If the pilot episode of The Deuce was an exercise in extended scene-setting, throwing us without a life jacket into the seedy world of 1970’s New York, then second episode ‘Show and Prove’ adds a deeper sense of narrative momentum to the equation and begins to connect up the dots as to where the series is heading. Namely, we finally get some porn in this one!
Looking back, it feels an odd choice that the ‘Pilot’ almost completely avoided straying down that road, choosing instead to immerse the viewer in the texture of the area of the titular ‘deuce’ and the myriad players who will be at the centre of the formative pornographic movie industry as we know it. By the end of this episode, a clearer route exists to follow.
The whole idea that pimped-out hookers may serve as the ‘founding fathers’ of the porn industry is a fascinating one from a moral perspective, thrown into focus when regularly physically abused but streetwise hooker Darlene (Dominique Fishback) discovers an early, underground porn shop is selling videos under the counter of she and a client, recorded as part of her service. Porn at this point is unlicensed and without any sense of style or production value (the badly projected movies don’t even have any sound).
One feels Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Candy is starting to see the untapped potential, having unexpectedly shot a porno in the basement of a two-bit guy with a camera; she’s an example of how many characters in The Deuce have fallen from a level of grace, given her middle-class family homestead where her son is being cared for by a frustrated grandmother, and how the series likely will revolve heavily around these people attempting to embrace the possibilities of the decaying American Dream through this grimy, immortal burgeoning business. Drop out student Abby (Margarita Levieva) could well be a young Candy in waiting, given the path she seems to be heading down – rejecting suburbia for the bright lights, big city.
Such a choice comes with an inherent level of danger, which Minnesotan country girl come new girl on the street Lori (Emily Meade) discovers as her dynamic with ruthless pimp C. C. (a show stealing Gary Carr, full of slick brio and callous disregard) shows how far he’s willing to go in order to protect his business ventures, killing a man posing as a cop. It’s a sudden, vicious turn and exposes the show to that rippling underbelly of violence coursing underneath the seedy glitz and fake glamour of the world of hookers and skin flicks. C.C. displayed a similar brutishness in how he threatened slightly faded, past her prime prostitute Ashley (Jaime Neumann) in the first episode; if the show has a burgeoning villain in those terms, he represents it. The pimps here are most certainly going to not appreciate the porn industry hoovering up their investments.
Quite how James Franco’s bartender Vincent (and his twin brother Frankie, also played by Franco) play into the industry to come (excuse the pun) at this stage is unclear. Vinnie’s failing marriage leads him to invest all his time into tending bar, but his involvement with mobster Rudy (Michael Rispoli) could well cue in an organised crime angle, alongside the hookers, as to how the porn endeavour becomes financed. Rudy may appear to be affable charm personified, but there’s a quiet sense of danger about the man Vinnie could well end up taking for granted, as he too sees Rudy’s offer to own a bar he hands to him on a platter as his opportunity to climb out of the proverbial gutter.
Everyone almost has something to ‘Show and Prove’, as the obstructive local PD picking up hookers on a nightly basis state, in this episode of The Deuce. This second outing builds on the textures and stylistic feel of the pilot and adds more detail, a stronger level of clear narrative, and continues backing it up with whip smart dialogue (the Martino brothers exchange about Dick van Dyke was glorious) and that immersive feel. The Deuce makes you feel like taking a bath after watching, and that’s surely some high praise.
The Deuce airs on Sky every Tuesday. Are you watching the show? Let us know what you make of it…