I just wrapped up season three of The Deuce and I’m ready to write my review. The executive producer of The Deuce is David Simon from The Wire fame and the show aired on HBO between 2017 and 2019. It’s a raw show that tackles the emerging sex and pornography industry in New York during the 1970s and 1980s.
When it worked, it worked quite well although it’s not a show for the easily offended. When it failed, it fell terribly flat. This being the case, it’s not particularly easy to write a simple review. Is it good? Is it bad? It’s both.
The Story is the Thing
The first season of The Deuce is the best and I think this is because it committed to telling a story. Multiple stories. There is an ensemble cast including James Franco in dual roles as Vincent and Frankie Martino, Maggie Gyllenhaal as Candy/Eileen, and a host of others.
The story of that first season revolved around Vincent as a business owner and Candy as a prostitute. They are surrounded by a colorful cast of pimps, police officers, and prostitutes. It’s basically telling three stories through a variety of characters. That of police corruption, organized criminal presence in business ownership, and prostitution.
What makes the first season good is the intersection of these three stories with the lives of all the characters. It’s raw, very raw. I found the sexual content over the top but, considering the nature of the story, I understand why they went in that direction.
We get to know corrupt police officers and those officers fighting the good fight with integrity. We meet mobsters who care and those who do not. We learn about the lives of pimps and whores and prostitutes who choose to work without a pimp.
It all comes together nicely. The first season, if you can get past all the lurid content, is fantastic.
The Lost Story
Starting in the second season The Deuce loses track of the underlying story that brought it all together and starts to focus on the characters. There’s nothing wrong with deep character development and watching as them change over time. The drug culture, VCRs making pornography available privately in the home, organized crime, the city of New York’s attempt to clean up the region, and the deadly AIDS epidemic.
The problem is the plethora of characters means we mainly just get one vignette after the next. First, we’re with Vincent for a one-minute scene and then Eileen for another. We jump from scene to scene between the many characters rapidly and meanwhile the underlying story gets lost in the minutia. It’s just too much and the story grinds to a halt while we learn more and more about the lives of each of the characters.
There just isn’t enough time to tell all the stories. There are plenty of good moments and the acting is outstanding. The sets are amazing. The passion is evident. There’s just not a good story to hold it together anymore.
The Tragic Lives
The third season focuses even more intensely on individual characters but some of the most intriguing old characters are gone. Larry Brown and his burgeoning acting career. Darlene’s transition into the life of a nurse. Gone.
New characters arrive and their stories take up a large amount of screen time but don’t really advance anything. It’s all character studies and no story. Nothing affects anything else. When Lori kills herself there isn’t time to show how others deal with the tragedy. It’s never mentioned again by anyone. Well, that’s that, let’s move on to someone else.
Abby’s wealthy family ties? Not enough time. The newspaper stories? Nope, too much else going on. Eileen’s son?
I’m not opposed to all the unhappy endings. I don’t think everything needs to be tied up in a neat little bow to make the audience happy. There’s nothing wrong with leaving things ambiguous. I do think the story needs to end with something though, anything satisfactory, whether good or bad. Here it all just fades away.
The first season is absolutely outstanding. I really enjoyed it and perhaps that’s why I found myself so disappointed in the second and third season. The Deuce just lost track of telling a story and instead focused on the lives of the characters too much.
You may disagree.