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A remarkable feat from David Simon’s (The Wire) new period drama The Deuce is that it makes you feel nostalgic for a time that really has very little to feel nostalgic about, let alone that many (including me) hadn’t even been born yet. As to be expected from an HBO drama hailing from Simon, it is an ambitious but slow-burning project examining an unconventional community of people and the outside forces that threaten their existence.

The Deuce is in fact so slow-burning that the almost-90-minute premiere does not even mention the very thing that this series is supposed to be about. Set in the early 1970s on Times Square before it became — well — Times Square, the series chronicles the transition of the sex industry from sex workers on the street to the booming business of porn. But as said, the lengthy premiere doesn’t even touch upon that yet, and ultimately that isn’t what the series is about anyway. Instead, it is about this community of people who, although despised and ignored by many, are also real people who have got to make ends meet just like the rest of us, and how the changing surroundings force them to make changes to their lives as well.

The big names of this series are Maggie Gyllenhaal (The Honourable Woman) as independent pimp-less street worker Eileen aka Candy, and James Franco (11.22.63) in a dual role as the troubled twin brothers Vinny and Frankie Martino. Vinny has chosen not to join his (cheating) wife’s (Zoe Kazan, The Big Sick) family mob business, but instead to work several jobs as a bartender to support his family. In the meantime, Frankie is making gambling debts all over New York City, which is certainly not making life easier for Vinny.

While many series can seem like they almost exist in service of advancing the careers of the big-name actors that star in it, The Deuce is definitely not one of those series. Yes, it has Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Franco, but neither of them are so front-and-center that it becomes overwhelming, and they are acting in service of the series just like the lesser-known but not less impressive rest of the cast, including Gary Carr (Downton Abbey) as pimp C.C. and Dominique Fishback as sweet-natured prostitute Darlene.

The Deuce paints a very nice picture of the time it is set in. It is ultimately a show that revolves around character development, and although series like that are supposed to be slow-burning, it should pick up the pace a little bit, because it runs a risk of becoming boring really quickly. But if things will start happening, The Deuce has the potential to turn out as a very compelling series.

The Deuce airs on Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.

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