James Franco stars in 'The Deuce'.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
David Simon, one of the greatest talents of this new golden age of television, who created HBO series The Wire, Treme and Show Me a Hero, has a new eight-episode miniseries, The Deuce. It airs on HOT HBO and YES Oh on Mondays at 10 p.m. starting September 11 and is currently available on HOT VOD and YES VOD. It’s about the porn industry in New York in the 1970s and stars James Franco.
It’s fitting that Simon, along with his longtime collaborator George Pelecanos, would delve into this seamy subject matter, since they explored similarly gritty territory in The Wire, with its focus on the drug trade in Baltimore.
Simon stares at things that make other people shudder or turn away, and he uses the drama he finds to show us that these desperate people in dire situations are not so different from us.
The recreation of New York of 40-plus years ago is meticulous and evocative. I grew up in New York during this period, and even as a kid, I was aware of the porn industry in and around Times Square, just from glimpsing the signs of the peep shows, theaters and street sleaze from bus windows. You can almost smell the sweat and filth, and the credit sequence is especially striking.
Simon dramatizes the story of identical twin brothers, Vincent and Frankie Martino, both played by Franco. The Martino twins, one of whom was a law-abiding bar owner, the other a heavily indebted gambler, were among those who sensed that the porn industry was at a crossroads and made the jump from porn shops and peep shows to producing lucrative pornographic films. It’s a development that presages the widespread acceptance of porn movies, which were eventually shown in legit theaters and, especially, the ubiquity of Internet porn today.
For Simon, it’s another opportunity to critique the status quo by focusing on those on the margins. But as much as Simon is political, he is first and foremost a storyteller; and to tell gripping stories, you have to have complex characters. Only one episode of the series was released to the Israeli press before airtime, but based on this opening chapter, it looks as if Simon is setting the scene for the characters to develop in unpredictable ways, as he has done in all his series, especially The Wire. I can’t think of any work of drama where my perceptions of characters changed as much as they did on The Wire — people I despised or dismissed in early episodes brought tears to my eyes in the show’s final seasons. Here, in addition to the put-upon everyman, Vincent Martino, and his brother who likes to work the angles, there is a money-minded prostitute, Eileen (whose street name is Candy), played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, who works without a pimp and can see the opportunity that the porn-film industry holds.
There are also several pimps, one of whom admires Richard Nixon, and all of whom hold real menace for their streetwalkers, no matter how witty they may be when they are joking around together. It’s also the story of police corruption in the Times Square area, which allowed porn to flourish. Lawrence Gilliard Jr., who was D’Angelo on The Wire, plays an ambivalent cop.
This series features scenes of graphic violence and sex – how could it not? – so viewers should be prepared.
Amid all the grim reality, there is a lot of black humor, and Simon and Pelecanos know how to build suspense and hold viewers’ attention. Many have hailed this as Simon’s best work since The Wire.
While I wouldn’t go that far, I’m looking forward to the next episodes.
Those who have rejoined the improved Israeli version of Netflix – or who stuck it out after the initial lackluster release – will be rewarded starting September 8 with Greenhouse Academy, an English-language, reworked version of the Israeli series Hahamama. It was filmed in Israel and Giora Chamizer, the original showrunner, created it with an American writer, Paula Yoo. It stars American/Israeli actress Ariel Mortman and Finn Roberts (20th Century Women), as well as several Israeli actors, among them Ishai Golan (False Flag).