place to prevent the public presentation of adult films, change, therefore allowing local theaters to screen any and all pornographic movies. When this transition materializes, Harvey employs Candy as one of his regulars but over time, Candy takes an interest in what goes on behind the scenes, wanting to know about the cost of making an adult film and the returns it should expect. Now a partner with Harvey, the duo begin making more and more movies, selling them to the local theaters but Candy has bigger aspirations.
“The Deuce” is gritty and unflinching in its portrayal of prostitutes, their pimps, and an assortment of foul-mouthed and self-indulgent characters that live and breathe the streets of 1970s New York City. While the pimps, in general, can be pretty brutal with the mistreatment of their own girls, they each have moments that allow you a tiny glimpse into their lives, conveying fragmentary moments of humanism that nobody else is privy to. James Franco as twins Vincent and Frankie is almost identical in overall appearance, both characters sporting a ‘porn stache’ but in giving each of them their own individual characteristics and personalities, albeit ever so slightly, it then becomes almost impossible not to tell them apart. Maggie Gyllenhaal is phenomenal as Candy. Most other actors would play her as yet another “hooker with a heart of gold,” but not Gyllenhaal. We feel for her as she walks the streets alone. She interacts with the other girls but takes her chances on her own. At least with a pimp, she would have some level of protection but she forgoes all of that as we see her put away her weekly earnings in the hopes of leaving New York with her son and beginning life anew. It appears that she is resigned to the fact that she may never leave but when she meets Harvey, the adult filmmaker, and he takes her under his wing, and teaches her about the art of filmmaking, she finally comes to life, and we are happy for her. While she may technically still be in the sex trade, at least now she is calling the shots.
The show is shot realistically and that is where much of the nudity comes into play. Naturally, if a man and a woman are having sex, for the most part, they would be naked, and that is what happens here. This isn’t some watered-down PG-13 attempt to please all audiences, it is for mature audiences only and much of the nudity is realistic, in that regard. It is believable and therefore, the scene is believable and adds more authenticity to the overall show. It’s been a long time since a series captured my attention the way “The Deuce” did and I eagerly await season two.
Available on Blu-ray & DVD Tuesday, February 13th from HBO