The Deuce: Season 1 created by David Simon and George Pelecanos (HBO, Blown Deadline Productions)

Starring James Franco, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Gary Carr, Dominique Fishback, Lawrence Gilliard Jr., Margarita Levieva, Emily Meade, Method Man, Daniel Sauli, Kayla Foster, Don Harvey, Chris Bauer, Chris Coy, Natalie Paul, Michael Rispoli, Anwan Glover, and David Krumholtz.

Red, White, and Blue

Hot dogs. Hamburgers. Football. Country. Bourbon. Basketball. Levi’s. Budweiser. American as apple pie.

When I think about the brand persona of the good ‘ol Red, White, and Blue, these are a few of its favorite things.

Yet beneath these cosmetic representations of civic pride, there’s a deeper concept in the American ethos. The entrepreneurial spirit.

A natural end to the “bring-me-your-poor” narrative, we believe hard work paired with a good idea results in riches. The American Dream pummels us with imagery of the people who started with nothing and ended with the whole world at their fingertips.

Who among us hasn’t considered an idea and concluded there was money to be made. Of course, not all ideas are created equally; for every million-dollar concept, there are thousands hatches in the apartment of Cosmo Kramer.

But the itch for making a buck survives. We continue to believe the institutions that govern us and the systems operating over society provide enough space to play in our little sandbox. We believe that a little more elbow grease than the others means a little more dough and that sliver of a chance to climb the rungs of society.

Of course, life is never this simple.

David Simon and George Pelecanos drink from this well of hope and hopelessness. An avid observer of societal institutions—you probably know Simon from The Wire, but also check out Show Me a Hero while you’re reviewing his CV—Simon turns his avenue for criticism to Times Square in the 1970s. The city’s crack down of prostitution opens the doors for a burgeoning pornography industry.

With The Deuce, Simon and Pelecanos depict the burgeoning prostitution and pornography scene in Manhattan. In typical Simon-ian fashion, The Deuce conjures an ensemble of characters from a wide array of life.

Generally speaking, these characters fit into three categories—threads if you will for the story to unfold over the grime of New York City.

Entrepreneurial Spirit with Mob Ties

Principally a protagonist, James Franco plays double duty as twin brothers Vince and Frankie Martino. Vince works hard to make just enough to support his family, but his entrepreneurial spirit, and to be frank, the gambling debts of his brother Frankie, entangles him with the mob as he builds a bar into the preferred watering hole of the district. The mob, seeing promising talent earmarks Vince and his brother-in-law, Bobby to build “massage parlors” in an organized attempt to clean the city streets from prostitution.

The Trade

As these developments unfold, The Deuce also focuses its camera on the sex trade. While many characters weave intriguing narratives, the key character within these structures is Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Without a pimp, Candy keeps all the money she makes but also risks the dangerous violence of a john without a pimp as protection. Candy, ultimately, dreams of the silver screen and works tirelessly to catch the eye of burgeoning film producer, Harvey Wasserman (David Krumholtz). Through adult film, Candy sees a way out of the dangerous drudgery of walking the streets.

Middle Management

Finally, the camera focuses on the life of the pimp, principally through C. C. (Gary Carr), but also Larry Brown (Gbenga Akinnagbe) and Rodney (Method Man). Even though the role in this trade tends to operate around protection of assets, and much intimidation of the women, the police and bureaucratic systems challenge the roles of these men in society. As the sex trade moves indoors, the pimp gets pushed out.

Through these thematic windows, The Deuce illustrates a gritty, grimey America where everyone hustles to make a buck. While others might conjure pornographic content from such a backdrop, Simon offers us The Deuce as an inquiry into grinding nature of the system, one that disproportionately advances the interests of a few at the expense of the many.

Verdict: 4 out of 5

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