Blown Deadline Productions, 2017-19
David Simon and George Pelecanos
📷 : Used with permission, HBO
Thought-provoking movies and TV shows
Nonfamily dramas with strong adult and/or socioeconomic themes
While short-lived, The Deuce provides an immersive experience. Nothing less would be expected from David Simon (The Wire, Treme), who co-wrote and co-produced it with George Pelecanos and others.
The three-season series covers the transformation of New York City’s Deuce district into what we now know as Times Square. A long way from the glitz and popular tourist attraction it is today, The Deuce, as it was known in the 1970s, burst with a bustling and open sex trade with well‑dressed pimps and tenacious sex workers who openly flaunted their stuff for sale. The gritty series captures the feel of the era with the authenticity of a warm embrace from a long-passed favorite aunt. Like a time-machine, it places us in the familiar urban settings of the period when afros were in style, communities were called neighborhoods, and everyone knew the folks who lived there—and what they did to get by.
James Franco headlines the cast, playing a dual role as a resourceful but reluctant bar and dance club owner and his carefree twin who jumps at any chance to get ahead. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Candy, a fiercely independent worker in the sex trade who later realizes success producing pornographic films because “It’s just sex, right?”
The characters take refuge at Leon’s Diner owned by Anwan Glover (The Wire), who graciously serves hot meals and pie to his customers without judgment of their dress or avocation. This sanctuary is where we get a glimpse inside many of the characters’ lives and gain an appreciation for their aspirations, shortcomings, and the life events that led them there. Beneath it all are unseen political forces working to reshape, reinvent, and reconstruct the area they view as home.
During a contentious meeting about coming changes to the area, Abbie, played by Margarita Levieva (The Blacklist, The Lincoln Lawyer), proudly proclaims her bar as a place where people in the neighborhood are treated with respect and can get “an honest pour” no matter their walk of life. While she doesn’t hide her disdain for the pimps who patronize the Hi Hat, once referring to them as “slap-a-hoes,” she spoke truth about the bar’s customer service.
Lines like this run throughout the series. This one provokes thoughts about the exclusivity of establishments of all types today, the degree to which respect and an honest pour is afforded to everyone who enters them, or if these courtesies are perhaps doled out only to those viewed as worthy. Indeed, this questioning of ourselves and what we have come to accept as normal treatment are part of what makes the writing so great and keeps the show’s subject matter relevant even 50 years later.
Beyond the struggle for survival, most of the characters in The Deuce are running away rather than toward something, while a smaller contingent desperately fights to remain relevant and to keep the status quo intact. As we know though, change is inevitable. Indeed, this story is about the inevitability of change. So real, it is as palpable as the raw emotions of fear and love displayed by the characters, along with the seemingly necessary emotional detachment they exhibit at crucial times throughout the series.
The depth of the characters and their transformation over the series resonate with the experiences and aspirations of many everyday people who strive to maintain their dignity and strength. This suggests that the show has something that appeals to everyone. It is raw, but a necessary raw that pushes forth conversations about power, race, class, and gender. If this is your thing, go for it—and be prepared to think a lot about its themes in the days that follow.