The Deuce -‘Vinyl’ Meets ‘The Wire’ in David Simon’s 70s Porn Drama

James Franco in The Deuce
Credit Credit: Paul Schiraldi/HBO

The Deuce Series Premiere Plot Summary:

A look at the Times Square scene of New York City in Vietnam era New York City. The Deuce looks at: twin brothers Frankie and Vincent Martino (James Franco), prostitues Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal), Darlene (Dominique Fishback), and Lori (Emily Meade), an NYU student named Abby (Margarita Levieva) and various police, pimps, and NYC dwellers. The show will eventually look at the emerging porn scene in the city.

The Deuce is a hybrid of one of HBO’s greatest critical successes, and one of its largest financial disasters, wrapped in an unflinching, slick, and emotional blanket.

Set in New York City during the 70s, the series uses Times Square, the crossroads of the world, as the hub for all its characters. It’s setting during a time, many of us barely remember — a time when Times Square was a hot bed for sex, drugs, and more sex…not the bright lights, and corporate backing that you see today.

The setting evokes way too many memories of HBO’s last ’70s drama, the financial disaster known as Vinyl. Both series view the Disco decade through the same unapologetically violent, graphically sexualized, and stylized lens. However, there is a major difference between the two — The Deuce has characters we actually want to invest in emotionally. Vinyl’s biggest problem was that everyone was unlikeable, loud, sex fiends, and coke heads. In The Deuce, these there’s a sense of humanity in these characters. You may not agree with their life choices (prostitution, gambling, hustling, etc.), but you care, you want to see where the story takes them.

It’s not surprising that the show is able to give real depth, and humanity to characters that normally aren’t considered likable. Writer/creator David Simon did this perfectly in his exquisite Baltimore-centric drama, The Wire. He’s able to inject moments of true levity into a seemingly bleak world, and that makes his characters so much more engaging that what we saw in Vinyl.

For example there’s a brief scene with a cop (played by Wire and Walking Dead alum Laurence Gilliard, Jr.) is at a shoe shine stand with an assortment of pimps (played by Gary Carr and Wire alumni Method Man, and Gbenga Akinnagbe). It’s a quick scene, but in it we see characters from both sides of the law cutting it up, busting chops, and living like normal people. And that is David Simon’s brilliance, crystallized in one moment.

This series is not without problems though. The premiere episode ran at an epic 80+ minutes, and it often felt like three hours. The pace was glacial at times, and while we’re not expecting Game of Thrones type rip-roaring action, this story could’ve been told in the usual 55-60 minutes HBO slots for its dramas.

Also, The Deuce is about the porn industry, or so we’ve been told. There’s literally no hints of this in the premiere, outside of some billboards. The concern here is, My concern is that this series is going to unfold too slowly, or get pulled in too many directions. Simon has issues like this in past, particularly with Treme, and Show Me a Hero. Both had strong premieres, and premises, but ultimately were either unfocused, or took too long to get to a point.

The Deuce is a show that’s definitely worth checking out, and diving into episode two. Its characters are well-written, and the story has promise.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site’s podcast, The BreakCast.┬áHe is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites