Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Why we really watch THE DEUCE

Longtime readers of this blog know I have great fondness for the ‘60s. I even wrote a book about it. (Shameless plug: you can buy it here.) But I have no real nostalgia for the ‘70s.

Yet, Hollywood thinks the ‘70s are in. And I’m not sure why.

The ‘60s was a time of hope and optimism. The ‘70s was a period of anger, drugs, disillusionment, and really bad fashions.

There have been three series over the last few years set in the early ‘70s. VINYL, I’M DYING UP HERE, and now HBO’s THE DEUCE. They all feature rampant drug and alcohol use, angry fucked up people, the seedy underbelly of urban society, and leisure suits.

The sexual revolution has been reduced to prostitutes, one-night stands, and couples using sex as a power ploy. Where’s the romance? Where’s even the breakfast after?

I eagerly watched THE DEUCE. David Simon who did THE WIRE is writing and the reviews were spectacular. Maggie Gyllenhaal, who I always like is in it, James Franco, who I also like, is in it twice (he plays two brothers – hey, it worked for Ewan McGregor in FARGO), and graphic sex, which I like even more than specific actors.

So I thought the pilot was… good. But it didn’t knock me out. There was that world that I had no real desire to revisit. Yes, Times Square was seedy. Yes, pimps wore flashy purple velvet suits and Super Fly hats and terrorized their flock. Drugs were everywhere. People were down on their luck. Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose records played in the background. Ridiculous afros were in style -- shirt collars over brown leather jackets, bell-bottom pants, mini skirts and boots. Oh, and everyone smoked. Everything. Throw in some violence and sex scenes and the show was exactly what I expected. The writing was good and the dialogue was crisp, but I learned nothing new.

The one ‘70s project I really loved was BOOGIE NIGHTS. But that was years ago and introduced me to the inner-workings of a world that was completely foreign to me. THE DEUCE is, at least so far, familiar territory.

But I watched BOOGIE NIGHTS and THE DEUCE for the same reason: the subject matter. Sex – all dressed up in a classy way as a “period piece” or “study of society” or “exploration of feminism” – whatever bullshit explanation you wish to give it. If Masters & Johnson studied peoples’ driving habits Showtime would never have built a series around them. So for all the production values, and attention to ‘70s detail, THE DEUCE is an acceptable way to watch a series about sex featuring lots of nudity. It’s like when we guys used to buy Playboy Magazine for its interview with Gore Vidal. My point is: let’s just be honest and admit that. The fact that THE DEUCE is well done and gets good reviews just helps justify our decision to watch it... and maybe go back and watch certain sections again. Y’know, just in case we missed some of those Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose lyrics.

22 comments :

Jim S said...

Ken,

Why are the edgy 70s big right now? The answer is simple, it's the time period that the writers remember as their youth. David Simon is almost 60, George Pelecanos is 60.

They are basically middle class people who brushed up against the seedy side of things and have a romantic view the past. They are basically tourists.

So, yeah, they're writing about their past when people like them have some cultural relevance.

We've all heard from yuppies lamenting how Times Square has been Disney-fied and is anti-septic. They miss the "grit" and the real New Yorkers who were authentic.

I recall reading a quote from one of those real New Yorkers (his name escapes me) who was asked if he missed the old Times Square. He said no. It's nice to be able to take ones kids to a place like that and not have to worry about junkies, thieves and prostitutes. The old Times Square, as he remembers it, was seedy, sad and basically a stew of human misery. People who had to live there because it was their neighborhood and saw its decline don't have the romantic view that out-of-towners who came to the city and lived in a seedy neighborhood before joining their friends in the suburbs have of the old Times Square.

These guys are really just slumming in their rose-colored past.

VP81955 said...

It was a tawdry time, no way around it. My family left my hometown of Syracuse in the fall of 1970, and I didn't return for a few years. I've since discovered that in 1972 or so, the Loew's movie palace on South Salina Street gave up studio fare for X-rated films, as did the Mayan in Los Angeles and so many other theaters in both LA and on Manhattan's 42nd Street.

Fortunately, that decay was short-lived, not just in LA and NYC but in Syracuse, at least for the Loew's -- it's now the Landmark Performing Arts Center, still in its 1928 red and gold glory, recently refurbished to accommodate large-scale stage productions and now a popular touring venue. The rest of downtown has largely gone downhill, however, as all the department stores (Dey's, Edwards, Chappell's) abandoned it for the suburbs or the new Carousel Center north of town. Of course, few of those chains still exist.

Pat Reeder said...

I haven't seen this show, but your description reminds me of something I saw on "The Simpsons" recently. Marge and Homer go for marital counseling to Masters & Johnson. We see the sign outside the clinic: "Masters & Johnson Sex Clinic: If we weren't doctors, we'd be arrested."

Anonymous said...

Of course one of the problems with pigeonholing decades is that it doesn't really work well.
One could say the 40's lasted until the Korean War- that corresponds pretty well.
but the 50's could be said to have lasted from the end of the Korean War and Ike until 11/22/63 (google)
The 60's were from that point until Watergate in 1972 and the 70's were from that point until Reagan was inaugurated in 1981.
Yes, those are arbitrary but they reflect the times better than 10 year periods.
1979 was as different from 1970 as 1969 was from 1960.
Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose was early 1970's.
Boogie nights was late 1970's.
Different period (altho not as dramatic as the shifts of the 1950's and 1960's),

Mike Barer said...

I'm anxious to listen to your Outlaw Radio appearence.

Michael Rae said...

I stopped watching the show during the middle of episode 3. It didn't appeal to me.

Rock Golf said...

Watched about 30 mins, until one of the characters casually chatted to a prostitute in mid-fellatio.
Yeah, thanks, but no thanks. If the plot didn't seem to be miserable people doing terrible things, I might have stuck with it.
This was "feel bad" TV.

WendyT said...

I gave "The Deuce" a chance, but thought the storylines were weak. I'm not sure why it got renewed for a second season after only two episodes. "Vinyl" wasn't perfect, but I found it much more interesting and I'm sorry that it didn't get renewed for a second season.

blinky said...

The 70s really did suck. They were the hangover from the 60s. Taking drugs to find enlightenment turned into just getting high. And disco...Disco! Ack!

Pete Grossman said...

While the show is incredibly well done and I'm fascinated by how they use live locations and green screen (even though I worked on movies in NYC), the pilot depressed the shit out of me and I haven't watched it since. I'll just wait for "The Duce" sex scenes compilation someone will no doubt produce for online consumption - just like those Playboy retrospectives I used to "read."

Jahn Ghalt said...

The ‘60s was a time of hope and optimism. The ‘70s was a period of anger, drugs, disillusionment, and really bad fashions. Yet, Hollywood thinks the ‘70s are in.

No comment on Hollywood's latest infatuation, but the blanket statement about the seventies and sixties is unusually un-self-reflective.

(though I grant you the "really bad fashions" part)

Part of my reaction is that, like an auto accident, the currently rolled out Ken Burns Vietnam series is ugly (10 parts - really?) but you have to look. Plenty of anger, drugs, and disillusionment there - for good reason.

Another is that I'm younger born 1958, high-school class of '77 - here's an observation from my personal little bubble - our 1972 "health class" by a teacher of your "vintage":

(BTW, we had a REAL health class - a no-BS treatment of sex, our bodily changes, contraception, and pleasure drugs)

He shared anecdotes from the sixties (probably second hand, since he was a California boy "new to Anchorage"). In a Grade 10-12 population of 1400, there were "daily" "overdoses". The daily part was likely an exaggeration and "overdoses" were disruptive drug-related incidents - but those were unheard of on "my watch"

(some of you may ask what's an eighth-grade class doing at high-school - answer is we had a sprawling grade 7-12 "jr.-sr.-high-school")

I concluded that we younger kids learned how to better take drugs from our older siblings - I later learned that the local "chemists" had learned how to make more dilute tabs of acid.

The next year I heard of Nixon's Watergate problems. I don't recall how it happened, but at 14 I was cynical about it - not "disillusioned" (unlike my mother's 60-something friend who "couldn't believe all those terrible things they said about Haldeman and Erlichmann)

Just like you, Ken, as teenagers we were aware of the problems in the news - but not "angry" about them. Were you "angry" about Vietnam at age 14? If so, you left it out of your memoir. You were "angry" about Neil Young and his A$$#OLE behavior in your record store - and that the girls didn't put out.

I thought it was cool that Billie Jean wiped the court with Bobby Riggs. I thought it was stupid that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors thought it wise to dilute the phyisical tests for female firefighters. I was dumfounded that Yasser Arafat - after killing hundreds of Israeli civilians - was respectfully greeted at the UN General Assembly

(see why I became more cynical?)

(and I'm going to the Emma Stone and Steve Carrell film)

We weren't "angry" about any of that - but disillusioned fits, I'll admit.

No doubt, If I'd been 24 when Nixon resigned, I'll have been angry too, about Watergate and "Vietnamization".

Call it an "accident" of your birth.

Peter said...

Maybe the trend towards 70s themed shows is because they're anticipating another scandal that results in a president being removed from office.

bigdgib said...

Heck, I remember when it became socially acceptable to go see "Deep Throat." I wonder if it's the most profitable film, adjusted for inflation.

DwWashburn said...

Ken said "So for all the production values, and attention to ‘70s detail, THE DEUCE is an acceptable way to watch a series about sex featuring lots of nudity. "

You have just described the majority of premium cable and streaming shows. Add foul language and gore, and you have their entire plot catalog. And year after year the Academy rewards these narrow minded shows with nominations. Mind boggling.

MikeN said...

>Times Square has been Disney-fied and is anti-septic. They miss the "grit" and the real New Yorkers who were authentic.

Another decade of DeBlasio, and it'll be back.

MikeN said...

>acceptable way to watch a series about sex featuring lots of nudity. "

And giving out Oscar nominations and wins encourages actresses to do it.

Jeff Maxwell said...

I've only seen The Deuce pilot. Terrific actors, but it/they felt strained, a little too cliche and self-conscious. Maybe it was my own self-consciousness. Or maybe watching it at 1 am makes it creepy. Or maybe it is creepy. I don't know. Looking forward to next episode.

Johnny Walker said...

I don’t think anything Simon has done has reached the peak of THE WIRE, but very few things do. Don’t let this out you off that :)

MikeN said...

> Billie Jean wiped the court with Bobby Riggs.

One of the biggest feminist myths of all time. John McEnroe was attacked for saying that Serena Williams would be about #700 on the mens tour. What if three years ago, John McEnroe had played Serena Williams or another top star, and lost 6-4, 6-3, 6-3- would people think of this as proof women are as good as men, or anything close? McEnroe is not even able to play at a pro level, and Bobby Riggs at the same age 55 got 10 games from the top star in the world in her prime.

Ted Kilvington said...

The last time I watched a premium cable show about sex was HBO's "Hung". The premise was supposed to be Thomas Jane as a high school teacher moonlighting as a gigolo. The show was that, but with Jane playing the character as Eeyore, constantly moping about his lot in life. Feel Bad TV indeed.

Carol said...

My 70's was all Saturday Morning television shows, After School Specials, wearing tee-shirts with my name picked out in iron-on letters, and reruns of the Monkees and The Brady Bunch. I have a vague sort of recollection of my parents coming home from a party with weird sexual things, including a colouing book with naked people in it. That I colored in.

Also a shocking lack of parental supervision on playgrounds, beaches, and neighburhood streets.

Karan G. said...

Two episodes in and I'm starting to lose interest. I'm thinking that the pace on the show is going to be as slow as an actual 70's drama. I enjoyed the conversation about Dick Van Dyke - Jerry Van Dyke, but long for the conversation of Boyd Crowder and Raylon Gibbons. Not sure I'm going to stick with it.