The Deuce Season 1 Blu-ray Review
"Once upon a time in America, pleasure became a business."
Season 1 Review
The Wire's David Simon takes to the streets of New York for a gritty look at the birth of the porn industry.After sifting through the detritus on the streets of Baltimore, Simon goes back in time almost fifty years to explore a New York that looks like something out of Scorsese's Taxi Driver, only worse. With prostitutes, pimps and pushers parading up and down Times Square, and underground sex shows still a pretty disorganised affair, it falls to a disparate group of equally disorganised (notwithstanding their involvement with organised criminals) individuals - prominently led by a hard-working bar owner and his unruly twin brother, as well as a cynical independent prostitute - who inadvertently usher in the dawn of porn, one step at a time. It's a tough watch, littered with nudity and sex acts which are frequently the polar opposite of sexy, drowned out in violence and abuse, but it's driven by compelling characters in much the same way as The Wire.Although initially frequently sidebarred in her own show, co-producer Maggie Gyllenhaal chose well here, trusting in Simon's previous form despite the at-times quite daring subject-matter, which requires her to play a beleaguered prostitute who finds it increasingly hard to go it alone without the protection of a pimp. James Franco, also a co-producer, enjoys the duality of his role as twin brothers (initial a seeming gimmick which actually becomes quite effective, and is certainly seamless) who run a bar that soon becomes something else, whilst an expansive, eclectic group of characters portrayed by myriad faces, often familiar from The Wire, colour in the background, which is arguably the best part of Simon's work, with his eye for detail and day-to-day grind often even more interesting than the slow-building broader arcs stringing everything together.
Picture QualityThe Deuc The Complete First Season comes to Region B-locked UK Blu-ray complete with a solid 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation which is faithful to the material but can only do so much with a production that is so intent on looking like it was actually shot in the seedy side of 70s New York (and mostly at night, for that matter), that it ends up with commensurate quality.
Not quite faux grindhouse in design, the comparison is still valid, with a richly textured but also heavily stylised look reveling in tones varying from sickly yellows to oranges, browns and reds. It's a very convincing look, but it's also often hard to qualitatively assess the end result as it simply can't be seen as demo material, even if it's utterly faithful to the show's look.
It's a very faithful presentation; it's just never going to be regarded as reference
Detail remains strong throughout, briefly dipping into exceptional for a few close-ups that highlight the weathered girls sans make-up, or the textures of the bars, but also affected around the edges by the more stylistic flourishes, in particular when it comes to bathing the piece in shadows, where shadow detail never rises to the challenge, again likely affected by the effects implemented to make the period look more real. It's a very faithful presentation; it's just never going to be regarded as reference.
Sound QualityIt comes down to the score to do the heavy lifting
The Deuce's Blu-ray release comes sporting a suitably funky DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix which revels in the music from the era, making that as much a character as any of the rest of the colourful crew, giving a dominant vibe to the piece and promoting easily the strongest element on the audio track with aplomb. Dialogue gets decent prioritisation across the frontal array, and effects allow for some solid atmosphere to be crafted in the bustling bars, with the streets teeming with activity too. Car engines and police sirens further allow for a little range across the surrounds, although it comes down to the excellent score and song tracks therein to do the heavy lifting here, which they do with verve and passion.
ExtrasA solid selection of extra features
The UK Blu-ray set of the first season of The Deuce affords it a solid if not particularly expansive selection of extra features headlined by a couple of strong Audio Commentaries delivered by, respectively, Simon and Gyllenhaal, and Pelecanos and Franco, both sets accompanied by a third wheel. There are also very brief Featurettes, running just a few minutes, which dip into the making of each episode, as well as a couple of longer pieces that predominantly look at the period setting.
Blu-ray VerdictFew who make it the distance will be able to deny a desire to see more
The works of David Simon (and regular collaborator George Pelecanos) are as much an acquired taste as they are acclaimed, and The Deuce is classic Simon, painting an ensemble cast of colourful and eclectic characters whose seemingly diverse lives gradually coalesce over the course of an entire season. It requires patience and commitment, but delivers with rich characterisation and intricate observation of the finer details that bring this period piece to life. Certainly the subject matter may not immediately draw your attention but, come the end of the first season, few who make it the distance will be able to deny a pervasive desire to see more.
The Blu-ray release of the complete first season of The Deuce affords it strong video and audio and a solid selection of additional features, making it a must-have for those who love the show, and particularly for those for whom this is the only method of investigating it. Recommended.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £24.99
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