The Deuce 1.02: “Show and Prove” Episode Review

Photo Credit: Paul Schiraldi/HBO

“There’s not enough smoke.” That’s one criticism I overheard about The Deuce, HBO’s 8-episode series set on 42nd Street in the ‘70s. Everyone lights up, but there’s no cancerous haze across the barroom; you can actually see people. That’s one thing I don’t miss. 

I’ll admit, I never frequented bars in Times Square back in the day. I was too young to order a drink, and I didn’t have a fake ID. I was more like the “birthday boy” from the pilot. My uncle owned a bar and came home with crates of kickback booze and half-empty bottles of crap that didn’t sell, so I never wanted for liquor. Of course, sometimes that meant getting schnockered on Harveys Bristol Cream instead of Jack Daniel's, but you don’t piss and moan on the gravy train.

My uncle’s stories of running bars for the mob from the ‘60s through the ‘80s make The Deuce comfortingly familiar to me. It’s a little too cozy sometimes. Right now, it seems to neglect that all those friendly neighborhood cops were on the take, and I don’t mean drinking for free at Kim’s Korean. We get a hint of that in this episode when the chief at roll call tells his officers to ignore a bodega robbery because the owner is “a cheap bastard.” That’s because the police had a protection racket—just like Mister Rudy the mobster—and proprietors of bars would get a sheet with a list of badge numbers and payoffs once a month—extra on Christmas. Which leads to my one issue with the episode, which I’ll get to after a little recap.

Photo Credit: Paul Schiraldi/HBO

We’ve got dueling plots here with the beginnings of the porn industry. Darlene, my favorite of the working girls (played by Dominique Fishback, Show Me a Hero), let a john make an 8mm movie of her and finds it for sale at the local stroke bookshop. This is the era where penetration is illegal to show, so the Swedish Love Manual “documentaries,” made famous in Taxi Driver, are the closest you got to hardcore. She’s in Larry’s stable, and he’s a little rough. I liked when Stretch, the tall proprietor of the lunch counter the pimps and girls frequent, calmly told him “in my establishment, you will respect the ladies.” The irony is not lost on me.

The show tones down the cold ‘70s movie vibe we’re used to—the nihilistic, apocalyptic view of the City. That bleak view came from when we thought there was no end in sight. Looking back, it’s easy to let nostalgic rose glasses make it look kinder than it was, but it was both better and worse than now. I think we’re colder these days than we were back then. It was no picnic, and life was cheap—my uncle told me of two murderers he knew who were out after five years, one for killing his girlfriend, the others for luring and killing a gay john—but people still looked out for each other. 

That doesn’t mean the cops would get the hookers Chinese food while they waited for bail without getting some graft or a freebie in an empty coat closet. Bar raids were common because it was illegal for an unattended woman to drink at a bar. That was “evidence” of soliciting for prostitution, and if the bar hadn’t paid the cops that month, they could get raided. Then, you wait in the precinct—usually out of the cells since they didn’t have the room—and if you wanted coffee and donuts, you gave a cop a C-note. As the bumper stickers on the vans back then said, “Cash, Grass, or Ass: Nobody Rides for Free.”

Photo Credit: Paul Schiraldi/HBO

We’re seeing a lot of refugees from The Wire here, and it’s a good thing. Chris Bauer, beloved as Frank Sobotka from Season 2, is working the docks again, this time in Jersey. Thanks to payroll checks, his workers get brought into a mob scheme to keep Rudy and the book men off Frank and Vinnie’s backs, as the mob cashes their checks for a five percent cut. Maybe you don’t recall waiting for a check to clear, but before payday loans, you sometimes paid a cut to someone with cash so you didn’t have to wait. Bars often did this directly to customers because they were swimming in cash. Vinnie taking the initiative and approaching his brother-in-law Bobby (Chris Bauer) is hardly out of the question.

Elaine/Candy’s (Maggie Gyllenhaal) double life as a pimpless streetwalker and loving mom gets more play, with her mother teasing as she plays Mouse Trap with her son. “Want me to bring out Mystery Date? You loved that game. About bringing home a man?”

Photo Credit: Paul Schiraldi/HBO

The show shines by softening her disappointment. Lesser writing would make this a screaming match, but this is something that’s been going on for some time; her mother isn’t happy with it, but she still loves her daughter. And Vinnie’s not the only entrepreneur. Elaine finds some young filmmakers making their own 8mm pornos and stars in one for cash. It’s safer than the Deuce at night where Larry and the other pimps keep making veiled threats to how “dangerous” her solo status can be.

We see just how dangerous when Lori has a run-in with a john who C. C. has to intervene with. Her scenes with C. C. are captivating, not simply because Emily Meade and Gary Carr inhabit their roles so naturally, or that they’re two beautiful people. We don’t know how naïve Lori is. She says she’s been hooking since 16 and seems to know more than she lets on. But she also seems to earnestly believe C. C. cares about her, ignoring how he treats his older girl. Maybe I’m reading more into her than is there, but I hope the show surprises me with something more than the innocent Minnesota Strip girl learning how hard life really is.

We get a short peek at Abby (Margarita Levieva, The Blacklist) dropping out of school and deciding to stay in the City. She’s met Vinnie, and I imagine we’ll see her working the bar at Kim’s. Vinnie and Rudy have ideas for a new bar, and I have a good feeling she’ll be part of it.

The burgeoning porn flick scene is about to explode. As the vice cops dig through the stroke shop’s wares reciting titles, I was disappointed that “Lickin’ Stick” and “Oyster Roast” were the best titles they had. They can’t dive into the spoof titles like Romancing the Bone and Splendor in the Ass yet, as they wouldn’t be allowed. Before hardcore was legal, they used titles like “The Bearded Clam” that weren’t obvious. One of my uncle’s bartenders, Jerry—a hulking red-haired walrus of a flaming Irishman—said that was his favorite. “When I first saw it, I thought it said breaded clams! I thought it was a restaurant, like Umberto’s Clam Broth House.” I miss Jerry a lot, may he rest in peace. He would have liked The Deuce.

See also: Back in the New York Groove with The Deuce: “Pilot” Episode Review

 


Thomas Pluck has slung hash, worked on the docks, trained in martial arts in Japan, and even swept the Guggenheim museum (but not as part of a clever heist). He hails from Nutley, New Jersey, home to criminal masterminds Martha Stewart and Richard Blake, but has so far evaded capture. He is the author of Bad Boy Boogie, his first Jay Desmarteaux crime thriller, and Blade of Dishonor, an action adventure which BookPeople called “the Raiders of the Lost Ark of pulp paperbacks.”

Joyce Carol Oates calls him “a lovely kitty man.”

Comments

  1. 바카라사이트

    “It is a universal issue, it is not ideology,” Mr Kerry told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, “It’s about the survival of the planet. I can’t imagine him not wanting to [press for action on climate] and feeling compelled to use the important role as the monarch and urge the world to do the things the world needs to do.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.