Entertainment » Television

The Porn Industry, Women's Rights & More in 'The Deuce' Season 2

by Jason St. Amand
National News Editor
Friday Sep 7, 2018

The creators behind HBO's ensemble drama, "The Deuce," have a lot on their minds. In its ambitious second season, which bows Sept. 9, "The Deuce" follows an array of characters in New York City who navigate the constantly changing and evolving pornography industry as well as the sex work industry. The show is used as a soundboard of sorts that echoes some of the biggest hot button issues of today while being set in the exciting late 1970s.

Though they couldn't be more different when it comes to content, "The Deuce" may be the closest thing modern TV has to "Cheers" and "The West Wing." "The Deuce" is a rough and risqué series created by David Simon and George Pelecanos - the duo behind "The Wire," but it is essentially a hangout show that is tightly fused with a workplace drama. Set in the early '70s, the first season of "The Deuce" used the dawn of the porn industry as a backdrop - a way to lure HBO viewers into the show while developing dynamic characters that hooked fans and has them returning for more. For its second season, "The Deuce," set five years in the future (1977), finds the porn industry in full swing. Making X-rated content has become a viable career for many of the characters in the show, as the porn industry has become mainstreamed and somewhat legitimized.

James Franco in "The Deuce." Photo credit: HBO/Paul Schiraldi

That there is a significant time jump, the second season of "The Deuce" has the difficult job of reintroducing its characters. The first episode opens up with a beautiful tracking shot of Maggie Gyllenhaal's Eileen - the former independent sex worker known as Candy turned porn star/director. Wearing a stunning white romper and fur coat, she's seen walking down the gritty streets of Manhattan and into a thriving and dreamy disco club as Barry White is blasting. There, a number of characters orbit around Elieen, offering updates about their lives.

Things seem good, for the most part, for a number of "The Deuce" regulars, like Lori (Emily Meade), who has gained moderate success as a porn star. Same for Darlene (the excellent Dominique Fishback), who is covertly continuing her education while doing porn, but eventually realizes she's getting paid less than her white counterparts. Even some of the pimps are getting in on the action, like Larry (Gbenga Akinnagbe). The violent and unpredictable C.C. (Gary Carr) is also trying to figure out new ways on how to profit off his women, including Lori.

But the opening scene makes it clear: This is Gyllenhaal's show. Elieen is at the center of this world and grows more and more ambitious each day she's on set, directing young women and men through sex scenes. Like Season 1, she's got the help of Harvey Wasserman (David Krumholtz), a fellow director who has risen to the top of New York's porn business, which is now bumping up against L.A.'s porn industry. Over the four episodes provided for review, Elieen becomes less satisfied with her position in porn and is looking to take the next step - making a "real" movie. Her idea is to make two cuts of "Little Red Riding Hood": An x-rated version and a hard R version. She's bent on getting her project off the ground and possibly breaking from the porn industry to start bigger and better things.

Then there's the Martino twins, Frankie (the screw up) and Vinnie (the responsible one), both played by James Franco. The brothers continue to run their highly successful Times Square bar, which is still a mob front. Things are pretty much the same with them, with Frankie running around "borrowing" money from the business to gamble and Vinnie cleaning up his mess. Vinnie's girlfriend Abby Parker (Margarita Levieva) is still bartending but is helping usher in the upcoming punk rock revolution by allowing bands to play at the bar. She's also focused on helping the women sex workers who often frequent her joint and later reunites with a familiar Season 1 face to take some serious action. Speaking of bartenders, Paul (Chris Coy) has also set high goals for himself. He and his partner are planning to open a high-class supper club aimed at New York's blooming queer community. But he doesn't want any help from the mob, which could pose a problem.

Gary Carr and Emily Meade in "The Deuce." Photo credit: HBO/Paul Schiraldi

That's a whole lot of plot and there's still more not mentioned here. But the creators behind "The Deuce" do a solid job at laying down story and the ensemble cast only elevates the material, bringing humanity and hubris to the characters they inhabit. A special shout out goes to Gyllenhaal, however, giving one of her best performances of her career and totally stealing the show.

In the Me Too Movement, it is impossible for "The Deuce" to ignore today's climate. By focusing the show on the women this season, the drama turns a period piece into a relevant and modern show. There is very little shame aimed at the women on "The Deuce" and Abby's story of joining a justice group for women and female sex workers is an important part of this story. There's also a fascinating scene involving Elieen performing a sex act on a possible financier for her film that's complicated and deserves to be examined.

For some, "The Deuce" will be a bit awkward, however, knowing that the show's star, Franco, has been accused of sexual misconduct in real life. His presence here may raise some difficult questions for fans of the drama. Still, Franco is not the heart and soul of "The Deuce" and there are so many other dynamic characters for viewers to follow.

Many of the show's female characters' attitudes towards sex, sex work, sexuality and the way in which one can profit from sex is incredibly progressive. They believe that sex is a art form, and with the rise of John Waters and Andy Warhol, many question what qualifies as legitimate art. For many of them, filming a sex scene is no different than paining a soup can, eating dog feces, or filming Robert De Niro riding around in a taxicab. The late '70s were a strange and exciting time to be a woman and "The Deuce" is here the recapture that changing world, one porno flick at a time.


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