“The Deuce”: David Simon Returns with Another Winner

Posted: September 12th, 2017 | Filed under: Culture, Ruminations, TV | 1 Comment »

Back in the day, a musician pal played a couple of gigs with an ersatz rock & roll band up I-65 from Louisville, in the less than Biblical Nimrod Room of an otherwise closed hotel in Seymour, Indiana.

“Come on up,” he implored, “there’s lots of local ladies.”

While flirting with one, the city of Columbus somehow popped up in the conversation.

“I’ve been to Columbus,” she bragged.

After chiming in that I’d been to several Ohio State football games that fall, it turned out she was talking about Columbus, Indiana, a few miles up the road from Seymour.

Perspective. With that one revelation, I understood the difference in our life experiences, the relatively limited expanse of her world.

In the details, there is to be learned much of a person’s personality and world view.

It is just such subtle, telling instances that make David Simon’s TV work so fulfilling. Usually always for the better, but sometime not, Simon immerses the viewer in the culture he’s talking about, giving the plotline context. The characters, personalities, foibles, humanity are constantly being revealed; they are given dimension.

In, for example, “The Wire,” — Still, one guy’s opinion, the best drama ever in any medium — there is the presence of many characters’ love of Lake Trout, a peculiar local “delicacy.” Which generic fish sandwiches are neither trout nor come from a lake, but are a staple of the Baltimore workingperson’s gustatory regime.

It is a knowing, nuanced touch.

In “Treme,” the continued dissection of the Mardi Gras Indian culture, with its elaborate handmade, beaded costumery and surprisingly structured rules of Fat Tuesday engagement, proved so unique to the New Orleans experience and thus was perhaps too arcane for many viewers to comprehend.

But it was spot on.

Simon, along with his cohorts, this time including actress/ producer Maggie Gyllenhaal, is back again with another Sunday night HBO treasure, “The Deuce.” One episode in, and it has the earmarks of another must see classic.

New York’s 42d Street was a grimy, grisly sub strata of society in the 70s, the antidote to the sheen and glamour of Studio 54, though both shared the timeline and ever presence of drugs.

The premier of “The Deuce” proved its creators as expected haven’t shied away from the ugliness. Hookers. Pimps. Blow. Gnarly cops. Streets and alleyways and hallways so fetid you can smell them in your TV room.

Plus those little telling details that prove again what an observant genius Simon and his people are.

There’s a scene in the premier where a young prostitute, fully clothed, is being paid by an elderly fellow to simply sit with him and watch a movie on television. The film is “Tale of Two Cities.”

When the movie ends, the john asks her if she’s read the novel?

“There’s a book?,” she responds with naive curiosity in her voice.

Oh, those telling details that add color and shading to the tale being told. As well as make even the most minor of characters worth wondering about.

It is reported that the series shall settle in with stories of the evolution of the porn industry. But first came the set up. We meet the whores and pimps and mob debt collectors and twin brothers Frankie and Vinnie, a yin and yang set of brothers, both played by James Franco.

One must assume the series will center on his character(s) as well as Candy, the independent woman of the night portrayed by marvelous Maggie Gyllenhaal.

But it’s obvious we’ll meet and learn much about the minor characters, much as we got to know Bubbles and Omar in “The Wire.” It is that depth of examination that sets Simon’s work apart. If history is repeated, we shall savor the characterizations of one and all as much as the story being told.

None of the characters in the opener, stars or others, came across as especially likeable. There is explicit sex. Some of the scenes were uncomfortably vicious, especially one of a pimp and one of his girls in a hallway. The setting made me want to take a shower before heading to bed.

Admitting that my predisposition is to adoring this series, such is my adulation for Simon’s previous work, it shouldn’t surprise I was enthralled despite the uncomfortable subject matter.

Were this on one of those channels where I could have streamed the entire season online, I would have by now, less than 48 hours after the premier, already consumed it in its entirety. And probably would be ready to hit rewind. (I’ve watched “The Wire” all the way through, all five seasons, three times.)

It is almost impossible to comprehend why we’d want to spend time in the seedy quicksand of pre-Disneyfied 42d Street?

Except that it’s David Simon, who is our tour guide, reaffirming how an acute examination of the human condition is always fascinating, whatever the setting.

— c d kaplan




One Comment on ““The Deuce”: David Simon Returns with Another Winner”

  1. 1 Randall said at 3:47 pm on September 12th, 2017:

    Technically, “explicit sex” refers to a pictorial depiction of actual sexual intercourse, which has never (AFAIK) been shown on HBO. (Maybe Cinemax, back in the day, but not HBO.)

Leave a Comment