The Deuce: The Complete First Season

| February 13, 2018

It’s difficult for me to take an interest in shows about prostitution because familiar clichés inevitably assert themselves.  Male fantasies about women who are paid for sex often take a turn towards stories where relationships that begin as a business arrangement grow into something more intimate, or the sex is so good that the girl can’t possibly bring herself to charge her customer, or a prostitute who is immoral by default finds it in herself to do the right thing for once.  Not only are these stories played out, I imagine they have nothing in common with reality.  The Deuce attempts to take a realistic look at the sex trade industry in New York in the 1970s, where a network of pimps recruited girls new to the city trying to make their dreams come true.

The cast of characters assembled to tell this story are all really interesting to me.  You have James Franco (The Disaster Artist), who finds himself desperately trying to keep his marriage together while opening his own club and getting slowly drawn into the sex trade world the rest of the show centers on.  I like Franco, but I hope that as I finish the first season of this his character is given more to do – more of a drive.  Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal; Secretary) is the only prostitute working the street without the protection of a pimp, and taking care of herself creates a nice tension surrounding the inevitability that someone will try to hurt her, but the show establishes her as a very capable character who can take care of herself when things like that inevitably happen.  While Candy isn’t in danger of having feelings for a client, she does have what I’ll call great customer service.  A scene in the pilot where a group of friends pay her to take their friend’s virginity stands out as particularly sweet while not betraying what has already been established about the character.

On the other hand, you have Lori (Emily Meade; Sleepwalk With Me), who is picked up at the bus station by a pimp named C.C. (Gary Carr; Downton Abbey), and you spend the first several minutes of their time together watching C.C. lay on the charm and make this girl promises, and you know he’s building to a sales pitch about how she can make a lot of money as a prostitute and she’s going to need his protection when she does and yadda yadda, but she soon pulls the rug out from under him by all but saying she’s in town to be a prostitute. They’re used to help explore that dynamic in this world and have a great scene early on where Lori is picked up by a police officer, who C.C. recognizes as a guy pretending to be a cop and stabs him to death, highlighting her need for him.

While the series is not something I would typically watch, it does have my attention so far.  I like being drawn into this world, and the way the series makes 70s New York feel not only like a character I can watch on screen, but a character I can feel and smell.  It reminds me of the first time I watched Blade Runner on Blu-ray and was blown away by how disgusting the world looked and how much work had to go into creating that repellent visual style.  This world constantly warns you to stay away while simultaneously entrancing you to come a little closer.

Available now on Blu-ray and DVD from HBO Home Entertainment.

About the Author:

Joe Ketchum Joe Sanders is a podcaster, playwright, and college instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. He has a master's degree in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches thought and writing, and is the host of the Quote Unquote Guilty podcast, part of the Word Salad Network.
Filed in: TV on DVD
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