The Deuce Season 1 Episode 1: Pilot (Early Review)

Writer/Producer David Simon, responsible for such classic TV shows as The Wire and Homicide: Life on the Street just to name a few, is back alongside James Franco and a stellar cast to cover the darker side of the 1970s and 1980s New York City porn and prostitution industry.

Synopsis: Twin brothers Vincent and Frankie Martino – one a double-shifting bartender with two kids and a wayward wife in Brooklyn, the second an insouciant gambler with piling mob debts – navigate their way through the rough-and-tumble world of 1971 Times Square. While Vincent plots ways to improve his situation and pay off his brother’s debt, he crosses paths with other midtown denizens – including veteran hookers Candy and Ashley, young streetwalkers Darlene and Lori, and smooth-talking pimps C.C., Larry and Rodney – as they ply their trades under the not-so-watchful eye of the NYPD. Meanwhile, when NYU student Abby is enlisted by friends to buy amphetamines on the street, she ends up in the Times Square precinct, an unlikely starting point for making a bold change to her privileged life. (HBO)

Writers: George Pelecanos and David Simon

Director: Michelle MacLaren

Rating: TV-MA

Running Time: 85mins

There was definitely a lot going on in this episode, boasting a whole bunch of characters with their own subplots. This episode at least had a decent balance between the characters so none really stood out above the others. This can usually go either way. It did establish the world nicely but we didn’t get much of a chance to connect with any one character at least right away. Being a pilot, the story and the characters were slowly introduced, however, this episode did an excellent job at creating the atmosphere of 1970s New York. From the set designs, to the costumes, to the score, it all felt very 70s.

Some of the characters introduced in this episode included a pair of twin brothers named Vincent and Frankie Martino (James Franco). Both were on opposite ends of the spectrum with Vincent choosing to live an honorable life, working multiple jobs in order to support his kids and his flaky wife Andrea (Zoe Kazan) and Frankie being a degenerate gambler with growing mob debts. Frankie’s debts found their way to Vincent, adding even more pressure to his already difficult life.

While this episode didn’t approach the porn industry right away (as was hinted in the many trailers), it established the sex industry (which led to it) and its influence on the community, following a group of street walkers named Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal), Ashley (Jamie Neumann), Darlene (Dominique Fishback), and Lori (Emily Meade) along with a group of pimps named C.C. (Gary Carr), Larry (Gbenga Akinnagbe) and Rodney (Method Man).

Candy was an independent streetwalker who can take care of herself and treated her craft as more of a business while hinting at another life that she set aside. This independence made her the most interesting character of the program so far. When compared to the other women, she had it easy but a streetwalker’s life wasn’t easy as this episode showed. The last character was a college student named Abby (Margarita Levieva), who after a miraculous turn of events, ends up with Vincent and they appear to strike up a friendship.

The acting was the best part of the episode. Franco and Gyllenhaal are obviously the most recognizable, however, everyone was pretty much even here. The balanced storytelling meant nobody stood out but the cast were good with what they had. Of course with Franco and Gyllenhaal having the biggest names, it would have been nice to see more from them.

Franco was good at playing both roles though there wasn’t much of a difference between both characters performance wise. The only way to tell them apart was by how they were dressed which was white for Vincent and black for Frankie and Vincent had a cut on his forehead due to an early altercation. Gyllenhaal was the best here as Candy and was very compelling to watch, acting tough around others in order to hide her loneliness.

Overall, this was a good start to the series, creating an authentic feeling 1970s New York City and introducing the many characters within it. Being a pilot, there was a lot going on here so none of the characters really stood out above the rest. There were some interesting characters like the Martinos and Candy, however, this made it difficult to get invested in them at least right away. While there wasn’t as much plot development here, it does lay the groundwork for what can be a compelling series.

Score: 8.5/10

*The Deuce premieres next Sunday at 9pm on HBO*

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