Dirty Deeds: HBO’s ‘The Deuce’ Recreates NYC in the Seedy ’70s

The Deuce - James Franco
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Cate Cameron/CBS
James Franco x2 in The Deuce

One minute, porn flicks were strictly for dirty old men in seedy Times Square peep shows. The next, they were mainstream entertainment. HBO’s The Deuce—a rude, crude, full-of-attitude series from The Wire producers David Simon and George Pelecanos—is set in early 1970s New York, a time when prostitution was rampant, the NYPD was corrupt as hell and the adult-movie business (funded largely by the Cosa Nostra) had just become legal. Hurling headfirst into this perfect storm of decadent opportunity are Oscar nominees James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal. Franco plays twin brothers Vincent and Frankie Martino—the former is a struggling bartender; the latter a freeloading gambler—who soon find themselves working as fronts for the mob. Gyllenhaal is Candy Merrell, an enterprising prostitute and single mom who sees porn acting as a big step up in life. But what she really wants to do is direct.

“For a very brief period, the adult-film industry had actual artistic aspirations, and some of the greatest creators of erotica were women like Candy,” Pelecanos says. “Everyone thought they could be serious filmmakers, making porn that featured real stories with real characters and sophisticated camera work, not just money shots.” America responded rapturously—even people’s parents were traipsing off to see Deep Throat!—and we still feel the effects of all that liberation today. “Porn in the era of The Deuce so permeated the culture that sex and advertising were permanently linked,” Pelecanos says. “To this day, pretty much every commercial for cars or blue jeans or beer is drenched in sexuality.”

The Deuce, Premieres Sunday, Sept. 10, 9/8c, HBO