David Simon has been at the helm of a number of TV shows since he broke the TV mold with the ground breaking series The Wire. Equally, HBO has delivered countless series which attempted to reproduce The Wire magic. All of their efforts fell somewhat short, failed to deliver the pay-off, dragged mid-season or just plain fell flat. Finally The Wire has a worthy successor in HBO’s latest flagship show The Deuce.
Like The Wire, The Deuce invested time in a languid building of universe and characters. Six episodes in, and little has happened in terms of the plot. David Simon and George Pelecanos have succeeded in building a vivid world which has emerged with well-drawn, likable flawed characters. These fascinating characters have all been set on credible paths that will run parallel to each other, intersect with each other and ultimately make or break each other. To borrow a motif from The Wire all the chess pieces have been placed on the board.
The Deuce stars the outstanding Maggie Gyllenhall and is an American TV Drama set in and around Time Square. Like The Wire the city plays a leading role from the opening sequence and like The Wire much of the action takes place on the streets of the city. Gyllenhall plays Candy, a sex worker who is turning to the emerging porn industry to make her way in life. James Franco also stars as the Twin brothers Vincent and Frankie Martino who become sucked into becoming front men for the mob in New York’s Time Square. Like in The Wire, entire alternative enterprises and the ecosystems they support can thrive and flourish on a curious legal loophole. Alternatively they can die and wither as a result of a meretricious crackdown. The lives and livelihoods of the characters that they viewer invests in can fall to the whim of the latest political fad. And that makes for extraordinary TV.
Fans of The Wire will recognize some familiar faces of Gbenga Akinnagbe( Chris Partlow in The Wire),Chris Bauer (Frank in The Wire), Lawrence Gilliard Jr (D’Angelo) and Michael Kostroff (the slimy lawyer Maury from The Wire). Familiar cast members are not the only overlap. In The Deuce the undercurrent at all times is that of individuals being overwhelmed and squeezed by institutions that do not serve them. In The Wire although the battle was between the street gangs and the police ultimately it was not a story of conflict between individuals. It was a story of men meeting mountains. The Deuce has successfully reproduced this and with it the trademark Simon social commentary and critique.
There’s been some divergence from the model of The Wire so far. In The Wire, when the characters interacted and intersected the results were inevitably a tragic collision. The characters were embroiled in a journey of mutual undoing and destruction. In The Deuce where the characters meet and connect there is opportunity. The show is set at the beginning of the softening of the legislation governing pornography and our characters are overlapping at a time of opportunity. While we are certain this will ultimately lead to tragedy the journey looks sure to expose the underlying inequalities and the failing institutions underlying the American Dream.