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Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Franco are amazing in HBO's new 1970s NYC porn industry story The Deuce

  A scene from The Deuce, featuring Maggie Gyllenhaal

Well, I hear it's about the porn industry in NYC in the 1970s, but I only saw the amazing pilot episode of the show on Friday night at the brand new Split Screens Festival at the IFC Center, and the pilot deals with the story before the porn industry aspect kicks in.  In the pilot episode we get to see several characters in NYC in the early 1970s; a prostitute played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, a bartender played by James Franco (who also plays his gambling addicted twin brother), and several more prostitutes, pimps, and various other people in their orbit.  In the pilot episode we see how things are for these characters on a day to day basis, and generally it ain't pretty.

This was the first time that I saw an HBO show episode on a movie theater screen.  That plus the production design of the show had me going "wow, this looks amazing, this really looks like NYC in the 1970s (as far as I can tell from visual documentation of the era), how did they do that?" half the time while I was watching the pilot. Perhaps the best way to watch HBO shows is on the big screen. Maybe this will be a regular thing in the future; HBO shows getting theatrical presentations.

Another thing that was amazing about the pilot episode was Maggie Gyllenhaal's presence.  Even though she was playing a somewhat struggling prostitute, she projected an otherworldly, movie star quality.  Maybe that's part of the creation of a fantasy aspect of sex work back in the 1970s.  James Franco did solid work on the pilot as a bartender dealing with his various life problems, and things get a bit unusual when Franco also turns up as the twin brother of the bartender.  I won't say much more about those characters; all in all great work by the actor.

The world shown in The Deuce pilot is not the campy, funny 1970s that we see in comedies.  The Deuce's world is a tough, at times brutal 1970s in NYC. But also a world full of everyday struggles, mundane work-a-day victories, and some humor.  This is a world that was partially created by crime fiction writer George Pelecanos.  And as directed by Michelle MacLaren, the pilot feels a lot like a documentary.  Outside of seeing the modern day movie stars Gyllenhaal and Franco in the show, the show immerses the viewer in the details of its time period.  It is fascinating to watch - specially on a massive movie theater screen.  I'll have to watch the pilot again at home to absorb everything that was going on in it.

The Deuce pilot shows a downbeat, colorful world of prostitution and struggle, but brought to life in a rich, detail oriented way, and featuring great performances by Gyllenhaal and Franco.