I finally got the chance to watch The Deuce from start to finish. I finished watching the whole thing, seasons 1 through 3 within four weeks.
James Franco has double duty playing twin brothers Frankie and Vincent. These two brothers are complete opposites, Frankie is a fun-loving hustler, gambling and scheming his way through life. Vincent is all about hard work and doing the right thing, but struggles to make ends meet. Vincent’s luck begins to change when a member of the Gambino family notices Vincent’s work ethic and finds value in recruiting him to front his business interests throughout midtown. Most notably, a mob-controlled bar called the Hi-Hat, located somewhere between Times Square and Hell’s Kitchen.
Eventually, Vincent transitions from running the Hi-Hat bar into becoming the figurehead of the mob’s sex parlor operations in Times Square. Vincent’s love interest Abby is played by Margarita Levieva. Abby is a young college student from a privileged background who moves to NYC for college, but, along the way, decides to go in a different direction. Maggie Gyllenhal plays “candy,” a street worker who moves into porno movies and eventually into writing and directing them.
But the Lori Madison character played by Emily Meade was probably one of the most engaging characters in this series. You get to see Lori arrive in New York City’s Port Authority and her immediate recruitment and seduction into the street worker’s life by the brutal and vicious pimp “C.C.” played by Gary Carr. The entire ensemble of characters and subplots reminds you of the first few seasons of Mad Men. The Deuce moves along pretty fast, and it is because the show moves at a high pace that some storylines end up getting pushed aside. Case in point, the character of Ashley, played by Jamie Neumann. Her character was very compelling. We see her going from streetwalker to having the courage to move away from her sadistic pimp and comeback as an activist. Shedding the Ashley persona aside and returning to the Deuce as Dorothy. Her activism leads to her eventual murder, but her death was never explained, and there were no hints of any possible suspects. It feels weird that the showrunners wrote her off just like that. Maybe there was some dispute here, or perhaps they felt her character wasn’t worth exploring further, and just moved on from her.
It’s all about the Streetlife and the everyday hustle to survive, and Times Square is at the center of it all. A reflection of how the country was changing from the early 70s to the mid-80s. The pre-AIDS era of NYC. Before the purification and the so-called clean up of Times Square in the mid-80s and into the early 90s. The arrival of new technology changing the way porn was consumed. Capitalism, with its big business approach pushing aside all the small-time criminals. The arrival of the Marriott Marquis and redevelopment of midtown which led to the arrival of other corporate-owned businesses which pushed out the majority of the small businesses within Times Square and midtown. A process that enlisted the help of the NYPD and other elected and unelected city officials.
I was utterly captivated by this show, especially for someone like me who walks through 42nd Street and Port Authority at least four to five days a week. I have always been conscious of the dark and sleazy history of Times Square, even before watching this show. Whenever I’m walking down 42nd street, I look around attempting to reconnect with its past-imagining what it was actually like in the ’70s and ’80s. I find myself consumed by this romantic nostalgia of this crime-infested part of midtown, wishing those days were still here. I am thinking of how I would’ve made a fortune if I was in Vincent’s shoes living in that era of NYC. It’s interesting, but I noticed that if you pay close attention, Times Square is still full of hustlers, pimps, prostitutes, dealers, and crime opportunists all over. Still, you have to pay close attention and look around quietly and intently to notice. The parlors and brothels are gone, the street workers, the pimps roaming the streets, the peep shows, the porno theaters, the gay club scene, and even the greasy spoon diners are all gone. You can’t find a decent old school diner anymore in Times Square. Call me an old fool, but I long for those days.
The Deuce is without a doubt one of the best TV series of the last 10 years. David Simon and George Pelecanos created something very unique and special.
Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿
The Deuce (Seasons 1, 2 and 3-Streaming on HBO)