A huge cast and big story that might just swamp David Simon and George Pelecanos' ambitions
No one does a sprawling TV epic quite like David Simon. After the grand scale of series such as The Wire and Treme, he's gone back in time to the early 1970s as he retraces (alongside longstanding writing cohort George Pelecanos) an origins story of the contemporary porn industry. Set in a lovingly crafted and stunningly detailed 1971 New York, The Deuce (nickname for the peep-show zone of 42nd Street) immediately sets its stall out about the state of this slice of the Big Apple in that moment.
Pimps, hustlers, prostitutes, drug-ravaged lost souls and gangsters populate the area with beatings, deals and sexual exchanges administered in broad daylight (or reasonably-lit night-time), as the occasional police officer pops up to more or less collude with affairs. It's the perfect arena for Simon to point the finger at each and every person and organisation contributing to this maelstrom of hell, while denoting a spirit of humanity where it still might linger.
Amid a vast ensemble of recognisable names and faces (either from Simon's previous work or from the wider Hollywood community), we have James Franco playing two brothers Vinnie and Frankie trying to make their way in this awful terrain through various methods (some moral, others less so), Maggie Gyllenhaal takes on the key role of Candy, a hooker who refuses to adopt a pimp leaving her both independent and hugely vulnerable, while Method Man, Lawrence Gilliard Jr and Michael Rispoli (the actor who was very nearly cast as Tony Soprano) help keep the story ticking over.
Ultimately though, this is story that does just tick over rather than thump with life. Perhaps having to cram so much in with so many characters over just eight episodes seems to have flattened out its effect and the portrayals are less nuanced than in The Wire: you really can boo the bad guys here while rooting for the seemingly endless line of embattled, endangered and exploited women.
The Deuce starts on Sky Atlantic, Tue 26 Sep, 10pm.