Created by David Simon (“The Wire”) and George Pelecanos, “The Deuce” continues to feature a sprawling cast, but its most marketable face remains one of its weakest links: James Franco, in a dual role as twin brothers with very different personalities, both operating around the fringes of this shady, mobbed-up world.
Franco is fine, but compared to other key characters, it’s easy to wish there was half as much of him instead of double.
While the themes within the show are often dark, “The Deuce” can also be dryly funny, such as a scene in which one actress boasts about getting the chance to perform with a “trained actor” — his signature credit being a toothpaste commercial.
Simon has established a high standard with his HBO dramas, and “The Deuce” doesn’t quite match the best of them. But in broad thematic terms, it’s a strong reminder that efforts to see America’s past through rose-colored lenses often require ignoring plenty of blemishes, as well as how enterprising if unsavory types have always found a way to monetize society’s more prurient appetites.
Porn — and specifically, Stormy Daniels, another actress turned director — have been very much in the news of late. Explicit movies, meanwhile, are available to watch online and buy without ever leaving home, a likely unimaginable development for those within the show skulking around XXX-rated theaters, which helped explain why HBO decided its edited movies and series could no longer compete.
As “The Deuce” makes clear, the past is prologue, and the basic lessons of economics — supply and demand — don’t really change; it’s just the means and methods of delivery that have received a 21st-century makeover.
“The Deuce” returns Sept. 9 at 9 p.m. on HBO.