Posts Tagged ‘the deuce’

“The Deuce” thoughts, Season One, Episode Eight: “My Name Is Ruby”

November 3, 2017

The Deuce saved its best, and its worst, for last.

The final episode of the show’s first season is called “My Name Is Ruby” – a title that serves as an assertion of humanity, a prophecy of doom and famous last words all at once. Written by series co-creators David Simon and George Pelecanos and directed by Michelle MacLaren, it’s technically about the moment that the selling of sex became part of the American mainstream. But more importantly, it’s about the people left behind as surplus to the transition. As such, it contains two of the show’s most powerful and upsetting scenes.

I reviewed the strong season finale of The Deuce for Rolling Stone. Your basic B-grade prestige drama overall, with hints of greater promise in the final two episodes.

“The Deuce” thoughts, Season One, Episode Nine: “Au Reservoir”

October 23, 2017

Let’s get this out of the way: What we have just witnessed was, hands down, the best episode of The Deuce yet. By a lot. Titled “Au Reservoir,” it’s funny, scary, sad, sexy and entertaining as hell from start to finish. How did this so-so show get so damned good so suddenly?

The answers may lie behind the scenes. This episode was directed by co-star James Franco, who previously helmed one of the series’ better installments. Judging from his two turns in the driver’s seat, he’s got a knack for finding the warmth and humor in the characters and their plights; you can see the kind of actor he is reflected in the work he gets out of others.

Screenwriter Megan Abbott likely deserves the lion’s share of the credit. Along with George Pelecanos, Richard Price and Lisa Lutz, she’s part of the murderers’ row of crime novelists who share the show’s scripting duties. But her writing delivers in ways even the best bits of previous episodes never did.

The Deuce Disliker has logged off and the Deuce Enjoyer has logged on: I reviewed tonight’s terrific episode for Rolling Stone.

Honestly? Watching shows written by the most acclaimed novelists in the crime genre hasn’t done much for me beyond make me wonder what the hell is going on in the crime genre. I guess pretty much the same thing that goes on in every genre. Patrick Rothfuss is well-reviewed, you know? But Abbott’s work on this episode redeems the field as far as I’m concerned.

“The Deuce” thoughts, Season One, Episode Six: “Why Me?”

October 16, 2017

Last week, The Deuce staged a war of words that saw its combatants, Candy and Rodney, criss-cross their stretch of 42nd Street. This week’s episode (“Why Me?”) tries a different but equally effective tactic: From the big-picture meta-plot to the individual storylines, everything seems headed the same way all at once. It’s the first installment of David Simon and George Pelecanos’s period piece that doesn’t feel like bits and pieces stitched together, but a cohesive whole.

I reviewed this week’s episode of The Deuce, basically the first one I enjoyed, for Rolling Stone.

“The Deuce” thoughts, Season One, Episode Five: “What Kind of Bad?”

October 9, 2017

You don’t need to be a perfect show to produce a perfect scene – and tonight episode of The Deuce (titled “What Kind of Bad?”) proved it.


It’s the kind of scene where you can feel the filmmakers realizing exactly what they can do with the ingredients at their disposal, liked winning Chopped contestants. Take one tablespoon of Maggie Gyllenhaal’s sad-eyed glamour, with a pinch of the unpredictability inherent in her low-key acting style. Add in Method Man’s mellifluous voice, and the way he always looks and sounds like he’s sizing up everyone in the room for strengths and weaknesses. Sprinkle in the unending ebb and flow of people and cars on the street, providing a dynamic background perfect for a clash between two titans.

But by showing how strong this show could be, it serves to highlight how weak it currently is otherwise.

I loved the duel between Maggie Gyllenhaal and Method Man’s characters on this week’s episode of The Deuce, which I reviewed for Rolling Stone. The big question now is whether this is the show finally getting its sea legs (which has happened many, many times in recent history—cf. The Leftovers and Halt and Catch Fire) or if it’s just an anomaly.

“The Deuce” thoughts, Season One, Episode Four: “I See Money”

October 2, 2017

it’s not the story’s bleakness that’s the problem — a show about the desperately impoverished and routinely victimized has every right to be dour. It’s the drab story-telling that rankles here. Every scene lands with a thud, a stepping stone toward the next plot or character beat. You can rattle off descriptions without once needing to dig for layers of meaning: “Paul has dinner with his wealthy lawyer boyfriend, who’s nervous about being outed.” “Darlene shows Abby how to mend a broken shoe, a practical skill the slumming rich girl has never needed to learn.” “The mob beats a construction worker who wasn’t playing ball to keep his coworkers in line.” Quick: Can you think of a single scene in this show that would require more than one sentence to sum up?

I reviewed this week’s episode of The Deuce for Rolling Stone. It suffers from the exact problem the Evil Editor diagnosed in the awful fifth season of The Wire: “If you leave everything in, soon you’ve got nothing.” Basically, it’s juggling so many characters that it has no time to do anything complex with any of them, except maybe Candy, who deserves way more time. The fact that there are two James Francos crammed into this thing says a lot.

“The Deuce” thoughts, Season One, Episode Three: “The Principle Is All”

September 27, 2017

Despite the abundant charms of this episode, problems remain. Why is James Franco playing twins? Like, narratively speaking? It’s easy to understand stunt casting like this when it enables writers to depict two distinct personalities using a single actor, insinuating that they’re two competing aspects of human nature. That’s how Kyle MacLachlan’s Dale Cooper/Dougie Jones/Coop-elganger Twin Peaks trinity worked; it animated Ewan McGregor’s performances in Fargo‘s last season as well.

But Vinnie and Frankie are more like two peas in a pod than two sides of the same coin. They look alike, they sound alike, they groom their facial hair alike. They even work at the same place for the same mobster boss. In theory, Vincent’s way more responsible – working man, business owner, yadda yadda. He’s also more likable, able to get along with pimps, prostitutes, cops, mafiosi, straight waitresses, gay customers and even violent vagrants like this episode’s sinister breakout character Big Mike. But is the way he ran out on his wife and kids to make a new life for himself in Manhattan really any less reckless than his brother racking up gambling debts or busting open jukeboxes to steal their cash? On the flipside, is Frankie’s boyish charm really that different from his more straight-and-narrow brother’s people skills?

I reviewed this weekend’s episode of The Deuce for Rolling Stone. In the words of History of the World Part I, “Nice. Nice. Not thrilling…but nice.”

“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.