Skip to main content

The Journal Gazette

  • HBO James Franco plays multiple characters in the new HBO series “The Deuce.”

Sunday, September 10, 2017 1:00 am

HBO series follows rise of porn in New York

George Dickie | Zap2it

Anyone who walked down New York City's 42nd Street in the 1970s likely remembers it as a trip through the underside of humanity.

There were the drug dealers, the hookers and the fencers of stolen goods. There were also the peep shows, porn shops and topless and bottomless bars. And there were all the shady and not-so-shady characters who patronized them. And the rundown buildings and garbage – everywhere.

You seemingly couldn't take 10 paces without seeing a neon “XXX” in a shop window, quite a contrast from the homogenized, family-friendly byway that now exists in post-Giuliani New York.

That era is recalled in the HBO drama series “The Deuce,” premiering today.

Created by “The Wire” and “Treme” producing partners George Pelecanos and David Simon, the series follows the rise of the billion-dollar porn industry and culture from the early 1970s through the mid-1980s, a phenomenon made possible by a liberalized cultural revolution and new legal definitions of obscenity.

It's seen through the eyes of denizens of “The Deuce” (local slang for 42nd Street), among them twin brothers Vincent and Frankie Martino (James Franco, “127 Hours,” who is also an executive producer here), the former an ambitious bartender and the latter a free spirit who gets by on his brother's support; Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal, “Crazy Heart”), a prostitute who refuses to work for a pimp; Abby Parker (Margarita Levieva, “The Blacklist”), an NYU dropout working as a barmaid; C.C. (Gary Carr, “Downton Abbey”), a pimp; and Chris Alston (Lawrence Gilliard Jr., “The Wire”), a police officer.

Franco's character is based on an actual individual who had run a bar near Times Square in that era and had many stories to tell, which Pelecanos and Simon realized could be the basis for a series.

“He had run this bar around the Times Square area that was really unusual,” says Franco of the real Vincent Martino, who died before the filming of the pilot, “because it was a real kind of melting pot of all kinds of social levels and everything else you had. At the time, you certainly had gay bars and straight bars, but rarely did you have a bar where they would mix and that they would mix with police officers and the Warhol crowd and trans customers.

“And so, it was a great, sort of, entryway for a story about New York at this time to really kind of be entered in,” he continues. “And was a guy, I was told, he always dreamed of a television series. Even before David and George met him, I guess he had 90 hours of recordings. I guess he just did on his own in his living room, dreaming about one day meeting someone like the creator of 'The Wire' to tell his story, and it worked out.”