Your new Monday night TV obsession
NEW York City in the 1970s wasn't the tourist-friendly and gentrified cosmopolis it is today.
A cesspool of crime, sex, drinking and gambling, Manhattan was a magnet for people looking for a good time and those willing to provide it … for a price.
Before it was "cleaned-up", theatregoers from nearby Broadway often had to wade through a stretch of midtown nicknamed "The Deuce". There, you would have found yourself confronted by prostitutes, pimps and petty crims trying to sell you an eightball.
It's the kind of place where if you found yourself with a knife to the stomach, you shouldn't expect someone to come to your aid - everyone will slowly walk away like nothing had happened.
This is the world David Simon and his writing partner George Pelecanos has decided to take on.
And like all of Simon's previous work (The Wire, Treme, Homicide: Life on the Street and Generation Kill) he has approached it with a remarkable respect for detail, courtesy of his journalistic background.
The result is The Deuce, a vividly drawn TV universe that transports you to those hard streets, right there with the hotpants, the afro wigs and the stench of garbage in the air.
A series of almost interlocking vignettes, The Deuce is the story of those who live and make a living around that neighbourhood, at a time of worsening crime and the dawn of legal pornography.
If there is a heart of The Deuce, it's twins Vincent and Frankie (both played by James Franco), whose lively bar functions as a sort of gathering place for many of the characters. A well-meaning Vince strikes a deal with mob boss Rudy (Michael Rispoli) to help pay down his brother's gambling debts, which lands him deep in the dirt.
The other main story strand is that of Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal), an enterprising and pimp-less sex worker who sees the business opportunities opening up in pornography (fun fact: pornographers use canned potato soup to simulate semen, you learn so much from this). Candy is resourceful and smart - you can always see her brain working - and Gyllenhaal is exactly the right kind of actor to pull off that character's complexity.
Every character that populates The Deuce feels fully realised, from Darleen (Dominique Fishback), a young prostitute who would rather be reading A Tale of Two Cities, to NYU dropout Abby (Margarita Levieva) who manages to reference the existentialism of Camus without sounding pretentious.
But The Deuce isn't just about its vibrant characters.
The production design is on point with its textured spaces (those gritty $10-an-hour hotel rooms) and the ever-present trash littering every street surface. The costumes are next level - especially the lurid fashions favoured by the menacing pimps.
Against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, The Deuce has a lot to say about the power structures of its era - gender, class, racial, generational - framed through the morally compromised side of life. But it doesn't judge the inhabitants of this seedy strip - they're just trying to get their hustle on. It emphasises humanity and empathy.
Be warned though if you're on the prudish side - there is a lot of nudity, including copious shots of peen.
Watching The Deuce is like stepping through a time warp - you could easily tune out the 21st century outside your window or the smartphone sitting by your side.
It demands you dive in to its vice-filled world. You may feel a little dirty and tainted afterwards but it is so electrifying, you won't be able to resist its sinful charms.
The Deuce airs on Mondays at 11am and 8.30pm on Foxtel's Showcase channel.
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