Posts Tagged ‘the deuce’

“The Deuce” thoughts, Season One, Episode Two: “Show and Prove”

September 18, 2017

By now, perhaps you can detect the pattern emergingCandy discovering porn, Vincent moving from tending bar to owning one, Lori getting a crash course in street life, Abby choosing la vie Bohème: In case after case, The Deuce isn’t just introducing us to its characters and their world, it’s introducing those characters to their world. And while it may be new to them, the approach is, frankly, getting a little old.

Think of The Deuce as the world’s seediest superhero-team movie – Avengers After Dark, say – but one in which every hero and villain’s origin story is squeezed into a single movie before anyone so much as throws a punch. Or, closer to home, imagine a version of The Wire in which newbies like the young low-level drug dealer Wallace were our entry point into every storyline. Pretend that McNulty’s a rookie cop instead of a seasoned detective; Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell meet for the first time rather than run the gang together; Tommy Carcetti campaigns for student council president instead of mayor, et cetera. No matter how much you love the Marvel and/or Detective John Munch Cinematic Universe, you can see how same-y and sloggy that would get.

For writers, this approach is awfully convenient. It gives you a semi-organic way to include exposition, since someone has to tell these noobs what’s what. And as your protagonists get an eye-opening view of their new world, learn their new role and discover whether they’re good or bad at it, you can quickly assemble their character arcs like so much Ikea furniture.

But for viewers, it’s rote and repetitive. Despite the presence of master crime novelists George Pelecanos and Richard Price in the writers’ credits, “Show and Prove” leads you by hand through the most basic of plot beats – headstrong young women hugging disapproving mothers goodbye, wide-eyed naifs getting their first look at the dark side of the city, down-on-their-luck dudes deciding that this mafioso is different from all the others, yadda yadda yadda. It all feels as predictable as the nightly visit from the paddy wagon that the women of the Deuce. Can we at least get some Chinese takeout too?

The Deuce is suffering from origin-story overload; I reviewed its second episode for my beloved Rolling Stone.

“The Deuce” thoughts, Season One, Episode One: “Pilot”

September 11, 2017

Set in 1971, David Simon’s sleazier-than-thou new HBO show treats Manhattan like a Magic 8-Ball, where losers from the outer boroughs, uptown or across the country get shaken up; the hope is that they come up with a better future for themselves than “REPLY HAZY, ASK AGAIN LATER.” Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Eileen, an ex-suburbanite better known as “Candy,” one of Times Square’s most in-demand sex workers – she can switch identities simply by removing her blonde explosion of a wig. James Franco stars both as Vinnie, a Brooklyn bartender who slaves away seven nights a week, and his dirtbag twin brother Frankie, whose two most prominent personality traits are wisecracks and gambling debts. The renaissance-man actor eases into both roles simply by growing a period-appropriate mustache – a facial-hair accoutrement that transports you to the age of Richard Nixon and Travis Bickle more effectively than a million music cues. It’s a show about transformation, both onscreen and off.

Co-created by The Wire/Treme impresario and his frequent collaborator/acclaimed crime novelist George Pelecanos, The Deuce boasts an impressive array of talent in the executive producer chairs alone, including Gyllenhaal, Franco, director Michelle MacLaren (Game of Thrones/Breaking Bad), and The Night Of co-creator Richard Price. It also comes hot on the heals of HBO’s other big-budget–era NYC period piece from a pedigreed showrunner: The Sopranos/Boardwalk Empire vet Terrence Winter’s ill-fated music-biz drama Vinyl. The two series’ proximity makes apples-to-apples comparisons both irresistible and instructive. One title conjures up the nostalgic idea of a lost golden age, when music, and by extension life itself, was real, maaaan. The other is just a forgotten and nondescript nickname for 42nd Street. This ain’t no dream factory, kids.

[…]

[But] clocking in at around eighty minutes – nearly the length of many of the movie landmarks set in the era it’s portraying – it features a whole lot of … well, atmosphere is putting it generously. As we slowly get to know the sprawling cast, few if any surprises are on offer: smiling pimps with hidden mean streaks, workaholic husbands with restless spouses, college kids dabbling on the wrong side of the tracks, sex workers who (gasp!) have a family they’ve left behind, yadda yadda yadda. It’s tough to justify the sheer amount of screentime involved for figures who do so little but play their appointed roles.

I’ll be covering The Deuce for Rolling Stone this season, beginning with this review of its series premiere. It’s nothing to write home about yet, but to be fair you coulda said the same thing about The Wire after its pilot, too.