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Blu-ray Review: The Deuce: The Complete First Season

February 13, 2018

By John Corrado

Titled after the nickname given to the area of 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenue, back when New York was still a grimy hotbed of sex and drugs before it got cleaned up in the 1980s, The Deuce is an HBO series that takes place in 1971 and focuses on the early days of the porn industry.  The complete first season is now available on Blu-ray.

Created by David Simon, a former police reporter who is best known for being the creative force behind The Wire, The Deuce tells a dramatized account of how New York City’s prostitution rings and adult movie houses helped the porn industry rise to prominence throughout the 1970s.

The show follows a cast of hookers, pimps, bartenders and police officers, and it’s carried by an excellent ensemble, with James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal – who also both serve as producers – at the centre of it all.  James Franco impresses in a dual role as twins Vinnie and Frankie Martino, the former a bartender who purchases a failing gay bar and transforms it into a booming hot spot, and the latter a grifter who convinces his brother to get into the sex trade by signing the lease on a brothel.​  The actor also serves as director on two of the episodes.

Maggie Gyllenhaal is equally excellent as Candy, a single mother who sells her body for money, but keeps a greater level of autonomy by insisting on working for herself and refusing to have a pimp.  As the show goes on, Candy enters into an unlikely partnership with Harvey Wasserman (David Krumholtz), a porno filmmaker who is breaking new ground by pushing the boundaries of the decency laws, which made it illegal to show certain acts in pornography at the time.

The show deals with a lot of heavy topics including the exploitation of women that exist in these industries, and The Deuce doesn’t shy away from showing the dark realities of sex work, with several shocking moments when these sexual encounters turn disturbingly violent.   The series also shines a light on the experimentation with heavy drugs that was prevalent at the time, as well as the slow but steady progress being made by the gay rights movement two years after the Stonewall riots.

This is a lot of ground to cover, but The Deuce does an excellent job of juggling these multiple characters and storylines, building upon them throughout each of the eight episodes.  By taking the time to develop all of its players equally,​ instead of relying on subplots that go nowhere, the show successfully avoids falling into the same trap as some multi character dramas, with little in the way of filler.

​The production design does an excellent job of capturing the seediness of New York circa the 1970s, when Times Square was still an epicentre of depravity and not the brightly coloured tourist hub that it is today.  This is an entertaining and involving series, that maintains a high level of quality throughout all eight episodes, and it’s worth seeing for the engaging characters and excellent performances.

The 3-disc Blu-ray set also includes a brief featurette to accompany each of the eight episodes, as well as commentary tracks on the first and last episodes, and the two featurettes The Wild West: New York in the Early ’70’s and The Deuce in Focus on the last disc.

The Deuce: The Complete First Season is an HBO release.  It’s 500 minutes and rated 18A.

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