HBO has set the premiere date for its upcoming series The Deuce.
The Deuce chronicles that moment in time when sex went from being a back-alley, brown-paper-bag commodity to a billion-dollar universal in American life, a moment when ground zero for the earliest pioneers in the flesh trade was the midtown heart of the nation’s largest city, New York’s Times Square.
Titled after the local slang for New York’s fabled 42nd Street and starring James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal, The Deuce begins its eight-episode season Sunday, Sept. 10 at 9/8c.
The show was created by George Pelecanos and David Simon; George Pelecanos, David Simon, Nina K. Noble and James Franco executive produce.
The Deuce follows the rise of the porn culture in New York from the early 1970s through the mid-1980s.
It will be exploring the rough-and-tumble world of the sex trade from the moment when both a liberalizing cultural revolution in American sexuality and new legal definitions of obscenity created a billion-dollar industry that is now an elemental component of the American cultural landscape.
Beginning in 1971, the show follows a cast of barkeeps, prostitutes, pimps, police and nightlife denizens as they swirl through a world of sex, crime, high times and violence and the porn business begins its climb from Mafia-backed massage parlors and film labs to legitimacy and cultural permanence.
“For America, flesh as a legal commodity begins in New York City, but it travels everywhere into the national life,” says Simon. “The fact is, we don’t sell a luxury car, blue jeans or bottle of beer anymore without a certain amount of pornographic thought attached.”
While The Deuce is fictional, it results from research by producer Marc Henry Johnson.
Johnson chronicled the rise and fall of the sex industry through the lives of a pair of real-life twins who eventually became Mob fronts for the Gambino family.
Those tales, told by a brother who died months from the beginning of filming form one of the essential narrative strands, and are supported by other interviews from surviving participants of the drama.
Says Pelecanos, “Times Square in the 1970s is now chiefly remembered as the ground zero of decadence and depravity, but what’s often left out of the picture is that, for many, it was a hotbed of experimentation, adventure and sexual liberation.
"The music, the outlandish outfits, the beautiful cars made in Detroit and particularly the decade’s time-capsule, shot-in-New York films were a great inspiration for us when we were designing the look and feel of our debut season of The Deuce.”
In addition to their work on The Wire, creators David Simon and George Pelecanos also collaborated on HBO’s New Orleans drama Treme” Simon is an author, journalist and producer whose other works for HBO include The Corner, Generation Kill and Show Me a Hero. Pelecanos is the author of 20 critically acclaimed novels, including The Double and The Turnaround, as well as a screenwriter and film producer. He served as a writer and co-producer on HBO’s The Pacific.
Also writing for the series are three other acclaimed novelists, co-executive producer Richard Price, Megan Abbott and Lisa Lutz.
Additional writing credits on the series include Will Ralston (Treme), Chris Yakaitis (Treme) and Marc Henry Johnson.
Vincent Martino (James Franco) is a successful and astute barman with a knack for promotion who finds himself – with increasing reluctance – in the center of the city sex trade after he attracts the interest of a well-connected mob player, Rudy Pipilo (Michael Rispoli).
A Gambino captain, Rudy represents that New York family’s financial interests in the midtown sex business. After Abby Parker (Margarita Levieva) drops out of NYU, she and Vincent begin a relationship that ultimately challenges them both.
Vince’s identical twin brother Frankie is Vincent’s freewheeling, free-spirited counterpart, who gets by on his brother’s support, but is increasingly drawn toward Pipilo’s business interests.
Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal) works as an independent prostitute, refusing to work under any of the multitude of street pimps who control much of the trade along Eighth and Ninth Avenues.
She has a son who lives with her parents in the suburbs, but her ambition and intelligence – as well as a weariness with street life – lead her to the emerging porn business, where she sees potential for herself and, perhaps, her fellow streetwalkers.
Darlene (Dominique Fishback), a young but street-smart woman from North Carolina, uses her savvy to manage her volatile pimp, Larry Brown (Gbenga Akinnagbe), while Lori (Emily Meade), a 20-year-old fresh off a Greyhound from Minnesota, is taken into the fold of dapper pimp C.C. (Gary Carr) immediately upon her arrival at Port Authority.
C.C. is equally capable of charm and brutality in managing his prostitutes, while Larry Brown controls his stable – Darlene, Loretta (Sepideh Moafi) and Barbara (Kayla Foster) – largely through intimidation.
Chris Alston (Lawrence Gilliard, Jr.) is a cop on the midtown beat who questions his superiors’ methods, if not the entire premise of trying to police the sex trade amid a culture of unrelenting demand for sex and institutional corruption within the New York Police Department.
When told to stop policing a particular swath of his precinct, just west of Times Square, Alston starts a quiet inquiry that brings him together with Sandra Washington (Natalie Paul), an aspiring reporter who is probing the sex industry.
Meanwhile, bartender Paul (Chris Coy), inherited by Vincent Martino as he takes over a Mob-backed midtown bar, traverses the early years of the increasingly open post-Stonewall culture of gay New York, all with an eye to running a nightspot of his own.
All these storylines merge as some of the streetwalkers, excited by the prospect and promise of stardom, find new work amid the rapid acceleration in pornographic production in New York.
Michelle MacLaren (Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones), an executive producer on the pilot, directs the first and last episodes of the season. Star and executive producer James Franco also directs two episodes.
“James directed two well-crafted episodes while simultaneously playing twin brothers – no small feat,” says executive producer Nina K. Noble. “He took the concept of cloning one’s self to a whole new level.”
Longtime Simon, Pelecanos and Noble collaborators Ernest Dickerson, Uta Briesewitz, Alex Hall and Roxann Dawson also direct episodes of The Deuce.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Broadcast Television Journalists Association (BTJA), enjoys mentoring writers, wine, and passionately discussing the nuances of television. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.