First thought upon watching the premiere of HBO’s The Deuce: Man, Times Square used to be a lot grimier than it is now.
Second thought upon watching the drama’s first episode: Man, there is a lot of male genitalia in this show.
And while those two items in no way tell the whole story of David Simon’s (The Wire) new 1970s-set series starring James Franco, they’re hard to miss in The Deuce‘s inaugural episode. That’s as it should be, seeing as how the drama tells the story of a New York City steeped in sex, drugs and bellbottoms, where prostitutes, businessmen and college students trawl midtown for a “date,” a pharmacological pick-me-up, a drink and other assorted good times — both legal and otherwise.
As TVLine’s Dave Nemetz pointed out in his spot-on review of the new series, The Deuce‘s premiere is less an example of a traditional hour-long drama and more a collection of sketches introducing us to Times Square’s early ’70s denizens. Franco’s Vinny, a working class guy who manages two bars and is estranged from his wife, is one of the first characters we meet: He can’t seem to catch a break, especially when thugs hunting down his identical twin brother find him instead. Vinny’s sibling, Frankie, likes to bet, often loses and then goes into hiding — meaning he owes a bunch of semi-scary people a ton of cash. Frankie eventually shows up at his brother’s bar, and it’s all very Orphan Black of Franco, but the real fun lies with the episode’s other characters.
The most compelling of these is Candy, an independent (read: pimp-less) and enterprising prostitute played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. Candy has a son who lives with her disapproving mother; though we don’t get a lot on that story in the first episode, safe to say that Candy’s not quite the everything-under-control businesswoman her self-assured façade — and an entertaining transaction where she insists an overeager teen abide by her “one ticket, one ride” policy — suggests. There’s also Abby, a New York University student (played by Revenge‘s Margarita Levieva), who gets busted by police while trying to buy her friends some uppers but winds up having a drink with Vinny by the end of the episode; C.C. (Downton Abbey‘s Gary Carr), a pimp whose surface sweetness with his girls erodes in bloody fashion the minute one of them decides to make a decision for herself; and a whole bunch of other characters who’ll likely have more to do in future episodes. Mixed in, just so we don’t forget that we’re in 1971 NYC, there’s a lot of piled-up trash and porn houses and phone-booth sex acts for anyone to see.
If it sounds like not much happens in the nearly 90-minute premiere, that’s because not much does — and that’s not a knock on the show. Instead, we learn tantalizing snippets about the many people we meet; the most memorable of these is when Vinny, who has moved into one of midtown Manhattan’s less-than-savory motels, chooses not to step in as he watches C.C. punish a defiant prostitute by carving into her arm with a blade.
On the whole, we liked The Deuce — but now we want to hear what you thought. Grade the premiere via the poll below, then hit the comments to elaborate upon your choice!