Can the second season of The Deuce meet the expectations set by the outstanding debut season?
The first season of David Simon’s The Deuce was as close to perfect as can be. Strong characters, an engaging storyline, and a gritty atmosphere came together perfectly with strong directing and writing to tell a compelling story. It was no surprise when HBO said they would be bringing the show back.
The story so far: Season one began in 1971. Vince Martino deals tries to deal with his twin brother Frankie (both played by James Franco.) On 42nd Street (the titular “Deuce”) it’s business as usual for the pimps and prostitutes who work there. Things slowly change over the course of the season as a new trend is becoming popular: Men who used to pay for the ladies of the night are now content to go watch movies. Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal) notices the landscape is changing and wants to get her start in the new fad called “pornography.” The pimps begin to feel threatened by the new sexual revolution while corruption in New York City is running rampant.
Six years later, pornography has taken a foothold on the Deuce. Former prostitutes would rather work peep shows or movies than on the streets. Chris Alston has been promoted to detective. Meanwhile, Candy has not only made it into the porn industry, she has become a star and director. For many, it seems as if it is happier and easier times on the Deuce.
Vince still owns his bar the Hi-Hat, but it is now run by his girlfriend Abby while he oversses the disco Club 366. The end of season one saw Vince at moral crossroads. He began as a man who only wanted the best for his family and had somehow become the reluctant owner of a mob-run bar.By 1977, Vince is very comfortable with his decisions. Despite his new financial security however, he still has to deal with Frankie who cannot seem to stay out of trouble. Franco plays the dual parts well. Instead of just playing Vince as the good twin and Frankie as his evil doppleganger, Franco plays each as two distinct characters that just happen to look alike. The portrayals make the show more enjoyable since the audience is not just watching the nice brother try to save the incorrigible one. These are two flawed characters that evoke pity and laughter.
Abby continues her interesting character arc. The last season showed that she was willing to do whatever she wanted if she felt it was right. Sometimes this made her out to be selfish, but as the episodes continued along, it was clear that she was just a strong willed young woman who had her heart in the right place but could not admit when she did not have all the answers.
The already ultra confident Abby is even more comfortable in her decision making. The college student who would make decisions based more on emotion has been replaced by someone who is more willing to look at facts. She can still be impulsive, but she seems to understand the potential consequences of her decisions.
The Hi-Hat reflects her confidence. The decor is more bohemian coffeehouse than seedy bar, the female staff no longer have to wear leotards, and Abby is starting to book bands that play the antithesis of disco — a harder guitar driven music called “punk.” This beautifully plays into the dynamic that she and Vince share. He trusts her decisions, but still does not understand or even like them. The push and pull interaction between the two characters adds a realism to that is not as gritty as the rest of the show.Gyllenhaal did an amazing job in season one and instantly made Candy one of the most endearing characters on The Deuce. She was a tough person whose life was falling apart around her and wanted to turn to the burgeoning pornography industry to turn things around. Candy did not make this decision because she was forced to — it was what she wanted. This along with Gyllenhaal’s eye-opening performance made audiences want her to succeed.
Candy’s struggles have paid off and she is now a respected name in the business who wants to take her porno movies in a different direction. Gyllenhaal still plays the former prostitute as a strong woman who knows what she wants to do and how to get them. There is no hesitation in her decisions and while what she wants to do sounds funny when taken at face value it also gives further insight into her character. (There are some funny scenes that also show she still finds sex unintersting.)
Candy is a great parallel to Abby in many ways. Candy’s relationship with porno director Harvey Wasserman (David Krumholtz) is similar to that of Abby and Vince. Though their partnership is strictly a professional one, there is still a friendly battle between the two, with Candy trying to branch out in new direction and Harvey wanting to stay the successful course they are on.Candy is another example of how more power and responsibility are being given to women. In the first season, there was an undercurrent of females wanting to better themselves, but it also seemed like a hopeless battle. Though they are still fighting from underneath, Abby and Candy have both shown that things are changing for women.
The premiere for the second season of The Deuce introduced the audience to where the characters are six years after last season’s finale. It also set in motion some of the themes that will be explored. The strong writing and acting have shown that this season is ready to continue right where the last one ended.