We gave it a B+
Like the great Gwyneth Paltrow in the classic 1998 film Sliding Doors, David Simon knows one thing: If you’re going to have a single actor play a double role, one of those characters has to get a scar on their forehead for clarity.
So in The Deuce’s very first scene, we see our hero Vincent Martino — a hard-working, good-hearted Brooklyn bartender who works both sides of the river to make enough money to feed his family — get mugged. But the scene serves a larger purpose than to just differentiate his face from that of his twin brother Frankie. It also helps set the scene of the world we’re living in — the older, dirtier, grittier, and more lawless New York City of the 1970s, where now-trendy Williamsburg (which is where that bar is actually located) is unsafe after dark.
Like all David Simon projects, The Deuce isn’t just about one person, one neighborhood, one thing, or one place. It’s about the system, man. As such, the pilot introduces a handful of important story lines and characters that don’t really connect in a meaningful way yet, but they obviously will as the series goes forward. Right now, it’s a lot of scene setting. So, until things begin to mesh together a little more, let’s break down the scenery.
The Bar Boys
We already know a little bit about Vincent. But what about Frank? As we quickly learn, Frankie is the sleazier, more degenerate twin. He’s a gambler and a scofflaw, a sort of moral mirror opposite of his brother. Also like his brother, he’s essentially harmless — a little charming, even. In the end, he just wants to have some fun (and maybe make some money while he’s at it).
But his exploits end up pulling his brother into New York’s seedy underworld. Here’s how: One of the bars Vinnie manages is a Korean restaurant in Times Square owned by one Mr. Kim. But as Vinnie says, “No one eats Korean food. Probably not even in Korea, if they can help it!” At the same time, Tommy Longo (Daniel Sauli) from the mob comes to the bar to try to shake down Vinnie for Frankie’s debts, worth around $30,000.
A light bulb goes off in Vinnie’s head: What if he could help his brother and Mr. Kim at the same time? So, he puts the girls at Mr. Kim’s in leotards to bring in more traffic, which, in turn, will bring in more revenue that he can use to pay back Frankie’s mobsters. Plus, now all the street characters and fringe ruffians have a place where they feel welcome to drink and cavort. Everybody wins!
Elsewhere in Vinnie’s life, we find out that his wife Andrea (Zoe Kazan) has been gallivanting around town with other men while he’s been working two jobs to keep the lights on. It leads to a breakup, which, really, is just a necessary plot device: We need Vinnie to be unencumbered and hungry so the he can dive headfirst into what’s to come. (Recap continues on page 2)