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This show definitely had the right people involved in David Simon, James Franco, and Maggie Gyllenhaal along with a great premise involving the 1970s porn industry. It’s depiction of 1970s New York was excellent from the set design, costumes, score, etc. The great atmosphere this creates made it very easy to get into the story and never made it boring to watch.
The show featured quite a few characters with Franco’s and Gyllenhaal’s being the biggest but they didn’t stand out as much as you may expect because both were simply pieces of a larger story. Franco played a pair of twin brothers named Vincent and Frankie Martino while Gyllenhaal played a prostitute named Candy. Rounding out the cast are a young college student named Abby (Margarita Levieva), a police officer named Chris Alston (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) and a group of prostitutes named Ashley (Jamie Neumann), Darlene (Dominique Fishback), and Lori (Emily Meade) along with their pimps named C.C. (Gary Carr), Larry (Gbenga Akinnagbe) and Rodney (Method Man).
Because of the larger story and amount of characters, the season had a lot to balance plot wise so no character really had the chance to stand out. The Martinos and Candy perhaps got more focus due to the actors playing them but the biggest problem this season was that it lacked any compelling characters outside of Candy who was the best part of the show so far. The other problem was that it meanders a little in the middle as it tried to develop its uncompelling characters as the show tries to bring them to the finish line. As time passed, prostitution evolved along with the city and pimps were becoming less and less relevant.
Vincent Martino was working class, working multiple jobs to take care of his dysfunctional family while Frankie was a degenerate gambler whose mob debts found their way into Vincent’s life. As Vincent worked off Frankie’s debts, he, Frankie, and his brother-in-law Bobby (Chris Bauer) got deeper with the mob and mob boss Rudy Pipilo (Michael Rispoli). Thanks to Pipilo, Vincent had his own bar where Abby worked and for whom he became friends with and then had a relationship with after his wife Andrea (Zoe Kazan) left him. At least Vincent had the presence of mind to know that he was getting too deep but Frankie and Bobby didn’t care due to all the money they were making.
Candy was an independent prostitute who worked without the need of a pimp. She was also a single mother, leaving her son in the care of her mother, presumably working to give her and her son a better life. Once her job was becoming more dangerous, she started to look elsewhere and then stumbled onto pornography and director Harvey Wasserman (David Krumholtz). Trying to impress her mother by becoming more than a prostitute, she wanted to do more than just act and took an interest in every aspect of the wacky 1970s porn industry. Over time, she actually became good at it.
Chris Alston was one of the last good cops in New York City. He, along with his partner Danny Flanagan (Don Harvey), watched the corruption at a distance while working the Deuce which was part of a borough in Manhattan where the majority of the season takes place and how the show got its name. He and Flanagan were very familiar with the pimps and the prostitutes of the Deuce. Because of his familiarity, he was recruited by a reporter named Sandra Washington (Natalie Paul) who was working on a story about the life of prostitutes. Washington only saw him as her source but Alston had different thoughts and over time, their relationship became more.
The acting was great all around for the most part with Franco and Gyllenhaal being the standouts for different reasons. Dual roles have become more and more prevalent but what went against Franco’s performance as the Martinos was that there was very little difference between the brothers since it was difficult to tell them apart for most of the season as it focused more on Vincent than Frankie. As we learned more about Frankie closer to the end of the season, it became easier to tell them apart. Gyllenhaal as Candy was the most compelling character and had the biggest arc of the season, going from prostitute to a porn actress, producer, director, etc. She had several excellent scenes with the scene where she realizes that she doesn’t want to be a prostitute anymore being the best.
Overall, this was a good first season with an interesting concept, creating a great 1970s New York atmosphere full of characters that do take a long time to get used to as the story drags in the middle but features great performances all around, especially by Maggie Gyllenhaal.