The Deuce review: HBO and James Franco penetrate the porn industry in one of the best shows of 2017 | tv | Hindustan Times
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The Deuce review: HBO and James Franco penetrate the porn industry in one of the best shows of 2017

The Deuce review: On the verge of a post-Game of Thrones world, HBO has pooled all its resources into this lavish drama about the birth of the porn industry, starring James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

tv Updated: Oct 26, 2017 20:59 IST
Rohan Naahar
Rohan Naahar
Hindustan Times
The Deuce is about pimps and policemen, drug dealers, pornographers, gangsters and sex workers – all of whose lives collide on a street corner.
The Deuce is about pimps and policemen, drug dealers, pornographers, gangsters and sex workers – all of whose lives collide on a street corner.

The Deuce
Cast - James Franco, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Margarita Levieva, Emily Meade, Gbenga Akinnagbe
Rating - 4/5

In June 2016, HBO cancelled Vinyl. The move sent ripples through the world of television; HBO had a lot riding on the show. The rock ’n’ roll drama was supposed to be their next big thing in a soon-to-be post-Game of Thrones world. And they’d left no stone unturned -- spending millions on recreating 1970s New York City, getting Martin Scorsese, Terence Winter and Mick Jagger on board, and even renewing it for another season the day after it premiered, which, in hindsight, was a tad overzealous on their part.

And as big a PR nightmare as it was – cancelling your new flagship show doesn’t really send a positive message out into the world – the fallout was even worse. Videosynchrazy, an expensive new project from David Fincher was shut down midway through filming, and the sci-fi show Westworld was delayed several times amid rumours of a difficult production.

But somehow, through all the rubble, emerged The Deuce.

In many ways, it exists in the same world as Vinyl – grimy, drug-addled, and disillusioned, which makes its survival even more impressive than it really is.

The show’s title comes from the local nickname for 42nd Street, where the Seventh and Eighth Avenues intersect, like the lives of its characters. In that regard – the relatively freewheeling nature of the storytelling, the clash of races, sexes, and socio-economic backgrounds – it’s a lot like The Wire, creator David Simon’s masterpiece.

And like The Wire, The Deuce is the story of the forgotten ones – the sort of people whose murders go unreported, the sort of people who pretend like they don’t have families even if they do, the sort of people who arrive in herds on Greyhounds only to be consumed by New York City. It’s about pimps and policemen, drug dealers, pornographers, gangsters and sex workers – all of whose lives collide on that corner, The Deuce.

In the early mornings – when the sunlight is barely able to make its way through the looming skyscrapers, when the last stragglers are stumbling out of bars – and late at night, when the skies are lit with neon, you can see Times Square in the distance. This proximity to ‘civilisation’, to the normal world, above the seedy underbelly in which the show spends eight episodes, reminded me of New Delhi, where one wrong turn can take you from the grand avenues of Lutyens’ city to the dank gullies behind Chawri Bazaar, a hotbed of vice and corruption.

Each of its characters has the appearance of men and women (and in certain cases, children), who’ve lost every battle they’ve ever fought. And this is the turning point in their lives. From Candy, a jaded sex worker with an entrepreneurial streak – played by the great Maggie Gyllenhaal – to the twins, Vinny and Frankie Martino, played, of course, by James Franco – they’ve all made decisions they regret, they’ve all fallen prey to New York, but this is their time to win back their lives.

And as ubiquitous as James Franco has the tendency to make himself – all the acting, directing, writing, producing, teaching and learning that he somehow manages to do, sometimes all at once – he is very much a supporting character here. And despite playing twins – which, lets face it, he’d always been threatening to – he never really steals the limelight, which gives the other supporting characters a chance to shine.

Over the course of the relatively short season, many of them, despite their rather unpleasant beginnings, gradually – and often against their wishes – reveal the humanity within. And this is David Simon playing to his strengths – The Deuce is yet another towering feat of humanistic storytelling.

Like The Wire, he travels to a different part of the country, and makes pertinent observations about how the Greatest Nation in the World treats its people, the people it would much rather stay hidden in their ghettos and alleys, murdering and overdosing themselves to extinction. It is certainly how we treat our people here.

The Deuce is a way more important show than its marketing would have you believe. They had to sell it somehow, after the failure of Vinyl, and what better way to lure audiences than to peddle them a programme about the birth of the porn industry? But now that their ploy has succeeded, perhaps we could call it what it really is: One of the best shows of the year.

You can watch the Deuce on Hotstar

Watch the Deuce trailer here

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The author tweets @RohanNaahar