This The Deuce review contains no spoilers.
Midway through The Deuce season 3’s first episode, “The Camera Loves You,” former Times Square streetwalker turned arthouse porn director Eileen “Candy” Merrell (Maggie Gyllenhaal) attends the 1985 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.
She and producing partner Harvey Wasserman (David Krumholtz) are there to hock their wares – stylish, slick, and largely feature-length pornography. As they sit behind their ill-attended booth, Candy and Harvey see two men wearing all black along with matching black pimp hats march in with a cadre of onlookers surrounding them.
“Who the fuck are they?” Candy asks, of the men gracelessly appropriating the world she used to live in.
“The Dark Brothers,” Harvey says. “They made a film Let Me Tell Ya ‘Bout White Chicks.It’s just a bunch of fuck scenes set to music but it sells.”
“Why? Sounds like loops.”
“Whatever it is, they’re hot as fire.”
“Why do they come dressed like that?”
“In public they come dressed as pimps. It’s marketing.”
“Any pimp I ever knew would sell those guys for parts.”
David Simon and George Pelecanos’ pornographic period masterpiece The Deuce has always resisted easy categorization. Like its Simonian forefathers in The Wire and Show Me a Hero, it is almost aggressively unpretentious and unadorned. The Times Square and Hollywood Hills of the ‘70s and ‘80s are presented in their full unvarnished and often disgusting glory. There is little to no soundtrack to speak of. Characters are rarely granted the opportunity or time to grow. They merely become more comfortable or languish.
Still, at its best, it remains one of the best dramas on television, because of its own adherence to its honest in-house style…or lack of style. With Candy and Harvey vs. The Dark Brothers, The Deuce isn’t trying to draw a comparison between real art and commercial art. At the end of the day, art is art, porn is porn, and art is porn. The Deuce’s argument is simply just reality, itself. It’s both Candy’s feminist porn films and the Dark Brothers fuck flicks. It’s beautiful and awful and real.
The Deuce eason 3, the show’s final go-around, opens with another now-expected time jump. We’re on the eve of 1985 now and The Deuce brings all the expected mid-‘80s trappings to the fore. The Deuce and Times Square in general is a mess. Apparently Officer Chris Alston (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) and Gene Goldman’s (Luke Kirby) plan to make an honest neighborhood of Midtown has to get worse before it gets better. You can set your watch to the pickpocket attempts on 42nd…if your watch hasn’t been nicked already.
Brothers Vincent and Frankie Martino (James Franco) are more deeply involved with the mob than ever, even as the mob seems to be losing its power. Vincent is trying to make a go of it as an honest man with ex-wife Andrea (Zoe Kazan) while at the same time retaining his boundary-less relationship with Abby Parker (Margarita Levieva). Abby, meanwhile has come a long way from her days as a wide-eyed college student and now those eyes remain laser-focused on social justice and fighting the losing battle against the streets that churn up and spit out the working girls.
Candy remains in the porn world, even meeting a nice man named Hank (Corey Stoll) who has a surprising reaction to her past. Out on the west coast Lori Madison (Emily Meade) continues her ascent as a porn star, even as she begins to lose the battle against time itself. She’s in on the ground floor of the porn industry, but perhaps at the wrong time in her life. Bobby (Chris Bauer) continues to do Bobby things…only this time with a toupee.
Even through all the ugliness, and there is plenty of it with the HIV virus having New York fully in its thrall, it’s sometimes startling how entertaining The Deuce can be. Elevated runtimes of 55-60 minutes are thankfully becoming more rare in a television landscape dominated by algorithms and endless options, but The Deuce comes by its full hours honestly. The key is in the riveting, open-handed storytelling, of course, but also the editing.
The editing on The Deuce has always borrowed a bit from the Dark Brothers in its perchance for presenting small, bite-sized scenes one after another. And now in The Deuce season 3, the scenes have gotten even shorter. I swear there are at least two occasions in the first three episodes of season 3 in which a scene will cut out mid-conversation only to be picked up five minutes later after an interlude with another set of characters.
The effect is not only easy on the attention span but also charmingly suggests a writing staff bursting with love and excitement for all of the various plot threads involved. The Deuce can’t bare to be away from any one character for too long.
In its final season, The Deuce is something of a TV dinosaur. It resembles the long, languid HBO dramas of yore more than the many of the streaming and cable drama/comedy hybrids on the scene currently. But that means little in the grand scheme of TV conversations. “The job is the job,” Lester Freamon once said and in the entertainment business the job is to tell compelling stories.
In the end, HBO and the rest of the world at large has once again benefited from handing David Simon and friends a blank check. The Deuce has always had a way of capturing the way life is and the way it should be simultaneously. In that way it’s exactly unlike the porn it covers…or exactly like it. Depends on the porn you watch, I suppose.
The Deuce season 3 premieres on HBO on September 9 at 9 p.m. ET.