The Deuce, the HBO drama co-created by David Simon and George Pelecanos of The Wire, is back for a second season with more guts and a little more glitz atop the usual heaping helpings of sleaze. The series picks up with a time jump from 1972 to 1977, from the years when pimps ruled Times Square and obscenity laws began to relax to when the porn industry began to climax (pun intended, obviously) before approaching the midstream. The series title matches up to the era’s nickname for 42nd street in Manhattan, and the show’s players are still either completely entrenched in the sex industry or circling the edges with their own agendas in this occasionally heartbreaking world.
Season 2, which debuts on HBO on September 9, signals big shifts and evolutions for multiple female characters, while their male counterparts largely have not changed. (A crude oversimplification of matters, but not false.) Two main male characters return in caricature form as Vincent and Frank Martino, the stunt-twins played by James Franco. Vin’s still mopping up Frank’s messes, and the pair gets pulled further into business ventures (including a disco club, peep show, and dry cleaner) that serve as fronts for the Mafia. Frank lies, cheats, and steals while regretting nothing, and Vin remains the worrier and the one who covers everyone’s asses while letting his own fly unprotected in the wind. Elsewhere, the men are cops who are still struggling to adjust to this newish reality, or they’re pimps, who are, in the case of C.C. (Gary Carr), slightly wealthier, but only because his alpha girl, Lori (Emily Meade), is now acting in porn films.
Yes, this season, set during the during the Golden Age of Porn and Disco, is for the ladies. There’s even a lady agent, cunningly played by Alysia Reiner (best known as Fig from OITNB), waiting in the wings. The turning of the tables is almost hilariously forecast in the first episode by a painting of poppies inside Vin’s bar, now run by Abby (Margarita Levieva). It remains unsaid that the artwork looks like a vagina, all while Vin insists that the painting must be upside down, not that flipping the painting to the “right side up” would change anything. And that’s a nod to the unapologetic side of The Deuce. The show has always resisted the resistance to change, while also not falling prey to clichés like the familiar “hooker with a heart of gold.”
The season quickly sets up what’s happening for Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who’s on top of Times Square. This is a stark contrast to her season one plight, where she remained the one prostitute who stood firm in refusing the hand of anyone who’d take a cut of her earnings. “Nobody makes money off my pussy but me,” she insisted last season, although Rodney the pimp (played by Method Man) cruelly taunted Candy after a john beat the holy hell out of her in a hotel room. A handful of years later, her efforts to not only start acting in porn but step behind the camera have paid off, and Candy is seen striding confidently down the street, where she swears she’ll never work again.