It’s a pretty crazy thing to witness the scene of a television show being filmed in real time and then see the polished version of said scene play out in front of you on an iPhone screen a year later. That moment took place for me in Episode 3 of The Deuce from 54:50-55:25 when Vincent convinces Big Mike (Mustafa Shakir) to return to his newly-christened bar after a little gun trouble with the establishment’s former partner. I stood around for about three hours last July on a muggy evening, still in my work clothes, as production closed down a busy New York avenue and transformed it into a little slice of the seventies for a scene that runs less than a minute long. And believe me, I not only watched them do multiple takes, but I also watched the finished scene multiple times on HBO GO in vein to see if I could spot myself standing in the periphery, but you can be sure I’m there, craning my head to get a good look just out of frame. To prove I’m not a teller of tall tales, I’ve included a photo and two videos of that evening below for your perusal:
Now, let’s get down to brass tacks, shall we?
I’ll start with Candy this week, our budding filmmaker. She meets with Harvey Wasserman (a delightfully sleazy David Krumholtz) at a kosher deli. She orders the chicken soup (no matzo ball) and he orders the kishka with a side of gravy. “What’s in kishka?” she asks Wasserman to which he responds with a laugh, “You don’t wanna know.” A fitting rejoinder for those of us who grew up eating the stuff in cholent on Shabbos, but also a relevant parallel to Wasserman himself who looks—to perpetuate the Jewish theme—kosher on the outside, but is all artery-blocking black for you with a Capital B. You see, he films pornos, but he puts no film in the camera because there’s no real money in the illegal hardcore sex trade. It’s a lot more economically viable to charge a room full of people (mostly men) to watch people copulate while he pretends to direct a dirty movie. All surface-level and rotten to the core so he’s not much help to Candy who wants to learn the trade: Lighting, camera, foley, etc. He has no misgivings about his business practices, but he does lament the fact that the deli used to give you more kishka. Before you judge, Krumholtz for his character’s moral bankruptcy too harshly, just know he’s a very nice dude in real life (see below).
Vince’s bar is renovated and up and running in “The Principle Is All” along with some hiccups from a local Irish mob boss over ownership, the conflict allowing for Franco to shine in his twin roles. This was the first episode where I felt the two had really distinctive personalities, which I enjoyed. Frankie using a crow bar to break into the cigarette machine, jukebox and pool table so he could continue betting in a card game as Vinnie toils away at fixing up the place was a really great character moment. In the middle of this, Vince’s backer, Rudy, is getting involved into some shady redevelopment plan with the mayor, but something tells me Vince may be thrown under the bus if anything goes wrong.
Abby makes strides as well this week, trying her hand at a crummy telemarketing agency before becoming a leotard-clad server at the grand opening of Vinnie’s place. Still, she still seems a bit inconsequential to all the big stuff going on, despite her budding romance with Vince.
Our friendly neighborhood pimps are scrabbling for better lives too. C.C. takes his new-recruit, Lori (Emily Meade), aside to impress upon her that while blowing guys in the tunnel in and out to New Jersey is smart, the plan won’t sustain itself. She needs to get herself some regulars, but Lori is still traumatized from last week when C.C. cut a fool like deli meat for posing as a cop and trying to kidnap his woman. Larry Brown (Gbenga Akinnagbe) is having trouble too because one of his girls, Darlene, is getting into books, particularly Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities and as we all know, there’s nothing worse than an educated whore (that last part is completely facetious). Carr and Akinnagbe play their parts to perfection, able to shift seamlessly between tender and understanding to scary and violent with apparent ease.
Episode 3 is a tale of two New Yorks. On one hand, the characters are striving for something new and better, but on the other hand, they can’t seem to escape the chains binding them to the old way of doing things. Even the cops are getting strange instructions that certain parts of the city are off-limits when it comes to making arrests. Vince becomes his own boss, Rudy’s trying to clean up The Deuce (or at least profit from redeveloping it), Candy wants to make movies, C.C. wants to make enough money to get out of the pimping game and Abby is trying to actualize her potential as a woman in an America where women can do more than ever before. Nevertheless, it’s a lot harder to change things when the world is so set in its ways. This version of New York is an old dog and they’re all gonna have a Hell of a time trying to teach it new tricks.
SONG PICKS OF THE WEEK:
- “Mr. Big Stuff” – Jean Knight (1971)
- “The Twang Thang” – Billy Butler (1969)
- *“Bending Soul” – The Soul Blenders (???)
*Seriously, I searched for like half an hour to find when this song was released and couldn’t find anything concrete. The closest thing to an actual year of release was “1970-ish”. Anyway, it’s a groovy beat.