The Deuce – HBO (US)

Stars: Kevin Breznahan, James Franco, Maggie Gyllenhaal

This drama series follows the legalization and subsequent rise of the porn industry in New York from the early 1970s through the mid-1980s, exploring the rough-and-tumble world of midtown Manhattan. James Franco stars as real-life twin brothers who were players in the Times Square world and became fronts for mob control of the volatile and lucrative sex industry from its beginnings.

What do you need to know

The most important thing to know entering in to The Deuce is that the show is from the creative team of David Simon and George Pelecanos. The last show they worked together on was The Wire – a ratings flop when it initially aired, but soon after it concluded the show found its audience on DVD and is now considered one of the all-time best TV series.

While the show may be set around the porn industry in 1970’s New York, with David Simon involved, the show was never likely to be a sleazy or exploitative look at pornography. He’s mostly interested in systems of power and money. Yes, it may be about porn, but it will likely really be about how the industry works, who benefits financially, and who is used and abused by the system.

What should you watch out for

James Franco will generate the lions share of attention at first in a showy role that has him playing twin brothers. While this is a technical triumph on screen watching the actor interact fluidly with himself, the novelty wears quickly leaving viewers with occasional mild confusion in knowing which brother is which when in scenes by themselves.

Pay attention to Maggie Gyllenhaal as ‘Candy’ Merrell. We’re introduced to her as an independent street worker. While the first episode doesn’t give her a lot to do, she manages to steal the show with what is inevitably going to be an emotionally and physically complex performance. Gyllenhaal doesn’t always meet expectation on screen, especially in roles that aren’t built with emotional complexity – but here she has a role that she absolutely loses herself into.

You’ll enjoy this if you also liked…

The Wire, The Corner, Oz, Show Me a Hero

How to watch it

US: HBO / HBO Go / HBO Now
Australia: Foxtel / Foxtel Now
UK: Sky Atlantic

What the critics had to say

“The show is richer than anything Simon’s done before, thanks in large part to Michelle MacLaren, the Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones alumna who directed the first and last episode. Painstakingly, with everything from typography to body hair, the show recreates 1971 Midtown Manhattan in all its seamy, squalid disorder.” – Sophie Gilbert, The Atlantic

“…the world created here is so accurately run-down and sleazy you want to take a shower after every episode.”  – Eric Deggans, NPR

“The camaraderie portrayed in another production about the early days of the porn business, “Boogie Nights,” is also evident in “The Deuce” but it’s interspersed with much more treachery given the dilapidated world of ’70s NYC. You’ve never seen so much flattened chewing gum on a sidewalk, so much smoke stain on a motel curtain or rampant drug use out in the open.” – Lorraine Ali, LA Times


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