For George Pelecanos, co-creator of HBO’s new series The Deuce, one major point of pride is receiving permission from Curtis Mayfield’s family to use his 1970 song “(Don’t Worry) If There’s A Hell Below We’re All Going To Go” as the show’s theme music. Another would be when it comes to onscreen nudity, everyone’s showing their birthday suit.
“I always wondered why you always see the woman [naked] and with the man, he’s just getting out of bed and it’s his backside quickly. It just didn’t seem equitable,” Pelecanos explains. “If you’re going to do a show like this, which is about the commodification of sex and the selling of flesh then you should see everybody in their natural state.”
The 19-time author and co-creator of The Wire spoke to VIBE at HBO’s New York offices about the new series. Airing Sundays at 9 p.m. EST, the series set in Times Square 1971 earns its name from the slang used to denote 42nd street. Make no mistake, before the area became a tourist destination chock full of slow-walking sightseers, family friendly chain restaurants, or blinding lights and pickpocketers learning the ABCs of the trade, Times Square was a deplorable’s den and a sanctuary for sex workers and their pimps chasing the almighty dollar.
The show has several storylines for viewers to follow but one of the protagonists is Eileen “Candy” Merrell played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, a seasoned street walker who works independently of a pimp to take any of her earnings off the top. A transitional moment in the show comes when Candy fills in for a girl during a porn shoot. The sex scene involving another woman and two men dressed as Vikings is inconsequential to Candy as she’s more interested in learning how she can take her back alley work to the big screen.
Breasts, penises, asses and everything in between are all on full display in the series and Pelecanos says he and co-creator David Simon never received pushback from any higher ups, even when Gyllenhall’s character gets Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup squirted in her face to denote male Viking ejaculation.
“We never got a no from HBO about that and we had some graphic stuff in there, especially when people are watching [porn] in the theaters, they never said anything, which I thought they would,” he says. “When those Viking guys came out, the two actors we had and they were frontal I was like ‘Damn, they must really be porn stars.’ I didn’t know where we got them from and somebody said to me ‘Oh yeah, those guys are porn stars.'”
Yet despite the premise of the story depicting the moment in American culture sex elevates to the pornography industry, Pelecanos says The Deuce is more than the Johns paying someone to get them off.
“The show deals with misogyny and gender politics. Misogyny has never been more alive than it is today to a surprising degree, or at least surprising to me. I thought a lot of these beliefs had been sort of, not buried completely, but we’d done a good job of it years ago stamping it down. But it’s not that surprising when you think, we’re talking about 40, 50 years of pornography that boys have grown up watching,” Pelecanos explains.
Pelecanos also notes from a political standpoint, The Deuce although it takes place 46 years ago, oddly and unfortunately resonates today.
“When I was a teenager, pornography for me was a Playboy magazine and basically looking at a woman’s breasts,” Pelecanos says. “That’s really what it was. If you want to call it innocent compared to now and a boy who’s that age can open a laptop and see a woman getting f**ked in every single way and violent images against women and it can’t help but permeate their psyche and the culture in a negative way. It just can’t. When a president gets elected after talking about grabbing a woman’s p***y something’s wrong, and that’s where it really resonates for me.”
The Deuce airs Sunday nights on HBO at 9 p.m. EST.