James Franco Is His Own Tag Team in HBO’s ‘The Deuce’

No matter how small a character, HBO’s “The Deuce” ensures that each one leads as intricate a life as the next. The sharp series provides a slew of character profiles and a window into the world they inhabit – 1970s New York City – during its most erotic and alluring period.

The feature length pilot allots plenty of time to meet the large ensemble of key players. Fronting the pack is the ever-ubiquitous James Franco – who pulls double duty as twins Vinnie and Frankie – the first, a blue-collar, hardworking mixologist, willing to work long hours to support his family. The latter – an energetic, life-of-the-party in debt to the mob. While Franco’s double duty here is not as physically comparable to Ewan McGregor’s twin duo in the recent season of “Fargo,” it is still impressive.

Perhaps the most refreshing departure comes from Maggie Gyllenhaal as Eileen “Candy” Merrell. The tough-broad, independent street worker shows Gyllenhaal in a different light, but she can unquestionably handle the commitment. As Candy goes down on a youthful birthday boy, the scene intercuts to a train tunneling through a subway canal. Trading in gratuity for sly (and rather obvious) implication.

As Candy trades in her over worn blonde wig and flashy street attire for a more conservative look to visit her only child living with her disapproving mother, she displays a sense of regret for the life that she is living to get by. Undoubtedly, the juxtaposition of Candy’s journey will prove to be the most lucrative and investing, in every way.

Filling out the impressive cast is Dominique Fishback’s Darlene, on the payroll of Gary Carr, a seedy pimp. Also worth noting is Margarita Levieva’s Abby, a smart-witted NYU student.

But among the impressive lineup of hustlers and wannabes, the real star to emerge is 1970’s New York City. The show, titled after the strip of Manhattan formerly known for X-rated picture houses, massage parlors, and hole in the wall bars, finds itself uniquely situated in this particular setting. Don’t expect an elegant representation of New York’s yesteryear – ala “Mad Men” – as the locale here is gritty, unfiltered, and police prone.

The real draw of the series derives as the show progresses, and each character’s complexities grow increasingly green. Yes, a lot is going on within the first episode, as the show takes its time introducing each character. But the viewer should eventually catch on to the entanglement of each life.

Creators George Pelecanos and David Simon previous series, “The Wire,” was a pinnacle game changer, featuring a combination of crime, culture, and the human condition in a contemporary framework. “The Deuce” covers much of the same – within a different context. Pelecanos and Simon do this best, and the magic seemingly appears to be present again.

Ironically enough, the shows titular strip is now known as Times Square – the tourist epicenter of the concrete jungle. How the city was able to manage such a vast transformation is intriguing, albeit puzzling. But perhaps the eight-episode count will shed a little insight. Nonetheless, the viewer should remain interested.

The Deuce” premiered Sept. 10 on HBO and airs Sundays at 9 p.m.