(HBO / Fox­tel)

The Monthly (Australia) - - THE MONTHLY - NOTED - by Harry Wind­sor

is still scop­ing out the cor­ner, only this time the peo­ple stand­ing on it night after night are ped­dling their own flesh in­stead of drugs. Set in Times Square in 1971, The Deuce (as 42nd St was known) re­unites Si­mon with two of the writers he worked with on The Wire, crime nov­el­ists Ge­orge Pele­canos and Richard Price, and the show’s cross­hatched den­sity – its en­sem­ble of colour­ful char­ac­ters, some of whom en­ter one an­other’s or­bit only glanc­ingly or not at all – feels fa­mil­iar. So does the amount of time the writers are con­tent to have us wait, lux­u­ri­at­ing in tex­ture and salty pa­tois, be­fore strands of what could be de­scribed as plot be­gin to emerge and then over­lap. The first of the show’s eight episodes is di­rected by Michelle MacLaren and con­spic­u­ously omits a hook: what Pele­canos has called the “big ‘oh shit’ mo­ment” with which the tra­di­tional pi­lot cli­maxes. In­stead we’re in­tro­duced to Vincent Martino (James Franco), a bar man­ager, and Eileen (Maggie Gyl­len­haal), a sin­gle mother turn­ing tricks. Eileen’s col­leagues in­clude a young black girl from Charlotte, a young white one fresh off a Grey­hound from Min­nesota, and a dazed blonde with daddy is­sues who’s in love with her pimp, CC (played by the elec­tric English­man Gary Carr). He’s joined by Wire alumni Gbenga Akin­nagbe and Clif­ford Smith (aka “Method Man”), each a flam­boy­antly dressed “Daddy” with a sta­ble of hook­ers. The girls are kept un­der con­trol by a com­bi­na­tion of flat­tery and threats, doled out in not-quite-equal mea­sure. They con­vene at a cafe dur­ing the day, and at Vincent’s bar after work. The in­ter­sec­tion of these char­ac­ters with the po­lice, the press and the nascent porn in­dus­try – and the way in which the lat­ter was spir­ited into be­ing by the re­lax­ation of the city’s ob­scen­ity laws – pro­vides the grist for the first sea­son. The ten­ta­cle-like pres­ence of the Mob looms over it, too. Vincent makes pay­ments to a cou­ple of made men to pay off debts ac­crued by his brother, Frankie, a hope­less gam­bler, and they’re so im­pressed by Vincent’s re­li­a­bil­ity that they give him the keys to his own joint. Franco also plays the twin, with slicked-back hair and cock­i­ness di­alled up to 11, in a per­for­mance that never quite tran­scends the gim­mick. The Deuce re­calls the “Ham­s­ter­dam” sto­ry­line in The Wire with the in­tro­duc­tion of a no-go zone hon­oured by the cops, but it also dis­tin­guishes it­self from that se­ries in a way that re­flects how TV has changed. It’s an en­sem­ble show fronted by two movie stars, and it has an at­ti­tude to cov­er­age – shot se­lec­tion and vari­a­tion – that’s vastly more am­bi­tious. The direc­tors (in­clud­ing Franco him­self) and de­sign­ers have cre­ated a world that looks as rich as it sounds. The fron­tier per­mis­sive­ness of pre-Gi­u­liani New York once of­fered vis­i­tors the chance to re­make them­selves. For Si­mon, it still does.

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