(AOTN) Taking us back to the gritty 1970’s New York City, a time when sex and drugs ran rampant and the porn industry went from being a back-alley, brown-paper-bag commodity to a billion-dollar universal in American life. There was a moment when ground zero for the earliest pioneers in the flesh trade was the midtown heart of the nation’s largest city, New York’s Times Square. HBO’s new eight episode series “The Deuce” starring James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal provides us with a look at this time of both sexual and cultural awakening.
Taking a page out of the “Fargo” playbook, Franco will portray two rival twin brothers who eventually became Mob fronts for the Gambino family in midtown, rising to some prominence in their own right. Those tales – provided by a brother who passed away a few brief months before “The Deuce” began filming its pilot – form one essential strand in the narrative, augmented by additional research and subsequent interviews with other surviving participants who consulted on the scripts.
While “The Deuce” is structured as a fictional narrative, it results from research by producer Marc Henry Johnson, who chronicled the rise and fall of the sex industry during this particular time period.
The story follows Vincent Martino (James Franco) who is a successful and astute barman with a knack for promotion who finds himself – with increasing reluctance – in the center of the city sex trade after he attracts the interest of a well-connected mob player, Rudy Pipilo (Michael Rispoli). A Gambino captain, Rudy represents that New York family’s financial interests in the midtown sex business. After Abby Parker (Margarita Levieva) drops out of NYU, she and Vincent begin a relationship that ultimately challenges them both. Vince’s identical twin brother Frankie is Vincent’s freewheeling, free-spirited counterpart, who gets by on his brother’s support, but is increasingly drawn toward Pipilo’s business interests.
Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal) works as an independent prostitute, refusing to work under any of the multitude of street pimps who control much of the trade along Eighth and Ninth Avenues. She has a son who lives with her parents in the suburbs, but her ambition and intelligence – as well as a weariness with street life – lead her to the emerging porn business, where she sees potential for herself and, perhaps, her fellow streetwalkers.
Darlene (Dominique Fishback), a young but street-smart woman from North Carolina, uses her savvy to manage her volatile pimp, Larry Brown (Gbenga Akinnagbe), while Lori (Emily Meade), a 20-year-old fresh off a Greyhound from Minnesota, is taken into the fold of dapper pimp C.C. (Gary Carr) immediately upon her arrival at Port Authority. C.C. is equally capable of charm and brutality in managing his prostitutes, while Larry Brown controls his stable – Darlene, Loretta (Sepideh Moafi) and Barbara (Kayla Foster) – largely through intimidation.
Chris Alston (Lawrence Gilliard, Jr.) is a cop on the midtown beat who questions his superiors’ methods, if not the entire premise of trying to police the sex trade amid a culture of unrelenting demand for sex and institutional corruption within the New York Police Department. When told to stop policing a particular swath of his precinct, just west of Times Square, Alston starts a quiet inquiry that brings him together with Sandra Washington (Natalie Paul), an aspiring reporter who is probing the sex industry.
Meanwhile, bartender Paul (Chris Coy), inherited by Vincent Martino as he takes over a Mob-backed midtown bar, traverses the early years of the increasingly open post-Stonewall culture of gay New York, all with an eye to running a nightspot of his own. All these storylines merge as some of the streetwalkers, excited by the prospect and promise of stardom, find new work amid the rapid acceleration in pornographic production in New York.
The series was created by David Simon and George Pelecanos and if their work on both “The Wire” and “Treme” is any indication of just what these two are capable of, then we should have no worries about falling in hook, line and sinker for “The Deuce” which will premiere on HBO on September 10th.
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