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TV Review: The Deuce (TIFF 2017)

PLOT: The legitimization of New York’s sex industry, seen through the eyes of a Time Square barman (James Franco), an independent prostitute (Maggie Gyllenhaal), an honest beat cop (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) and a variety of pimps, streetwalkers, pornographers and gangsters.

REVIEW: “The Deuce” marks HBO’s second big-budget drama set in 1970’s New York, following the doomed “Vinyl.” A far-better, more delicately crafted drama then that ever was (although I still kinda liked it- flaws and all), the eight-episode first season of “The Deuce” kicks off on HBO September 10th, right after airing as part of TIFF’s Primetime program, where the first two episodes are being shown back to back.

To give you an idea of how addictive “The Deuce” is, I was only supposed to watch the TIFF episodes for my review, but HBO made the entire season available, and I couldn’t help but binge watch the whole thing. It’s a smart move by HBO to tag the second episode on to the TIFF premiere. While the Michelle MacLaren directed pilot is superbly crafted, it takes a little while to really dig into showrunner David Simon’s world, with many of the best characters only getting introductions as the season goes on.

In that way, “The Deuce” is a lot like Simon’s classic, “The Wire”. A true ensemble, James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal are leads, but they’re not more important than any of the less prominent names making up the diverse cast. Just like how Omar and Clay Davis only showed up as “The Wire” went on, some of the most beautifully drawn characters only come into their own later on.

Franco is our nice guy anchor, playing twin brothers, one of whom, Vincent, is a working stiff bartender, while his brother, Frankie, is a degenerate gambler deeply in debt to the mob. When they come looking to collect is when Vincent first meets Michael Rispoli’s capo, who, appreciating his honesty, gives him the keys to a run down bar in Time Square. A former gay bar, him and the bar’s out-and-proud barman (Chris Coy - who viewers may remember as the skin head baddie in the final season of “Banshee”) help turn things around, making it a home for streetwalkers and their pimps.

It’s this sex trade life which is “The Deuce’s” major focus, with a cast of pimps and prostitutes making up a large chunk of the cast, although none is alike. The two major pimps, Gary Carr’s C.C and Gbenga Akinnagbe’s Larry, are a study in contrasts. The smooth C.C uses drugs and violence to keep his ladies in line, while Larry, despite being physically scarier, has more of a conscience and uses intimidation rather than violence, although both are predators. Their ladies, specifically C.C’s fresh-off-the-bus newbie, Lori (Emily Meade) and Larry’s Darlene (Dominique Fishback) both take their pimps as a necessary evil, part of the cost of doing business, only for the pimp-less Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal) to show them a new way once she gets into the porn biz, teaming up with a scuzzy but kind director (David Krumholtz).

The cast is gigantic, with some only coming into focus as the show goes on, like Lawrence Gilliard Jr’s upstanding cop, who despises the pimps and wants to protect the ladies, only to run up against corruption at every turn, even though he’s not above taking the occasional bribe. He’s as much the show’s conscience here as he was in season 1 & 2 of “The Wire” (I hope he lives longer). Franco himself never dominates, with Frankie more-or-less comic relief, with Vincent the anchor, as he gets deeper into the sex trade, to the disapproval of his feminist girlfriend (Margarita Levieva). Some of the best characters are peripheral, like Mustafa Shakir as Big Mike, a scary, hulking Vietnam vet who’s like this show’s Omar, in that he’s far more conscientious than you might judge based on his appearance, and Ralph Macchio’s idiotic, ultra corrupt detective (really effective in a handful of scenes).

While the premise means that the show pushes the boundaries in terms of sex (not a single episode would ever manage anything less than an NC-17), and features a lot of violence against women, it’s worth noting the show is never exploitative. It simply tells the truth, and in a nice nod to diversity, half of the directors are female (including MacLaren and former “Star Trek: Voyager” star Roxann Dawson). It’s a good model to follow, as the show is full of unique perspectives (and stunningly naturalistic dialogue from Simon, and his writers Richard Price, Lisa Lutz, Megan Abbott, Marc Henry Johnson and co-EP George Pelecanos). I loved every minute of it. God I hope this show is a hit. I want to see them live up to the promise of the premise, depicting the disco era, the spread of AIDS and the rise of porn. This is an amazing first chapter to what could be a game-changing show.


Source: JoBlo.com

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