One of the stranger things about the seemingly endless Golden Age of Television we’re in is how few of the superstar creatives have gone on to do it all over again. David Chase, creator of The Sopranos, hasn’t done much of note since then; David Milch, who created Deadwood, went on to make the flop John from Cincinnati, the axed Luck, and not much else.
And while there are superstar television creators who’ve had a run of hit shows, for the most part what’s been impressive there is the quantity rather than the quality: Ryan Murphy may have just scored the biggest deal in television history to go from Fox to Netflix, but the shows he’s created – American Horror Story, American Crime Story, Feud – are rarely seen as up there with the medium’s best. Pretty much the only A-list creator who’s managed to keep making A-list television has been David Simon, creator of The Wire (which makes him, if not the father of the current wave of prestige drama, then someone with his name somewhere on the birth certificate).
That said, his follow-up series, mostly notably his salute to New Orleans and its jazz, Treme, have been more quirky than crowd pleasing as Simon has followed his own interested in community and culture at the expense of the gripping setting that made The Wire such compelling television. Out now on DVD is the first season of his latest series, The Deuce, and it looks like he and co-creator George Pelecanos have found a city (New York) and a subject (porn) that should pull in the crowds.
It’s the early ’70s, and with the social changes of the ’60s finally making their way up to the law, porn is all set to take off. For the pimps and hustlers working Times Square, their world is about to be turned on its head – but for now, it’s still all about recruiting new girls off the bus. For twins Vincent (a bartender) and Frankie (a dirtbag) Martino (both played by James Franco) the coming world is their chance to make it big; likewise for seasoned sex worker Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who gradually comes to realise that the real opportunities in her line of work lie behind the camera.
The setting is gloriously scuzzy (though the creators have gone to great length to ensure there are plenty of women behind the cameras to make sure this doesn’t come off as too pervy), the characters hard-boiled, and the focus – as usual with a Simon production – is on community. That means this is a series packed with memorable characters, even as the story itself only gradually gets going (and doesn’t move that far when it does). The point here, as with all Simon’s series, is to explore the setting – and a world that, in pre-dating our current commercialisation of sex, looks familiar but at times might as well be on the far side of the moon. The Deuce is more about visiting a strange place and soaking in the sights than racing through a fast-paced story – and Simon remains one of the best tour guides in the business.
By Anthony Morris