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‘The Deuce’ Is The Gritty NYC Period Drama That ‘Vinyl’ Should’ve Been

the deuce review

HBO

HBO’s new sex industry drama ‘The Deuce’ paints a vivid portrait of ’70s New York, featuring prostitutes working their turf, the slick-talking pimps that hustle them, and porn theater marquees that blaze with the intensity of a thousand suns. It’s a show where a crooked cop might be seated next to a Mafia enforcer at a dive bar – and the two men are nearly interchangeable. The show’s cast is led by Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Franco, with supporting turns by Zoe Kazan, Method Man, and other familiar faces.

‘The Deuce’ delivers on the promise made by ‘Vinyl’ – the New York record business drama that was canceled after one season. ‘Vinyl’ attempted to portray the gritty origins of the New York punk scene, but the show’s ham-fisted tone spoiled its good intentions. Punk trailblazer Richard Hell slammed ‘Vinyl,’ calling it “inaccurate” and “nothing.”

‘The Deuce’ shows much greater potential. Both shows boast powerhouse production staffs (‘Vinyl’ was created by a team that included Mick Jagger, Martin Scorcese, and ‘The Sopranos’ vet Terence Winter). ‘The Deuce’ was created by David Simon and George Pelecanos; Simon’s classic series ‘The Wire’ delivered deeply penetrating observations on urban life and is considered by many to be among the best television shows ever made. Where ‘Vinyl’ faltered on its trying-too-hard dialogue (“I think there’s something big happening here,” mused star Bobby Canavale in the show’s pilot), ‘The Deuce’ feels deeply perceptive and thoughtful (not to mention reverent to New York cinema touchstones like Taxi Driver).

The pilot of ‘The Deuce’ includes a scene featuring two pimps talking shop while observing a passing crowd. Their conversation is dense with amusing street slang, musings about Vietnam and Richard Nixon, and hustler philosophy. Here, ‘The Deuce’ brings the viewer back in time, while nailing the balance of drama and humor that shows like ‘The Sopranos’ and ‘Breaking Bad’ once delivered so deftly.

Simon’s intensions extend beyond the surface of street talk and wide lapels. Simon and Pelecanos intend to use ‘The Deuce’ to confront the brutal exploitation at the core of New York’s ’70s sex industry. “If you allude to this in ways that clean it up,” Simon told the New York Times, “you’re not dealing with the fact that not only was labor marginalized and misused, but that the product itself was the laborer. Human beings were the product.”

‘The Deuce’ is a series with the potential to be a deeply observant and funny classic of New York television. Its pilot episode is currently available on HBO in advance of the show’s September 10th premiere.

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