Maggie Gyllenhaal shines in the second season on David Simon's drama set in the 70s sex industry
Revered writer / creator David Simon specialises in telling complex stories via a sprawling cast of characters. You witness the action from various angles, from bit players to main characters, giving you a deeper understanding of the world they inhabit. The Wire is rightly considered a gold standard television classic (and that's before we even mention Treme, Homicide: Life on the Streets and Generation Kill).
The Deuce (co-created with regular collaborator George Pelecanos) is set in 70s New York, focusing on the sex trade on 42nd Street. Season 2 jumps five years to 1977 (with a disco and punk soundtrack to match) and while a multitude of stories playout the overall theme is the move from the streets to pornography, peep shows and brothels.
Obviously a show about the sex industry tackles gender politics head on. The power disparity is central to the plot, and it's often uncomfortable and troubling. Even an assertive woman and porn entrepreneur like Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is being exploited; Vince (James Franco), the nearest we have to a heroic male lead in The Deuce, helps run a string of brothels and peep show parlours. Although it's interesting to see Vince's girlfriend and bar manager Abby (Margarita Levieva) moving into a more prominent role as an advocate for sex workers rights. However that's part of what makes The Deuce so compelling, we drop in on everyone from pimps, porn stars and prostitutes to bar staff and beat cops for a fully rounded portrayal of a time and place.
Simon knows how to create exceptionally believable characters. The second series of any ensemble piece is often a marked improvement, the introductions are out of the way and the cast are more comfortable in their roles. Maggie Gyllenhaal is fantastic as a woman who has been beaten down so many times but is finally making money and trying to bring some level of art to her work. From her opening strut though the streets of NYC to the hours she spends agonising over shots, edits and filmic techniques, she's the emotional focus of this second series. Franco's wig is a little distracting as Vinnie but it's amazing how distinct he makes Vince and his twin brother Frankie (also played by Franco) who genuinely feel like separate people. But everyone from Lawrence Gilliard Jr as a detective working a homicide case; Emily Meade as an ambitious porn starlet; through pimps Gary Carr, Gbenga Akinnagbe and Method Man fearing their loss of control to Chris Coy as a manager of a gay bar, are richly painted characters. Another engrossing gritty, dark portrayal of the realities of urban life from Simon and if the rise in quality continues with each passing season The Deuce could be another TV classic.
Episodes watched: One—four of ten.
The Deuce, Season 2, is on Sky Atlantic from Tue 11 Sep, 10pm.