The under-appreciated show is back with a second season that looks every bit as striking as the first, although there’s an unfortunate elephant in the room.
The first season of The Deuce is a real treat. It’s a show that takes its time and is clearly more interested in letting the audience live with the characters and setting than rushing to a conclusion. David Simon and George Pelecanos have more than proven their ability to craft a compelling slow burn with shows like The Wire and Show Me a Hero, and The Deuce is no different.
Despite not being quite the hit that HBO might have been hoping for, the show is coming back for a second season, and its new trailer should have you wanting to binge the first season right away to catch up.
“What’s your dream? What it is about the big city that brought you here?” asks Gbenga Akinnagbe‘s Larry Brown. Despite five years having past, the show’s pimps are still up to the same old tricks, roping in young women as they arrive in New York.
We see some familiar sights: the setting the show is named after and James Franco‘s Frankie looking on at police sirens. Emily Meade‘s Lori is then seen walking down a red carpet, having found some success in the porn industry since we last met her.
Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September” kicks in as we’re reintroduced to the best character of all, Maggie Gyllenhaal‘s Candy. “That’s not my fantasy,” she says, refusing to do any more “Daddy Knows Best.” Back in Season 1, Candy began to make a name for herself directing pornography, after having doubts about how much longer she wanted to work on the streets. She quickly discovered a real passion for this, as highlighted by her line “So how about making something really special?” in the trailer.
Candy is then seen editing film reels and intently watching over a scene, Gyllenhaal’s eyes telling a thousand words. She then meets up with Franco’s other character, Vincent, twin brother of Frankie. One of the strangest choices in Season 1 was having the two brothers look virtually identical, with very little to set them apart visually. Well, enter the late ’70s and Vincent’s new hairstyle.
“You’re like a triple threat,” Vincent tells the accomplished Candy, bringing a smile to her face. Lori then hears a troubling story from one of her co-stars: “After we tape the show, he invites me back to his office… And I’m thinking, now I gotta blow him.” The comment is laughed off, but Lori’s silent gaze and uncertain nod suggest that things need to change.
Next, we see the police cracking down on New York’s sex trade — “We’re proposing a city-wide ban on sex-related businesses.” This naturally includes the massage parlor opened by Vincent last season, which we see is now making a killing. The parlor is then raided, much to the dismay of Bobby, played by Wire alumni Chris Bauer. One of the small delights in Simon’s shows is seeing these recurring actors, and The Deuce certainly delivers on that.
Speaking of which, Lawrence Gilliard Jr.‘s character Chris Alston tells another cop that “They had the word out on the street even before you could drive home to wherever you mow a lawn.” Hinting that the parlor raid may not have been a complete success after all.
Abby (Margarita Levieva) and Vincent then stand on a beach together, the bright sunny setting being in direct contrast with the dingy, nighttime setting of the majority of the show. This peace doesn’t last, however, as Abby angrily asks “Is this place backed by the mob?,” hinting at Vincent’s involvement with mobster Rudy Pipilo (Michael Rispoli). In an ominous shot, Vincent is seen throwing an unknown man down a flight of stairs, before turning away.
We then see an instantly iconic shot of Candy strolling down a dingy street in the snow, wearing a striking coat. Candy and Lori then argue over how much choice they really have in this life. “There is nothing about me that belongs to me,” she spits out, as a shot of C.C. (Gary Carr) standing over her in an intimidating fashion reminds us of the realities that these women face.
“I’m gonna shoot wherever I want, whenever I want,” Candy says in a voiceover, as various other cast members are glimpsed. We finish on another great shot of Candy, confidently saying “Take one” and clapping a board with her name in the director’s slot.
It’s hard to deny how intriguing this all looks, especially given The Deuce‘s strong first season. While some felt the show lacked momentum, most who did stick with it were rewarded greatly by the end. And were left excited to see where the three season plan laid out by Simon and Pelecanos would take them.
Candy’s story is, for me, the heart of Season 1. Although upsetting at times, including one particularly fantastic scene between Gyllenhaal and Method Man, it’s an inspiring look at a woman with no desire to conform to what’s expected of her. And to see her brimming with confidence and succeeding in her work is an absolute delight. Although nothing comes easy in the worlds of Simon and Pelecanos, and several moments of the trailer suggest a continued struggle for the character.
One part of all this that is troubling, however, is the continued presence of Franco. While his double performance impressed viewers in Season 1, the allegations of sexual misconduct against him have raised question of whether he should remain on the show. The past year has rightly forced us to take a look at how we consume media by problematic artists, which is why it’s disappointing to see so many of these cases get swept under the rug.
Lars von Trier’s new movie, The House That Jack Built, releases later this year and even earned the Danish director a standing ovation at Cannes, while discussion of his treatment of singer Björk on the set of Dancer in the Dark seems all but gone. In other cases, Casey Affleck puts a dark shadow over David Lowery’s otherwise excellent-looking The Old Man & the Gun, and Chris Hardwick was recently welcomed back to AMC’s Talking Dead with open arms.
While an investigation was conducted by HBO, the decision was made that they “all felt comfortable moving forward with the second season” with Franco remaining. HBO’s decision also happened to coincide with the announcement of Joss Whedon’s new show, setting a questionable precedent.
It can be difficult to navigate these issues, and I certainly can’t tell you whether or not to watch this or any of Franco’s upcoming projects. And for fans of Simon and Pelecanos, the issue of whether or not to support The Deuce may be a difficult one. Especially when the show already struggled to find an audience last season, despite the excellent work done by Gyllenhaal and many others.
As strong as the upcoming season does look, it’s hard to ignore the problems surrounding it. Especially when the show specifically deals with similar discussions to those being had in the real world. Ultimately, whether existing viewers continue to watch is really down to the individual to decide, as with many of the thorny issues we currently face.