HBO has a pretty strong track record when it comes to television series. Just about anything the network airs must adhere to a certain level of quality. Yes, people can complain about the decline in quality of later seasons of something like True Blood or The Sopranos, and I would argue that even then the quality of those were excellent, but because what they previously did had set the bar so high, nothing was going to compare in the end. And no matter what you think the worst show on HBO is somehow manages to be lightyears better than the later seasons of rival network Showtime’s Dexter. I’m getting off point here, but what I’m trying to say is unless someone lost a bar bet somewhere, chances are if you’re getting an HBO show to review it’s going to be good. The big question after that is “How good?” In this specific case, “How good is The Deuce?”
The Show Itself (4/5)
Man, The Deuce is good. Real good.
In a case of just about anything they touch turns to gold, creators David Simon and George Pelecanos (The Wire) willingly take us down the dark alleys and grime covered streets of New York during the early 70’s. Now, having no firsthand experience of the time period I can only say the setting seems accurate to me, and my point of reference limited to books, other films, and various documentaries about grindhouse cinema. I can, however, state that the land portrayed in The Deuce is a far cry from the current state of New York, almost to the point of being outright fantasy.
The world is populated by what seems like dozens of characters, from James Franco’s dual role as twins Frank and Vincent to Maggie Gyllenhaal’s hooker with an enterprising spirit (note I did not say the heart of gold) Candy to Ruby the rebel waitress, or C.C. the philosophical pimp. Everyone has their own little section of the story and walks freely between each other’s narrative as they see fit. This method of storytelling done as well as it allows several stories to be told at once… but after a few episodes, the focus starts to really close in on the burgeoning adult film industry and the various parties out there who can make a buck off of it.
Those familiar with the structure of The Wire will feel right at home here in both structure and subject matter. Brother Vincent is the businessman trying to keep as honest as possible under the thumb of the New York wiseguys and trying to keep degenerate gambler and twin Frank from getting his legs broken. Vincent’s descent deeper into the world he really doesn’t want a part of is fascinating, and you could be forgiven for even sympathizing with him, even though he’s entirely aware of what he’s doing. That being said, no character here is clean, and the grime is everywhere in varying degrees.
Visuals/Picture Quality (4/5)
The visuals are crisp and vibrant… no stylized trickery to add film grain or anything. It’s shot and lit almost clinically, allowing a lot of detail to be gained in the set pieces. The camerawork, while I didn’t notice any specific flair, is very blue collar… meaning it does what it’s supposed to do and allows the story to breathe. I’m sure there is a lot of artistic choices in the camera work, I just didn’t see them. Which, I’m okay with… I was laser focused on the characters the whole time.
Score/Audio Quality (4/5)
The soundtrack is firmly based in the 70s and booms with the hits in all the right places. Dialogue is crisp and understandable, having only reached for my remote once or twice to hear a muffled bit of dialogue. I’ve been chastised for only having a soundbar and not a 5.1 system, but it works for me and I see no reason to upgrade.
Special Features (3.5/5)
- Two commentary tracks…one on the first episode and one on the last. They’re informative and make you wish all eight would have had something. The following feature covers some of the same ground a commentary would, however.
- Inside The Episode featurettes on each disc for their respective episodes. These are nice little chunks of info that take you into important bits about the episode in question…almost a substitute for a good commentary, but a decent middle ground. They always leave you wanting a little more, which is fine.
- The Wild West: New York in the Early 1970s featurette shows some footage of the actual 70’s New York while the cast and crew talk about it. Fun, but fluff.
- The Deuce In Focus is your standard EPK about the series. It’s only 8 minutes and some change, so there is no reason not to watch it.
It’s a 3 disc Blu-ray case that closes and the discs don’t fall out. The slipcover is nice and embossed and will get thrown away immediately by me after this review is over. Both contain the same artwork and you get your standard HBO digital copy along with the package.
- Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
- English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
- French: DTS 5.1
- Spanish: DTS 2.0
- German: DTS 5.1
- Spanish: DTS 5.1
- English SDH, French, German, Portuguese, Spanish, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish
The Deuce Overall (4/5)
Another solid drama from HBO and the creators of The Wire. Was there really any question this was pretty good? The second season has started production and I’m excited to see where the story takes us from here. Check it out!
You can pick up your copy from Amazon or other Blu-ray retailers.