As Wolcott (not exactly the world’s greatest women’s libber) put it, “The contempt for women that often wore a sneer in porn films on its liver lips was an everyday dragon-snort in Times Square.” The satirical Web site the Reductress neatly nailed the earnest contradictions of modern feminism on this theme, in a post titled “Why I Feel So Passionately That Sex Work and Porn Is Problematic but Empowering but Good for Them but Bad for Them.”“The Deuce” is certainly a feminist series—and half its directors are female—but its smartest move is to resist turning sex into a thesis, exploiting the contradictions instead.
In many ways, “The Deuce” is a classic David Simon urban joint: it treats sex workers as emblematic of any alienated workforce.
(Management and labor, pimps and girls from Minnesota: same diff.) But it’s also a clear-eyed portrait of a lost universe of Manhattan decadence, neither sentimental and glamorizing nor disapproving and didactic.
Over eight episodes, Fishback turns this heart-of-gold stereotype into something original, with a spiky blend of weariness and savvy that’s more than mere victimhood.
Even at the bottom of the ladder, there’s someone below you.
It’s a show about a grimy, brutal world, but one that treats desire itself as something profound and complex, not just a slick widget for the male consumer. The star of “The Deuce” is, superficially, James Franco, who plays twin brothers: Vincent, a decent, hardworking bartender who becomes a reluctant player in the “pussy trade,” and Frankie, an irresistible bad boy. But, for all the actor’s mustache-wrangling panache, these roles can seem contrived, like two modes of playing “Grand Theft Brothel.” Luckily, Vincent is more host than hero, introducing a vast ensemble.
There are five pimps and more than a dozen street prostitutes, from Thunder Thighs to Lori, a canny newcomer from the Midwest.
There are sad scenes here of transactional rutting; there are also loving ones, and plenty that walk a line, like one in which an abusive pimp gives his girl a screaming orgasm.
But the show’s gift is that it doesn’t imagine that liberation and a trap are so easily distinguished, in bed or out of it, a truth that resonates long past 1971.
I’ve read a few reviews that insist that no one could get turned on by “The Deuce,” a judgment framed as praise.
That strikes me as unlikely—and, also, beside the point.
It understands that, when the world aims at erasing you, it’s a thrill to be made visible, by whatever means necessary.