• Deuce, The: The Complete First Season

    Released by: HBO
    Released on: February 13th, 2018.
    Director: Various
    Cast: James Franco, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Carr, Gbenga Akinnagble, Dominique Fishback, Emily Meade, Lawrence Gillard Jr., Natalie Paul, Michael Rispoli, Margarita Levieva
    Year: 2017
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Series:

    Created by David Simon and George Pelecanos, HBO’s The Deuce takes us back to the New York City of the early seventies. Here we meet a bartender named Vincent Martino (James Franco). Early in the series he leaves his cheating wife Andrea (Zoe Kazan) and quits his job bartending in Brooklyn to bartend fulltime at a Times Square bar. He manages, quickly, to turn the place around which brings him to the attention of a mobster named Rudy Pipilo (Michael Rispoli). Rudy sees something in Vincent and soon enough gets him his own place by moving him into an old gay bar that’s about to close down. One of the old bartenders, Paul Hendrickson (Chris Coy) stays on. Vincent’s got a hot-headed twin brother named Frankie (Franco again) with a gambling problem also hanging around, and on top of that he’s started falling for Abby Parker (Margarita Levieva), a college dropout he’s recently hired. Vincent’s brother-in-law, a construction site foreman named Bobby Dwyer (Chris Bauer), also hangs around the bar a lot.

    While Vincent is building up his business, a prostitute named Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal) avoids the local pimps like Larry Brown (Gbenga Akinnagbe), C.C. (Gary Carr), Rodney (Method Man) and Reggi Love (Tariq Trotter). Candy’s never had a pimp and doesn’t want one. Despite some problems in her personal life, she makes a good living for herself and doesn’t operate the way that other hookers like Darlene (Dominique Fishback), Lori (Emily Meade), Thunder Thighs (Pernell Walker) and Ashley (Jamie Neumann) to name just a few. Meanwhile, a reporter named Sandra Washington (Natalie Paul) is trying to get to the bottom of why prostitutes do what they do, while two cops - Chris Alston (Lawrence Gillard Jr.) and Danny Flanagan (Don Harvey) – do what cops do.

    A few episodes in and Candy, clearly wanting to get out of the streetwalking business, decides she’s going to take a chance and start dabbling in the production of the burgeoning – and now legal - market for adult films in and around Times Square. With some help from filmmaker Harvey Wasserman (David Krumholtz), she sets up shot.

    The Deuce is a labyrinthian story of excess, corruption and questionable morality performed by an excellent ensemble cast. It’s not for prudes – not only does it obviously deal with prostitution and pornography but it does so pretty graphically, frequently leaving very little to the imagination – but that doesn’t take away from it at all. The graphic content doesn’t feel like exploitation, rather it adds to what we have to assume is the gritty realism that the showrunners were going for here. The crew has also done an excellent job (mostly digitally) recreating the Times Square of the era – those who appreciate ‘background detail’ will get a kick out of the marquees that appear in the backgrounds of pretty much every episode. This, along with the fashions and hairstyles on display as well as the series’ excellent use of period music, help to properly set the appropriately seedy tone for the show. While it’s often time set in some less than beautiful locations – grubby street corners, dingy hotel rooms, dimly lit bars and dirty back alleys – the cinematography and lighting is often times impressive from both artistic and technical perspectives.

    Which is all well and good, right? Really though, this series is all about the character. This isn’t meant to be a documentary series, it hasn’t set out to necessarily tell the truth – yet it’s filled with believable and interesting characters. The writing in the show does such a good job that even when a lesser character is slapped by her pimp we feel for her. Obviously, what she’s subjected to is horrible, so there’s that already, but it’s the way in which each and everyone of the characters is believably humanized that gives events like this their impact. For as much detail work as has gone into the look of the series, there’s just as much that has gone into the people that populate this world.

    Performances are generally very good across the board. James Franco handles himself well in the double role, playing two men who clearly look identical but who in many ways are, personality wise at least, polar opposites of each other. He brings that smirky, smart-ass vibe that he does well to both brothers without overdoing it, handling the humor and the drama of the series rather well. Even better is Maggie Gyllenhaal, whose world-weary prostitute turned entrepreneurial pornographer is likeable, interesting and in certain ways tragic all at the same time. It takes a few episodes for the show to build up to her story but once it gets there, it’s worth it. The supporting players are all great too, everyone here does top notch work.


    The eight episodes that make up the first season of The Deuce are spread across three 50GB Blu-ray discs and are presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.78.1 widescreen. It’s pretty though to complain about the picture quality here, aside from some occasional banding. The image is free of compression artifacts or edge enhancement. As it was shot digitally there are obviously no issues with print damage or grain to discuss. At the same time, there’s excellent depth and detail here and this is despite some obvious tweaking of the color scheme to get a certain ‘seventies look’ nailed down.

    Each episode gets an English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track. Audio quality is also excellent, particularly if you have an affinity for the type of music used throughout the show as it really sounds great when the surrounds kick in. Lots of interesting and sometimes subtle sound design takes full advantage of the soundstage, making these mixes pretty enveloping. Levels are properly balanced throughout and as you’d expect for something this recent, there are no problems with any hiss or distortion.

    Optional DTS 5.1 tracks are provided in French, German and Spanish with a DTS 2.0 Stereo track provided in Spanish. Removable subtitles are offered in English SDH, French, German, Portuguese, Spanish, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish.

    There are two commentary tracks here, the first for the pilot episode featuring co-creator/executive producer David Simon, executive producer Nina Rostroff Noble and actress/producer Maggie Gyllenhaal. The eighth episode features co-creator/executive producer George Pelecanos, director Michelle MacLaren and actor/executive producer James Franco. Both of these are quite interesting as they cover how the show is made by those who work both in front of and behind the camera. We hear a lot about the character development in the series but also learn about locations, period details, recreating certain areas, the themes that the series explores and some of the history behind what inspired the show in the first place.

    Additionally, each episode includes an Inside The Episode featurette, most clocking in around the two-minute mark. These are brief but interesting, and are typically made up of quick clips and soundbites from the cast and crew members discussing what happened and why in each specific episode. They’re not particularly deep, but they’re worth checking out.

    The third disc also contains some brief featurettes, starting with The Wild West: New York In The Early '70's, a twelve-minute piece that shows off some interesting archival footage of New York, with a focus on Times Square, from the period in which the show is set with some comments from cast and crew members overtop about the vibe of the city and what made it unique. The second featurette is The Deuce In Focus, an eight-minute piece wherein Michelle MacLaren and Roxann Dawson discuss in a bit of detail the primary locations used for the series.

    The Final Word:

    HBO’s Blu-ray release of the complete first season of The Deuce is rock solid in presentation, even if it is more than a little light in the extra features department. The transfers and the audio are excellent. The show itself is pretty engrossing stuff, an involving drama performed by a strong ensemble cast that does a fine job of exploiting a fascinating time in the history of New York City.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!