The Deuce is back, and I have a review of the Season Two premiere coming up just as soon as I’m in the same neighborhood as Pam Grier…
“They don’t want to be in a woman’s head.” -Harvey
After Season One ended, David Simon and George Pelecanos told everyone who would listen that the series would be jumping forward in time, and “Our Raison d’Être” wastes little time depositing us in this new era. A title card explains that it’s 1977, but that feels almost besides the point, as the two-minute continuous take that follows it — and follows Candy from the street into Vincent‘s new Club 366 — makes clear that glam rock has given way to disco, with all the music, fashions and dance moves to go with it.
The premiere uses Frankie‘s theft of money from the Show World peep show emporium safe as a MacGuffin to force Vincent to visit all of his Mob-affiliated businesses in search of the cash. We know — just like Frankie, Abby and everyone else in this world — that Vince will ultimately cover for his idiot brother. His quest isn’t meant to be a mystery but rather an excuse for the show, which has always been more immersive than plot-driven, to efficiently catch us up on what the world of sex for money looks like a few years down the line.
In many ways, it’s quite different from where we left everybody. Porn has gone relatively mainstream. Candy is famous enough to have her own advice column (or, at least, one that someone else ghostwrites) and it’s no longer a novelty for Lori or Darlene or any of the other prostitutes to be on a film set. After CC shakes down Lori’s director Bernie for a little extra cash, Bernie complains to her in language that makes porn sound like any other business in 1977: “Everyone here has a job to do, and they show and they do it.” Chris Alston is a detective now, Abby runs the Hi-Hat and is exploring opportunities to help sex workers organize. Paul has his own bar (with a gay clientele) as part of the larger Gambino empire, even as he’s looking to branch out with the help of boyfriend Kenneth. Darlene earned her GED while Larry wasn’t paying attention, some of the prostitutes have babies and the city itself is about to get a new mayor in former congressman Ed “How’m I doing?” Koch.
But the more things change, the more they stay the same — as true in real life as in the Simon/Pelecanos shows that dramatize it. The great majority of Season One’s characters are still hanging around (and we’re told that others like Leon are on the verge of returning). Alston shrugs off the promises of Koch’s Midtown enforcement guru Gene Goldman as representative of yet another empty public gesture from a new administration. CC brags that Lori is now a movie star like Jackie Bisset, but she rightly calls him out for treating her like just another whore in front of the cast and crew. Harvey has been true to his word in letting Candy make movies as well as star in them, but he’ll only let her creativity roam so far. When she tries to edit together an orgasm sequence to convey the way a woman experiences it, he admires the effort but bluntly reminds her that their audience (i.e. men) doesn’t care about that. Candy’s keeping all the money she makes, but that was the same when she was a prostitute without a pimp. Meanwhile Vincent, Bobby, the pimps, Rudy, etc., etc., are all making far more cash off the other women than those women get for themselves. Their bodies are sold, but they don’t profit from it.
It’s a lively premiere, even though precious little happens in it. Season One did such a good job establishing these people and this world that all we really need is to be thrown back into the middle of it for a while to get re-acclimated.
And the climax — in all meanings of the word — is dynamite. As Candy edits a porn scene late at night (getting off on this task far more than she does acting in the films), we cut back and forth between her looking at the footage and Vince and Abby having sex at their apartment. The Deuce creators last year were always careful to say that they didn’t want the porn scenes to be titillating, but the way the two scenes are cross-cut deliberately ignores that edict. At times, it seems that Vince isn’t so much having sex with Abby as with the actress in Candy’s movie, and it’s the two of them climaxing simultaneously, not him and his girlfriend (with whom he has an understanding about fidelity and when each of them are allowed to stray). It’s the kind of sequence Candy herself might put together if she had an HBO budget and the sort of freedom Simon and Pelecanos have, rather than what she can get from a sympathetic but ultimately pragmatic guy like Harvey. This is a fictional show, with actors and a script, and the sex between Vince and Abby is ultimately no more real than what Candy and Harvey are trying to sell to their customers. But it looks different and it feels different, because it’s two people doing it entirely by choice, not for money. There will always be someone willing to pay, either in big bills or in the quarters that Frankie and Irene have to pass around at Show World, but not as many people get the genuine experience.
Some other thoughts:
* Franco’s performance and the context of scenes clearly delineated Vincent from Frankie most of the time in Season One. Still, the hair and makeup team have made it easier on everyone for Season Two by giving Vincent much longer and shaggier hair, while Frankie’s still rocking the pompadour he’s probably had since he was a teenager.
* Also, while Franco continues to be excellent, it’s much harder to watch him in either role this season without being mentally pulled out of the show’s world and into ours, where he was accused of sexually inappropriate and exploitative behavior by multiple women earlier this year. That’s especially true since this is a show about the exploitation and commodification of women’s bodies. For what it’s worth, HBO president of programming Casey Bloys addressed the controversy in July, saying, “When the Franco issue came up, we talked internally… to the executive producers, to Maggie, the actors and actresses on the set. We all felt comfortable moving forward with the second season.”
* Curtis Mayfield is out, and Elvis Costello is in as this season’s theme music, as the credits (now updated to feature more shots of the porn movie business, discos and other late-Seventies imagery) are now accompanied by a new version of Elvis Costello’s “This Year’s Girl.” It combines Costello’s vocals from the original 1978 version with new vocals by Natalie Bergman from the band Wild Belle, to turn it into a decades-spanning duet with a faster beat.
* Other songs this week include: Barry White’s “Let the Music Play” (Candy enters Club 366), Terry Weiss’ “Hold On” (Frankie moving through Show World), Talking Heads’ “Don’t Worry About the Government” (on the radio at Vincent and Abby’s apartment), Funkadelic’s “Cosmic Slop” (the pimps at the shoeshine stand), Jonathan Richman’s “Roadrunner” (playing on a boom box in the editing suite), Bill Wright’s “You’re the Only Thing I’ve Got Going For Me” (cops and pimps eating at Leon’s), LMS’ “Magia De Tu Amor” (Vincent talking to a bookie about Frankie), Lloyd Williams’ “Black Man’s Train” (the Hi-Hat preps for opening), Television’s “Prove It” (on the Hi-Hat jukebox), Them Two’s “Am I A Good Man” (Vincent eats at Leon’s), Zeuss’ “Take a Ride” (Darlene and Abby talk at the Hi-Hat), Giorgio Moroder’s “From Here to Eternity” (Vincent visits Paul’s bar), The Damned’s “New Rose” (the punk band performing at the Hi-Hat), Gentle’s “Bionic Lover” (Paul and Kenneth make plans), Brick’s “Dazz” (playing at Club 366), Rhythm Heritage’s “Theme From S.W.A.T.” (at 366), Ray Sommers Orhcestra’s “All My Life” (at 366), Just Water’s “The Devil Woman” (Tommy takes Vincent to Hodas’ peep show) and New Dawn’s “Dark Thoughts” (Vince and Abby back home again).
* Notable new faces to the show’s larger cast: Luke Kirby from Rectify and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel as Gene Goldman from Mayor Koch’s office and Roberta Colindrez from I Love Dick and Broadway’s Fun Home as Irene, who manages Show World with Frankie.
* David Krumholtz’s thyroid condition caused him to balloon up in size, as could be seen with how he looked as Harvey last year. He now has the condition under control, and if he’s not down to his Numb3rs-era weight, he’s close. Our in-story explanation is not cocaine, as some people suggested on Twitter after the first Skinny Krumholtz pictures appeared, but a wife, Jocelyn (Genevieve Hudson-Price), who has him on a strict diet that he hates.
* Party like it’s 1977: Vincent derisively compares Frankie to Tony Manero, the disco-dancing John Travolta character from Saturday Night Fever. (The movie was only released in December of that year, which isn’t wholly out of keeping since there are Christmas decorations — some of them obscene — in the background of a few scenes, but the odds that both brothers would have already seen it, and absorbed it well enough that one could use it as an insult, is a small stretch.) CC compares Lori to Seventies sex symbol Jacqueline Bisset, whose wet T-shirt in that summer’s underwater thriller The Deep producers later joked made them rich men. Officer Haddix and the other vice cops speculate about whether Ed Koch is gay, a question that Koch was asked (almost always without answering) for his entire life as a public figure.
* The purple outfit CC wears at the shoeshine stand made Gary Carr look uncannily like Prince — or, at least, like Dave Chappelle as Prince playing basketball against Charlie Murphy.
* Frank Sobotka and Jimmy McNulty didn’t interact much in The Wire Season Two, but it was still funny to hear a character played by Chris Bauer utter McNulty’s “The fuck did I do?” catchphrase when Vincent gives Bobby a hard time about sleeping with the massage parlor employees (and, to a degree, cheating on Vincent and Frankie’s sister).
What did everybody else think?