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TV Shows we love: The Deuce

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Once nicknamed ‘the Deuce,’ the junction of Manhattan’s 42nd street with Seventh and Eighth Avenue was also New York’s capital of sleaze, home to porn cinemas peep shows, drug dealers and the city’s red light district – a far cry from the neon, theatres and tourist traps that sprawl down its length today.

Airing on HBO between 2017 and 2019, the TV show of the same name traces the history of its rise and decline against a background of violence, government and police corruption, a drug epidemic, police raids and arrests following the legalisation of the porn industry in New York in the 1970s.

The story follows a rich ensemble cast representing the diverse kinds of people that crossed paths on the fabled street during what came to be known as the ‘golden age of porn,’ from bartenders, pimps and prostitutes to police officers, journalists and the mafia.

The stars of this cast are James Franco as twins Vincent and Frankie who end up running fronts for the mafia, and Maggie Gyllenhaal – also a producer on the show – as Candy, a sex worker who finds refuge from the streets by joining the now-legal emerging porn industry as an actress and director.

The show’s first season takes place from 1971 to 1972, illustrating how the era’s counterculture and sexual liberation played a part in the sex industry, while the second jumps five years ahead to 1977, chronicling what happened before and after the infamous release of Deepthroat. The third takes place from 1984 to 1985, seeing porn’s pivot to video.

Interestingly, this was one of the first TV productions to explicitly bring an intimacy coordinator on set, now a more or less standard practice when dealing with sex scenes.

And despite – or maybe because of – its scandalous subject matter, The Deuce is an empathetic, well-rounded portrait of a very specific moment in time that evades pastiche, taking great care to do justice to characters that are more than often demonised by giving them depth and nuance.

 

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