The Deuce (2017–2019)
Conveys the era well.
17 October 2017
Warning: Spoilers
I lived in Spanish Harlem in the period of this series. As a new college grad, recently a dental school drop out, I ventured to Oz. I walked the length and breadth of Manhattan in my wing-tip shoes. I couldn't find work. I was laughed out of clothing stores where I applied for sales jobs by gay clerks who correctly judged me as a provincial. Yes, it was a tough town.

I partook of 42nd Street entertainments occasionally. Times Square and 42nd Street were shabby and inhabited by street people of every sort. The vibe was similar to what we can experience today in large cities of Africa, South America and South East Asia. Why? Because Manhattan then was a place where run-down housing was cheap. Hordes of disenfranchised young people fled there from every corner of America. The false promise of success drew them. Yet the aristocracy still ruled and exploited them.

This series has captured the mood of 42nd Street and Times Square of that time. It has even brought back to me some of the smells of that district. It was pungent with cigarette smoke, burned grease from shabby diners, cheap perfume, and disinfectant. Cars spewed unfiltered pollution. Cabs honked incessantly. Loud voices pierced the din. Wary tourists gawked and skittered.

I appreciate the show's avoidance of retrospective political correctness. Hookers, pimps and corrupt cops were not gentile. Perhaps the show softens them all a bit, but the basic content is accurate. As a young gay man of a politically aware nature, I lived the experience of being hunted by crooked cops and exploited by mob venues.

I winced when James Franco first appeared as identical twins in the pilot. I doubted the show's ability to pull this off, but it has remarkably well. Maggie Gyllenhaal does an exemplary job as an aging prostitute, independent of the pimp patriarchy. Her character exposes the underside of pre-feminist independence for women of the 1950's and 1960's. While Katherine Hepburn was playing upper class women of stature, the reality on the ground was quite different, especially for working-class women and women of color.

This is the kind of programming which might save channels like HBO in an age of increased streaming competition. I place it on a tier with Showtime's "Ray Donovan". Gritty drama with suspense and good character development (writing) seldom fail.
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