I’m always in two minds when it comes to HBO as a TV network. On one hand, they create shows that question and entertain (The Wire, Sex and the City, Boardwalk Empire) and on the other, they have a long history of using sex to sell their shows – and in their worst incarnations – in a very exploiting way to draw in viewers. Emilia Clarke from Game of Thrones said that she abjectly refused to participate in nudity scenes for the sake of her naked body being exposed as the series went on – when it was more than obvious that quite a few of those scenes were there to do nothing more than titillate?the audience. But at their best, HBO do use more adult themes to explore complex?issues that resonate in modern times.
And their much-hyped?The Deuce?is a prime example of this done right. A series revolving around prostitution and the sex industry in 1970s?New York, it treads a careful line in that it’s about exploitation – and its many forms – but it is not itself exploitative. Make no mistake, there’s a huge amount of nudity – of males and females – but it doesn’t exist on screen, except perhaps in small instances, to?titillate. The show is a slow burner, but thoughtfully written and clever;?their attempt to revert the stereotyped depiction of the porn industry – and in particular, the women in it (though men aren’t secondary figures in the show either) – that we see so frequently on screen.
Perhaps it will surprise few that its creator is David Simon of The Wire, and his?well-known collaborator, novelist George Pelecanos. But it’s not solely their vision; Michelle MacLaren (who did impeccable work directing some of the?Breaking Bad episodes) directs the feature-length opener and perfectly sets the series tone (and two other female directors feature during the eight-episode run).? ?Of the early episodes I’ve seen, it takes a while to get into it, but is so worth sticking with.
Maggie Gyllenhaal shines in her best role to date as the fiercely independent Candy and?James Franco is rather very good, so give him a shot. Like all great shows and given the nature of its content,?it can make for uncomfortable viewing at times (that’s your trigger warning right there) but it’s shaping up to be the best TV show of the autumn.
The Deuce Starts tonight, September 26th on Sky Atlantic