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Series / The Deuce

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Harvey: There's been a change in the law, about community standards.
Candy: What about community standards?
Harvey: Apparently, New York has none.

The Deuce is an HBO series which made its debut on September 10, 2017 and ran for three seasons and 25 episodes, concluding on October 28, 2019. It is yet another brainchild of David Simon, of The Wire and Treme fame.

In 1971, New York City's 42nd Street, nicknamed the "Deuce", was the cultural center of American grindhouse theaters, which spawned an entire subculture. Much like Simon's other dramas, the show has no one protagonist and follows various characters as they try to navigate the crime and grime of The Big Rotten Apple. The characters given the most focus are Vincent (James Franco) and Frankie Martino (James Franco), twin brothers and frontmen for The Mafia in Times Square; Eileen "Candy" Merrell (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a sex worker who is interested in making money in porn; and Larry Brown (Gbenga Akinnagbe), an intimidating but conflicted pimp.

The Deuce contains examples of:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: When Mike, Frankie, Black Frankie and Carlos rob a mob truck, they discover that it's full of shoes, all for the left foot only. Rudy realizes that complete pairs of shoes are getting shipped in separate trucks to discourage robbery. All of the robbers have a good laugh about it, in spite of coming up empty on the score.
  • Affably Evil: Rudy is always friendly and upbeat in spite of being a capo in the Gambino crime family.
  • The Alcoholic: Carlos, a mob associate, is noted to have been drunk while rival mobsters burned his parlor down. He's also drunk when working as a getaway driver. Mike takes his bottle of liquor away and shatters it.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • A tourist is killed and the cops get serious pressure to solve the case quickly. Then they find evidence that the man came to New York in order to abduct and most likely kill a prostitute. The political pressure evaporates, the case is put on the back burner and it never gets solved.
    • The pimps tend to be violent and highly abusive. Thus no one really cares when one of them is killed. C.C. is finally killed by Bobby (with some help from Frankie) after pushing it too far. Nobody cares, considering it a relief.
  • Ate His Gun: Officer Flanagan commits suicide this way, distraught by having accidentally murdered his mistress Anita in an argument.
  • Badass Bystander: Big Mike steps out from the crowd at the Hi-Hat to disarm an Irish gangster who is about to murder Vincent.
  • Bait-and-Switch: When it seems Lori is going to do more coke right after having had to prostitute herself again, she puts the drugs away. Great! But then she suddenly takes her gun and shoots herself in the head.
  • The Big Rotten Apple: The general sleaziness of 1971 Times Square is captured in detail. The city and its eventual transformation from the trope to the gentrified New York City of modern day is a key part of the narrative. The final scene, serving as a Distant Finale, has Vincent walking through modern-day Times Square and contrasting it with the Times Square of his heyday.
  • Blackface: The seventh episode features Garland Jeffries performing his cover of "96 Tears" in a blackface get-up. Vincent wonders why, and Abby answers that he's half-black, which only confuses Vincent more.
  • Book Ends: In the series premiere we first see Frankie when he meets up with a guy outside a movie theater, places a bet with the guy and then insults the guy's shirt. In the series finale, the final 1985 scene has Vincent meet the same guy in the same location. They talk about Frankie and then Vincent insults the guy's shirt.
  • Boom, Headshot!: After being forced to turn a trick to provide for herself, Lori suddenly commits suicide by shooting herself in the head.
  • Brick Joke: In one scene, Frankie robs a truck containing only the left shoe of each pair. In a later scene, someone notices that he's wearing two left shoes.
  • Bullying the Dragon: Frankie was always reckless but in season 3 he lets his current success go to his head and he starts pissing off people everyone knows you should not piss off like Rudy or the son of another Gambino captain. he seems to even take pleasure in making them mad. He is killed for it.
  • Bystander Syndrome: When Laurie barricades herself in her motel room against a Loony Fan who is pounding on her door, she cries for help through the wall, only to be told to shut up by the tenant next door. It's subverted when it's revealed that she's imagining the loony fan. The man next door just heard her screaming hysterically about phantom intruders.
  • The Bus Came Back: Leon reappears toward the end of Season 2, having served his time for the murder of Reggie Love.
  • Can't Kill You, Still Need You: Frankie is a beneficiary of this because if Rudy has him killed, he most likely will also have to kill Vincent. Vincent makes a lot of money for Rudy and Rudy is not willing to give all that up just to get rid of Frankie. With Frankie being alive to keep screwing up, Vincent is continuously beholden to Rudy which gives Rudy much more street cred then if he had Frankie whacked.
  • Creator Thumbprint:
    • Vince's place is called the Hi-Hat, which is the name used by Lester in The Wire when he calls Marlo's cellphone to verify the number.
    • In The Wire, some detectives laugh about a police report stating that a suspect fell "prostate." In The Deuce, a mobster makes the opposite mistake, complaining about his "prostrate" when he has to use the restroom.
  • Cultured Badass: Black Frankie often corrects others on their ignorant statements about literature or film.
  • Dawn of an Era: The series begins with the dawn of the Golden Age of Pornography.
  • Destination Defenestration: Poor Ruby/Thunderthighs.
  • Dirty Cop: The NYPD is so infested with corruption that even the honest cops are on the take just to avoid trouble. Cops openly discuss the "no-go zones" mandated by their corrupt superiors. In season 2, Chris is tasked with cleaning up the department.
  • Dissonant Serenity: After gunning down Reggie Love in his own diner, Leon calls the cops and calmly refills a cup of coffee for his patron.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?:
    • Candy has a lot of trouble getting respect as a filmmaker because of her gender and the fact that she works in pornography. In season 2, she's irritated when she's banished from the room so that her male business partner can finish a conversation with their male financiers. In another scene, she's annoyed to be used as the butt of jokes on a talk show.
    • In season 3 Rudy starts to experience this. As a long time captain in the Gambino Family, he is used to a high level of respect but by 1985 that is slowly disappearing. His new bosses want a bigger cut of his profits while refusing to give him additional support. His underlings are starting to disobey his prohibition against dealing drugs and are increasingly more brazen about it. He finally loses his temper when Frankie lies to his face and seems to be totally unafraid of the consequences.
    • When season 3 start, Lori is a veteran porn actress with numerous awards and a large fan base. However, she still has no power and is considered disposable by the industry. When she refuses to do a demeaning sex scene, she is told to do it or she will be blacklisted. She tells Vincent that no matter what she does, she will always be treated like a whore.
  • Dumb Crooks: Rodney manages to bungle every step of his pharmacy robbery.
  • End of an Era:
    • Each season marks the end of and era in the history of 42nd Street and the sex industry. In season one pornography comes out from the underground and the prostitutes and pimps of The Deuce start switching over to the now-legal industry. Season two shows the evolution of pornography into a massive business and the end of the old pimp system. Season three shows how AIDS shook up the sex industry and ended the previous carefree era. The final episodes show the beginning of the redevelopment of the neighborhood with most of the surviving characters moving away. The final scenes of the series skip to 2019 and show how drastically the area has changed in the last thirty years and how little of the old "character" remains.
    • The 80s mark an end of an era for the New York mob as the old Dons are dying or retiring and a new generation of mobsters come to power.
  • Ethical Slut: Vinne and Abby are free to sleep around with others, as long as they're careful. By the third season, they leave a sign on their door to indicate they're with someone at home.
  • Europeans Are Kinky: Discussed several times in passing, as laws about pornography are lax in Europe.
  • Everyone Has Standards:
    • Frankie is a degenerate who will do many unsavory things for money, but he is horrified and disgusted when he discovers that the porn he peddles has hidden scenes with child pornography.
    • Haddix has no problem getting an arsonist to set a fire in a building, but he at least has the decency to waits with a fire extinguisher in case the fire spreads to an inhabited area.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: The mob will not have anything to do with Frankie if he keeps dealing with the distributor who hides child porn scenes in reels for the video booths.
  • Face Death with Dignity: All of the characters who contract AIDS in the final season face their deaths with dignity and serenity.
    Leon: They walked into the arms of time.
  • Fan Disservice: For a show primarily about the sex trade, there's a lot of gross sexual acts, nudity and fluids that you'd rather not see.
  • Faux Affably Evil: All of the pimps can be charming when they need to be, but they're really just misogynistic brutes. C.C. in particular seems like the most mellow and lenient of the pimps at first, until he gets upset and reveals his true colors as a stone-cold bastard.
  • Five-Token Band: The four cops we see the most of in the first half of the first season are a black cop, an Irish cop, an Italian cop and a Jewish cop, representing all four major ethnicities of New York City at the time.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Ne'er-do-well Frankie and entrepreneurial Vincent.
  • Foreshadowing: In the first episode, Leon warns a pimp to show respect for the ladies while they're in his diner. In the seventh episode, he reacts violently to another display of disrespect.
  • Gay Cruising: Many of the gay characters engage in this, especially the ones still in the closet. A mob-controlled gay bar is a popular place for this since it is protected from police raids. The bar's owner then starts a more upscale social club where wealthy gay men can discreetly meet new partners. When the AIDS epidemic comes in the 80s many of these characters contract the disease and die. A subplot involves a character becoming a gay rights activist and trying to spread awareness of the dangers of the activity.
  • Gentle Giant: Big Mike is laid back and doesn't seem particularly interested in violence. He's introduced putting a man in a headlock rather than pummeling him, and he earns a job as Vincent's bouncer by jumping out from the crowd to disarm a gunman.
  • Good Adultery, Bad Adultery: Bobby cheating on his wife is displayed as your typical middle-aged man crisis (especially considering he starts to work with prostitutes at a massage parlor,) whereas Vinne and Abby's affairs are consented, even if sometimes they aren't that pleased about it.
  • Greasy Spoon: A lot of the action takes place in Leon's, a local diner.
  • Hash House Lingo: Accordingly, the waiting staff at Leon's diner are heard making these kinds of orders for their patrons.
  • Hidden Depths: Some of the African-American characters (Darlene, Larry Brown, Black Frankie) are surprisingly curious about knowledge, despite living in a crime-ridden environment like The Deuce, and making a living as pimps, prostitutes or tough guys. Larry in particular wants to develop as an actor, and not just be a piece of meat in the adult film industry.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: All of the prostitutes are shown to be regular people, though Darlene and Candy have the most sympathetic characterizations.
  • Historical Domain Character:
    • Matthew Ianiello, Rudy's primary competition for control of the Deuce's entertainment industry, was a real mafioso who did control almost all of Times Square in the 1970s.
    • Jack Maple was a real New York police officer who created the COMSTAT system of policing.
    • Benjamin Ward is mentioned in Season 1 as the training officer of the new 1-4 Captain Peter Mc Donogh and that “He’d be First Deputy by now if he wasn’t Black” in 1972. Ward in Season 3 is mentioned as having become Police Commissioner in 1985, in real life Ward became the NYP Ds first African American police commissioner in 1984.
    • John Lindsay is mentioned as being Mayor in Season 1. In real life Lindsay was Mayor of NYC from 1966-1973.
    • Ed Koch is mentioned as being incoming Mayor in Season 2 in 1978 and is mentioned as still being Mayor in Season 3 in 1985. In real life Ed Koch was Mayor of NYC from 1978-1989.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Larry tries to recruit a woman fresh off the bus in NYC, only to discover that she's already got an audition lined up to be in pornography. He vainly tells her that the pornographers will exploit her.
  • Informed Attractiveness: Several people tell Candy that she has the looks to be in movies, both mainstream and pornographic.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Sandra, who wants to do a story on prostitutes and quickly pivots into an expose on police corruption, though she's more interested in getting her story than the people she might harm along the way.
  • Irony: The gleefully corrupt cop Haddix ends up teaching a class on police ethics to cadets.
  • It Always Rains at Funerals: When burying Kitty, the underage prostitute who died at a fire in one of the massage parlors, it is raining heavily. And barely nobody's there, to add to the sadness.
  • It Will Never Catch On: Harvey shows off a state-of-the-art VCR to another character who balks at the idea of paying $100 for a single cassette. Harvey counters that VCRs are the future.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Lampshaded in the third season by a city cop who calls Maple a "fucking jerk" but goes on to say "He's right about a lot of things, which you have to be if you're a jerk."
  • Know When to Fold 'Em:
    • In the series finale Vincent decides that it is time for him to move on. Too many of his friends are dead or moved on and the Deuce is changing too much. With the crackdown on sex trade in the area, Vincent's usefulness to the Mafia is nearing its end so it is a perfect time to buy his way out before they decide on You Have Outlived Your Usefulness.
    • After "winning" the battle against the sex trade in the Deuce, Chris is offered a promotion but he decides to retire from the NYPD instead.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: A gangster asks if they're on The Patty Duke Show upon seeing Vinnie and Frankie. Just like on that show, the twins are played by a single actor.
  • Lethally Stupid: Frankie is Too Dumb to Live and regularly puts himself in lethal danger through his gambling and by being willing to steal from his Mob employers. The only thing keeping him alive is the fact that Vincent is extremely well liked and is able to smooth things over with people Frankie has wronged. However, this just encourages Frankie to be even dumber and he does not seem to care how much danger he puts Vincent in.
  • Loony Fan: Lori does a live strip show and afterwards signs autographs for her fans. Predictably, some of the fans are a bit creepy. Later she is sitting in a diner and is recognized by a fan who sits in her booth without permission, causing her to flee the building. She even starts having delusions of fans stalking her.
  • The Mafia: The mob is still in the springtime of its hold on NYC, with the cops on the take, shaking down legit businesses and investing in the skin trade.
  • Minority Police Officer: Officer Chris Alston is often the only Black Cop in the precinct reflecting the makeup of the NYPD in the 1970s and 1980s
  • The Mole: Mike gets help robbing a private poker game from a transexual woman who works the coat closets and sneaks him guns past the security checkpoint.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: the fictional 14th Precinct appears to be an Expy of the real-life Midtown South Precinct, which covers 42nd Street.
  • N-Word Privileges: While the actual N-bomb is used very scarcely, the biggest example of the trope comes from Mike. During a robbery, he tells his fellow robbers to fetch "the faggot in the closet" who is secretly his lover.
  • Officer O'Hara: The NYPD as the time period reflects is majority White most of whom are Irish American, most cops shown have last names like Flanagan, Sweeney, Kilpatrick, Mc Donogh, etc.
  • Pimp Duds: The clothing of all the Pimps reflects that of the time period.
  • Police Are Useless: In the 70s the cops are shown to be extremely corrupt but can still be effective if they need to be. By 1984, the crime in the Deuce has become so bad that "wolf packs" of teenage criminals roam the streets and the cops can't do anything about it.
  • Real Men Wear Pink: Upon realizing that they have the free time to watch a movie, two pimps go to see Fantasia and talk about how they like the dancing animals.
  • Revenge Before Reason: After Franky is killed, Vincent is full of rage and refuses to listen when everyone around him tells him that seeking revenge will only bring misery to him and those close to him.
  • Scary Black Man:
    • Big Mike, Vincent's first bouncer, is a towering street brawler.
    • The pimps make their living intimidating their prostitutes and anyone who interacts with them.
    • The Teen Wolf Packs who roam the Streets looking to commit Robberies in Season 3.
  • The '70s: The first season is set in 1971, and the second in 1977.
  • Sextra Credit: What Abby does with her teacher.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: When C.C. is mocking Ruby/Thunderthighs's death, Officer Alston silences him with a punch to the stomach.
  • Shmuck Bait: Jack Maple's squad of transit cops are trying to catch muggers preying on subway passengers on New Year's Eve so they dress in civilian clothes and stake out a platform. They bait the trap by having one of the cops pretend to be drunk and flashing an expensive watch to everyone in sight. A gang of teenagers fall for it, try to rob the "victim" and are promptly arrested.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Skewed Priorities:
    • When threatening to execute a man in a bar's cellar, a mobster stops to move a case of booze so it won't get hit by the bullet and the man's brains.
    • Officer Haddix, who gripes about spilling his beer after exchanging gunfire with a pimp and getting hit in the shoulder.
  • Spotting the Thread: Chris realizes that Sandra isn't a real prostitute because her shoes are too expensive.
  • Straight Gay: Several characters are revealed to have homosexual relations while having no apparent gay mannerisms, including Gene Goldman and Mike.
  • Succession Crisis: At the start of season three, the Gambino mob family is going through a protracted succession crisis. In 1976 Paul Castellano replaced Carlo Gambino as The Don but his rule was unpopular with many mobsters thinking that someone else should be in charge. In 1985 the dissatisfaction is reaching its peak and the crime family might descend into a civil war. Rudy is not happy with Castellano's leadership, but he despises the John Gotti faction even more and is unsure how he will survive a new regime.
  • Talking to the Dead: The final scenes of the series finale consist of an elderly Vincent walking through the Deuce area in 2019 and seeing the ghosts of the other characters, some of them dead for almost fifty years and some who have just recently died. He exchanges greetings with some and has brief conversations with others like Eileen, Bobby and Frankie.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: Laurie is followed to her motel room by a Loony Fan, who begins pounding on her door. However, several seconds later, the motel manager yells through the door that no one else is out there.
  • Throw It In!: In-Universe: During one of the amateur porn videos, the woman realizes she's literally getting a package delivered as well; she and her partner answer the door while continuing to have sex.
  • Time Skip:
    • The second season picks up a full six years after the first season, moving from 1971 to 1977.
    • The third season skips from 1977 to late 1984.
    • The final scenes of the series finale take place in 2019.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The series is based on the recollections of the real Vincent and includes real people and events. However, the producers and writers fully acknowledge that Vincent was an Unreliable Narrator and most of the characters are composites of real people. The chronology of events is also changed for dramatic effect.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Not an Evil example, but when Lori finally moves to L.A. to become a famous porn star, C.C is bought out by the Mob. He tries to browbeat Frankie and Bobby into giving him even more money. It's doesn't end well for him.