I said before I even saw the pilot that The Deuce was already my favorite show. This was based on the involvement of David Simon. When you have a serious attachment to someone's work, you'll give them the benefit of the doubt. Ronald D. Moore convinced me with Battlestar Galactica that he was someone to watch. I watched Caprica for its short run. I watched the first season of Helix, although Moore's involvement turned out to be minimal. Finally, Moore had another success with Outlander, which begins its third season tonight. The period between Galactica and Outlander was not very fruitful for fans of Moore, but now we've been rewarded with two excellent series.
So, given that David Simon was the creator of my #1 show, The Wire, and has been a driving force behind The Corner, Generation Kill, Treme, and Show Me a Hero, I'm going to cut Simon a lot of slack with The Deuce.
The pilot got my attention, to be sure. Like most pilots, it is clearly just the beginning of the world building, which is one reason it helps if you're already inclined to go with what the creator is offering. (The Wire was nearly incomprehensible at first.) I knew I liked it, I could see potential, critics were raving, and I was a happy fellow.
But then a friend, whose critical acumen I respect, ripped the pilot to shreds, calling it awful. I don't want to go overboard ... this was a four-sentence Facebook post, and thus lacked a detailed analysis. But it made me question my own response to the show.
So I watched it again, looking for the things my friend had noted. Mostly, he complained about the stereotypical presentation of 1971 New York City: heart-of-gold whores, dumb whores, harmless johns, menacing black pimps.
And, watching a second time, I saw some of this ... I missed out on the prostitute with a heart of gold, but most of the other stuff does indeed turn up. But I trust Simon. He said, "We’re interested in what it means when profit is the primary metric for what we call society. In that sense, this story is intended as neither prurient nor puritan. It’s about a product, and those human beings who created, sold, profited from and suffered with that product." I think this can co-exist with the elements my friend described, although I admit it's going to be a fine line, and time may prove me wrong.
For now, there are a number of interesting characters, not all of them nice. I didn't get to New York City until 1982, but the representation of 1971 NYC seems legit to me. Your tolerance for James Franco will be put to the test, as he plays identical twins who come off as variants of Charlie and Johnny Boy in Mean Streets. Franco is excellent as the Charlie-Twin, while the Johnny Boy-Twin is annoying (admittedly, he is supposed to be). The talent behind the camera is also solid, especially Michelle MacLaren, who has directed episodes of many shows I like, including recent favorites like The Leftovers and Westworld.
I can't guarantee that you'll love The Deuce. My friend is a good example. But I'd give it a try, based on Simon's track record, if nothing else.