On ‘The Deuce,’ Everyone’s Looking For New Work In ‘The Principle Is All’

A review of tonight’s The Deuce coming up just as soon as I liberate Julia Child…

“It’s America, right? When do we ever leave a fucking dollar for the other guy to pick up?” –Candy

New York is a city in transition at the time of The Deuce, and so are many of the show’s characters, who spend “The Principle Is All” trying very hard to get new businesses off the ground, or at least get out of the job that’s making them miserable.

In the broadest sense, we see the impact of Mayor John Lindsay’s underdog presidential campaign. New York’s national image is growing increasingly dire at this point (even though we’re still a few years away from the legendary “Ford to City: Drop Dead” Daily News front page), and Lindsay wants the help of organized crime to reorganize crime into less visible areas. Hence, Rudy Pipilo’s deal with the Lindsay administration for a collection of “no-go” blocks away from the theater district and other touristy neighborhoods, where prostitutes can work their trade without fear of arrest. (It’s Hamsterdam, but for hookers.) It’s still a developing scheme at this point, and baffling to the likes of Alston and Flanagan, even if it feels no more capricious than the show and prove routine illustrated in last week’s episode.

Pipilo also continues to maintain his interest in the neighborhood through the grand opening of Vinnie’s bar, now dubbed The Hi-Hat. This reinvention is an instant success, as we are coming to understand most of Vinnie’s business ideas tend to be. He knows what he’s doing in this world, and he also knows how to take care of his ever-extended family, from slipping his sister cash after Bobby is hospitalized from a heart attack, to hiring Abby as a waitress when all her previous job opportunities prove too frustrating, to telling Paul to make sure the old Penny Lane regulars know they’re still welcome. The grand opening sequence is a rarity for a Simon show, placing most of the key characters in the same place at the same time — though given The Deuce‘s focus on such a small geographic area, it feels less complicated to do that than even on Tremé — and speaks to Vinnie’s attitude as a guy who wants everybody to have a good time, regardless of race or profession or sexual orientation.

Where Bobby may need to get a new job due to his health, and Abby quits her previous job because she’s bored, Candy sees in the porn industry an opportunity to both make money and take more control of her life and her dignity. She wants off the street, wants to not feel embarrassed every time her mother alludes to what she does for a living, and she sees in porn impresario Harvey Wasserman a possible mentor who can teach her how to make movies and cash in once the American market catches up with what’s happening over in Europe. Candy’s plans are moving slower than other people’s this hour, though: Harvey only has “acting” work for her in one of his fake film shoots, and she winds up at home, dejected as she listens to answering machine messages from the many johns — one of them with the clap, no less — who are her regulars in a business she’s desperate to escape. The whole thing’s enough to wipe off the usual smile she wears out on the Deuce, as she lays into a familiar john about why women actually hate anal sex, no matter what men like him tell themselves.

Elsewhere in the hour, C.C. tries impressing upon Lori the importance of having regular customers instead of working easy in-and-out jobs in the Lincoln Tunnel, but it’s clear from the look on Candy’s face when she listens to her messages (the show once again taking advantage of Maggie Gyllenhaal’s gift for speaking volumes without saying a single word) that regulars aren’t all they’re cracked up to be when you wind up doing this trade for too long. Lori may be eager to learn right now, and Darlene may be so conditioned to the life that she actually invites Larry’s punishment after screwing up, but Candy has her eyes on the exit sign, if only someone can hold the door open for her long enough to make it to the other side.

Some other thoughts:

* David Krumholtz fits right into this world (and era) as Harvey. After Numb3rs ended, Krumholtz put on a good deal of weight, in part due to treatment for thyroid cancer, but if Harvey continues to be part of the show next season, he’ll look a lot different, since Krumholtz has gotten much slimmer since production wrapped:

* Abby’s role in the show so far seems to be as an audience proxy: the comfortable suburbanite struggling to understand why the prostitutes would choose this job. The show is smart about how it frames that, though, by first showing her bolting on a couple of jobs (data entry, phone solicitation) that, while boring, would still be a lot safer and more reputable than what Candy or Darlene or the others do. Even crashing in her friend’s apartment, Abby has no idea how easy she has things.

* While I could follow most of Pipilo’s deal with the Lindsay administration, the business with the Irish mob and the machines at the bar wound up feeling a little too byzantine for me to track. But the end result is the memorable introduction of another character, Big Mike (Mustafa Shakir), who easily takes out the gun-wielding giant who comes to The Hi-Hat to get some revenge for Frankie trashing his machines.

* Speaking of which, Frankie at this stage is less character than plot device, entering scenes to cause trouble, then leaving with a grin while Vinnie and others have to clean up his messes. It’s still a great performance from Franco, and strong whenever the brothers interact, but there’s so much more narrative weight on Vinnie at this point that Frankie’s appearances at times can feel gimmicky.

* Darlene’s black-and-white movie date this week is Mildred Pierce, while Frankie cites Darby O’Gill and the Little People while considering the giant’s much shorter colleague, which is mainly an excuse for you to listen to Sean Connery sing:

* As Harvey tells Candy, you probably don’t want to know what kishka is, but if you’re already a Deuce obsessive who must watch every movie referenced and sample every item of food eaten on the show, Katz’s can ship it to you.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@uproxx.com. He discusses television weekly on the TV Avalanche podcast. His next book, Breaking Bad 101, is out 10/10 and available for preoder now.