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Blu-ray Review: THE DEUCE – The Complete First Season

Feb 12 Posted by in DVD/Blu-ray, Reviews | Comments

The Deuce provides a gritty look into the struggle, danger and money behind the thriving prostitution business in New York City in 1971—from the women who work the streets, to their pimps, the corrupt police who allow it to happen, and the mobsters who really run things behind-the-scenes. The title of the series comes from the nickname at the time for 42nd Street in Manhattan, where the series is set.

As the series opens, Vinny Martino (James Franco) is working two jobs but still struggles to provide for his family. When he’s not tending bar in a bad neighborhood, he’s working at a local Asian restaurant. Not only does he have his own wife and kids to worry about, but his identical twin brother Frankie (also played by James Franco) is a gambler, and owes a lot of money to the mob, who have come to Vinny to collect. However, mobster Rudy Pipilo (Michael Rispoli) takes notice of Vinny’s work ethic, and willingness to deal with his brother’s debts, and makes him a business proposition.

Meanwhile, at the Port Authority bus station, pimp C.C. (Gary Carr) is eagerly watching the new arrivals, looking for fresh-faced young women he can recruit. He soon sets his sights on Lori (Emily Meade), who just stepped off the bus from Minnesota. And it’s not long before Lori hits the streets with the other working girls, where she meets Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a more-experienced woman who has always managed her own “career”, never signing away her earnings to a pimp. Candy’s been in the game for a long time, and is eager to give up the life. At this time, the obscenity laws were starting to be lifted, causing the pornographic film industry to take off. Candy sees an opportunity for a carer change and starts to read up on film-making.

However, in the meantime, prostitution still remains the bread and butter of the sex business in The Deuce, and in order to keep business running, the cops must be paid off, and this corruption has become systemic. Reporter Sandra Washington (Natalie Paul) is eager to expose the widespread police corruption that has allowed prostitution to thrive in the neighborhood, and tries to get pimps, prostitutes, and even one honest cop, to help her out, but it is slow going.

 

The Deuce comes from David Simon, who is best known as the creator of The Wire. I have never seen that series, so I cannot offer a comparison, but I found this series to be a well-acted, fascinating story about people struggling to live out their dreams, but often getting stuck along the way. While some are successful, others fail miserably, and never even make it out of the gate. The series looks at why these woman get involved in prostitution and porn, and how these job affect them. While the women are doing all the work, they receive very little of the money they earn. Once the pimps, mobsters and police all take their cut, there’s hardly anything left. The woman turn to drugs, stealing, and even murder to survive. This is also a time when the business is changing. As “massage parlors” and porn booths take the women off the streets, the pimps see their importance/role dying away and become desperate to hold onto their power, influence and relevance.

I really enjoyed this first season of The Deuce. While it can be quite graphic and brutal at times, I never found it to be overly gratuitous. After all, it is exploring the darker side of the prostitution and pornography enterprises, so you’ve got to expect some NSFW content! The series really captures the look and feel of the era—you really feel like you have been transported back to Times Square in the early 1970s.

The first season tells a complete story, with the pilot and finale providing nice visual bookends. However, it also leaves viewers in a place where there is a lot more story that could be told. As I was listening to the audio commentaries, I was surprised to learn that several of the characters and situations were based off of real people and events. It was shocking to see how these prostitutes were allowed to peddle their wares in the public, with just an occasional light response from the police, to keep up appearances.

HBO’s Blu-ray release looks fantastic, providing a clear, detailed picture, with a softer color palette that evokes the feeling of the time period. The audio is sufficient, but nothing spectacular. Dialogue is clear, but much of the audio seems to be focused on the center channel—I didn’t really notice much use of the surround channel. The Blu-ray release also contains a nice assortment of bonus features, including audio commentaries on both the pilot and the season finale, Inside the Episode featurettes for all 8 episodes, and two behind-the-scenes featurettes.

The 8 episodes are split across three discs, which come packaged in a standard multi-disc HD keep case along with a cardboard slipcover. The case also contains an insert with the digital copy code/redemption instructions.


What’s Included:

Episodes: (8:25:48)

Blu-ray:

  • All 8 episodes of the first season:
    “Pilot”, “Show and Prove”, “The Principle Is All”, “I See Money”, “What Kind of Bad?”, “Why Me?”, “Au Reservoir”, “My Name Is Ruby”
  • 1080p / Widescreen 1.78:1
  • Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, French DTS Digital Surround 5.1, Spanish DTS Digital Surround 2.0, German DTS Digital Surround 5.1, Castilian DTS Digital Surround 5.1
  • Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, German, Castilian, Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish

Digital HD (Redeem by 12/31/2022):

  • Digital HD copy redeemable via iTunes or Google Play
  • UltraViolet Digital HD copy redeemable via Vudu or FandangoNow

Extras:
Some of the bonus features are also included with the digital copies, but it varies by provider.

  • Inside the Episode
    These short featurettes provide a provide a brief discussion about some of the topics covered in each episode. Each of these featurettes appears on the disc containing its respective episode, and each disc offers a Play All option.

    • Episode 1: Inside the Episode (1:55)
      A look at recreating 1971 Times Square. Participants include series co-creator George Pelecanos & director/executive producer Michelle MacLaren.
    • Episode 2: Inside the Episode (1:50)
      A brief discussion on the 1971 prostitution police voucher system, the inspiration for the Sandra character, and the character of Abby. Participants include series co-creator George Pelecanos, and actresses Natalie Paul (“Sandra Washington”) & Margarita Levieva (“Abby”).
    • Episode 3: Inside the Episode (1:39)
      A brief discussion on the role of the pimp, and Candy’s attempt to break into directing. Participants include series co-creator George Pelecanos, and actors Gary Carr (“C.C”) and Maggie Gyllenhaal (“Candy/Eileen”).
    • Episode 4: Inside the Episode (2:00)
      A brief discussion on police corruption, getting the female perspective in the writing room, and the role of the bar in the community. Participants include series co-creators George Pelecanos & David Simon, writers Megan Abbott & Lisa Lutz, and actors Lawrence Gilliard Jr. (“Chris Alston”) & Maggie Gyllenhaal.
    • Episode 5: Inside the Episode (1:43)
      A brief discussion on the allure of New York City for people looking to make a change, and a look at the character of Paul. Participants include series co-creator George Pelecanos, and actor Chris Coy (“Paul Hendrickson”).
    • Episode 6: Inside the Episode (1:29)
      A brief discussion on filming the porno films, and the mob’s role in this enterprise. Participants include series co-creator George Pelecanos, director Roxann Dawson, and actors Michael Rispoli (“Rudy Pipilo”) & Gbenga Akinnagbe (“Larry Brown”).
    • Episode 7: Inside the Episode (2:07)
      A brief discussion on massage parlors and how they affected the role of the pimp, and the political aspect of gay pornography/the film Boys in the Sand. Participants include series co-creators George Pelecanos & David Simon, and actor Gary Carr.
    • Episode 8: Inside the Episode (1:46)
      A brief discussion on the dangers of prostitution, and the real person on whom the character of Ruby was based. Participants include series co-creator George Pelecanos, director/executive producer Michelle MacLaren, and Pernell Walker (“Thunder Thighs/Ruby”).
  • Audio Commentaries
    The cast and crew provide commentary on the season premiere and finale episodes.

    • Episode 1 Pilot (1:24:12)
      David Simon (Co-Creator/Executive Producer), Nina Kostroff Noble (Executive Producer) and Maggie Gyllenhaal (Actor/Producer) talk about shooting in New York City, the cast, the accents, and the filming locations. This isn’t the most energetic commentary, but does provide some interesting information. As the participants share behind-the-scenes stories about the production, they also point out some of the changes from the original pilot, unscripted moments, small Easter eggs that appear in the background during various scenes, and more.
    • Episode 8 My Name is Ruby (1:10:35)
      George Pelecanos (Co-Creator/Executive Producer), Michele MacLaren (Director), and James Franco (Actor/Executive Producer) talk about the evolution of porn, how they got involved with The Deuce, the role of women in the story and production, and more. Similar to the pilot commentary, the participants aren’t extremely energetic, but they do provide some interesting stories/discussion.
  • The Wild West Side: New York in the Early ’70s (11:49)
    The cast and crew talk about the real world events, locations and situations that are portrayed in the series. They discuss how prostitution was pretty much allowed in Times Square in the ’70s, the pimp/prostitute relationship, the massage parlors, police corruption, and the lifting of the obscenity laws and the legitimization of pornography. Some of the footage is recycled from the Inside The Episodes features. Includes behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with executive producers George Pelecanos & David Simon, writers Megan Abbott & Lisa Lutz, and actors Lawrence Gilliard Jr., Dominique Fishback (“Darlene”), Michael Rispoli, Chris Coy, James Franco, Gary Carr, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jamie Neumann (“Ashley”), Emily Meade (“Lori”), and Natalie Paul (” Sandra Washington”).
  • The Deuce in Focus (8:14)
    The directors of the series discuss their episodes. Includes behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with Michele MacLaren (episodes 1 & 8), James Franco (episodes 3 & 7), and Roxann Dawson (episode 6).

 


Final Thoughts:

My Rating
Episodes:
Video:
Audio:
Extras:
Recommended

The Deuce is a well-written, well-acted, thought-provoking look into the seedy underbelly of New York City in the early 1970s, when mobsters and police corruption allowed prostitution to thrive. At the same time, a new pornographic film industry was starting to explode and gain legitimacy. HBO’s Blu-ray release provides excellent picture and decent sound, along with a solid selection of bonus materials. The series is certainly worth checking out, and fans of the show should be pleased with the overall presentation and bonus material.