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HBO’s ‘The Deuce’ chronicles New York City’s early porn boom

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Pimps stake out the scene in The Deuce.
Photo: HBO / Courtesy

Three and a half stars

The Deuce Sundays, 9 p.m., HBO. Premieres September 10.

It can’t be easy to follow up one of the most acclaimed and influential TV series of all time, and The Wire creator David Simon has had a tough time living up to his signature series since it went off the air in 2008. Simon’s new HBO drama The Deuce, co-created with longtime collaborator George Pelecanos, is unlikely to overshadow The Wire, but it’s still the most accessible and most purely entertaining show he has worked on since the iconic Baltimore crime drama. Like The Wire and all of Simon’s subsequent work (Generation Kill, Treme, Show Me a Hero), The Deuce is meticulously researched and painstakingly detailed, with a large (maybe too large) tapestry of characters representing its place and time.

That place and time is New York City’s Times Square in 1971, when the city was at its grimiest and seediest and prostitutes walked the streets with impunity. The players in The Deuce include plenty of familiar Simon figures—cops, mobsters, reporters—but the most intriguing angle is the birth of the American porn industry, as loosening regulations allow for hardcore films to be openly shown in movie theaters and peep-show booths. It takes a little too long for the show’s eight-episode first season to bring its focus to the porn industry, and the middle episodes in particular are dominated by less compelling, more conventional storylines.

But even the more thinly sketched characters are engaging to watch, and Simon and his collaborators effectively re-create the NYC of the past, closely enough that you can feel the grit. Big-name stars James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal (both also producers) are the main draw, but the ensemble is full of talented players, including a number of Simon regulars. Franco does double duty as a pair of twins who get involved with running the sex trade—one reluctantly, the other less so—but one Franco would probably have been enough. Gyllenhaal, however, is outstanding as a smart, ambitious streetwalker who makes the leap into porn, as both a performer and a director. Her story is just getting started as the season ends, but it provides plenty of promising material for future seasons.

Tags: Film, Television
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Josh Bell

Josh Bell is the film editor for Las Vegas Weekly, where he's been writing movie and TV reviews since 2002. ...

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