A review of “We’re All Beasts,” this week’s The Deuce, coming up just as soon as I’m wearing two left shoes…
“I love this fuckin’ town.” -Candy
“We’re All Beasts” is as compact as a show with the narrative sprawl of The Deuce can get. We check in on most of the other characters, but the focus is on the production of Red Hot, which Candy opts to shoot guerilla-style on the streets she used to walk.
The filming is both mess and triumph, often within moments of one another. Lance Minx, the high-profile porn actor hired to impress the early investors, proves to be a diva with little patience or appetite for the material and the environment in which it’s being filmed. “Candy, can I cut this man?” Larry asks about the insufferable leading man (perhaps the kindest offer he’s ever made on this show), and soon he is playing the Wolf himself, supplying enough raw animal magnetism to compensate for his lack of name recognition and difficulty in sticking to the script. As happened in the prison film he did a few episodes back, his improvisations often turn out to be better than what Candy had planned: “I’m not just selling wolf tickets, so to speak,” is one hell of a line, you know?
Both Candy and the episode do an admirable job merging this fantasy vision with the reality we’ve been witnessing for a season and a half. Cops interrupt a scene by the river but ignore the lack of permit because Candy invites them to watch. Candy preps Lori for a shoot on the Deuce itself by reminding her of the night they met (back in the pilot episode) and telling her to play the scene the way she felt back then. More cops show up, this time because it appears that Larry is preparing to genuinely attack Lori, rather than playing a scene, and their beating of him winds up impressing Rudy, who assumes he’s witnessing movie magic in action.
Rudy winds up signing on as an investor for the movie, the latest example of Frankie’s producer job proving to be both boon and burden. Christina turns out to be a disaster as Red’s grandmother, struggling with the basics of dialogue, handling props and more. Eventually, Frankie works up the nerve to fire his own wife and gets kicked out of the apartment for his trouble. He also uses his old dry cleaning connection to fix a wardrobe problem, and Rudy provides a needed infusion of cash. But Rudy demands 25 percent for his $20 grand, on top of the percentages the other investors already have. The movie looks great so far, but we may be heading for an outcome where it’s a big hit from which Candy earns precious little.
Though there’s darkness in other corners of the story this week, “We’re All Beasts” is pure fun — or what passes for it in the world of The Deuce. And considering how lighthearted it can be relative to its subject matter, that’s no mean feet.
Some other thoughts:
* Vincent and Abby have a calmer talk after last week’s blowup, as he explains in detail the nature and origin of his involvement in the various Gambino-backed businesses. (It’s a nice touch to have Abby admit that, deep down, she always knew, because she’s too smart to not have figured it out before now.)
* Bobby‘s public humiliation from his arrest leads to another outburst at school by Joey. In most families like the Dwyers’, this would involve Bobby getting his son a job on a construction site. Here, it leads to a failed attempt to have him work at the 366, followed by the kid sweeping up at the massage parlor. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, as we see Joey’s racist reaction to the idea of taking orders from a black woman like Bernice.
* A small but welcome touch: When Vincent tries to scold him for how he’s parenting Joey, Bobby turns it back on his brother-in-law by bringing up the kids Vincent abandoned at the start of the series. Vince is mostly presented as a super-likable figure and a bridge between the show’s many worlds, but you get the sense his sons haven’t seen him in a long time.
* We finally go home with Gene Goldman, whose smiling wife and politically-interested kids seem straight out of a campaign ad. But it all turns out to be a sham, as Gene is later shown hanging out with other gay men at a bath house. (This also allows the show to use him as a stand-in for the many allegations that Ed Koch himself was in the closet.)
* The Wire Greek chorus this week was in hilarious form, between Larry’s sheepish head shake when Frankie asks if Tina looks like a grandmother and Leon‘s “Pie ain’t gonna help none, brother” when Frankie tries to distract Christina from talking about his decision to fire her.
* Also Wire-related: Per Megan Abbott, who co-wrote the episode with Stephani DeLuca, when Black Frankie uses Clay Davis’ favorite curse word pronunciation, the script spells it as “Sheeeet.” No i, and only 4 e’s.
* This week’s songs: O.V. Wright’s “Eight Men and Four Women” (Frankie and Christina at Leon’s), Ian Dury’s “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll” (Vincent looks for Abby at the Hi-Hat), Mal Waldron’s “Light’n Up” (Joey & Bobby at the parlor), Betty Harris’ “Nearer to You” (Lori and CC at Leon’s), “Walk On By” by the Stranglers (Vincent confesses to Abby), Judah Eskender Tafari’s “Conquer Me Part 1” (Abby uses Vincent’s envelope to pay for a prostitute to leave town), the Adverts’ “Safety in Numbers” (Abby and Vincent head out for Paul’s club opening) and “Doxy” and “More Than You Know” by Sarah Vaughan (sung by Vaughan at the club opening).
What did everybody else think?