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‘The Deuce’ Takes Aim at Cultural Impact of Modern Porn Biz

Who got paid, who got betrayed and how the culture became hyper-sexualized with the rise of the modern pornography industry are the big themes of “The Deuce,” the latest HBO effort from “The Wire” creator David Simon.

The drama, which bows Sept. 10, is set in 1971 at the moment when porn goes from a “paper bag beneath-the-counter” business to a booming industry, Simon said.

“Everybody realizes that the money involved is going to be real,” Simon told reporters Wednesday during the Television Critics Assn. press tour in Beverly Hills. The story of how the business evolved and who prospered among the early pioneers is a fascinating tale. But the larger theme that “Deuce” aims to explore is how porn has influenced culture — everything from the marketing of automobiles to the way men and women communicate.

“The product itself is not a normative product — the product is human flesh. It’s objectified women,” Simon said. “In making it into a billion-dollar industry there’s something really telling about who get paid, who gets left out, who gets betrayed, who achieves some degree of agency and who doesn’t.”

Simon created “Deuce” with fellow “Wire” and “Treme” alum George Pelecanos. They were meticulous about recreating the grunge of early 1970s New York as depicted in the classic movies of the era from Martin Scorsese, Sidney Lumet and such. The world revolves around a Times Square bar that is a crossroads for the world for prostitutes, cops, hustlers and hipsters, pimps, sex-seeking tourists and other motley characters. James Franco plays an enterprising bartender who recognizes the market opportunity for X-rated pics; Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a fiercely independent prostitute who also takes a detour into smut pics.

There’s a fair amount of sex scenes in “Deuce” and some rough stuff for female characters. But Simon insisted that the show has a larger vision.

“We’re not using misogyny as a currency to get you interested,” Simon said. “If we’ve made something that is purely titillating then damn us. I’m interested in how the product became such a fundamental product that we as a society consume.”

Michelle MacLaren, an alum of “Breaking Bad” and “Game of Thrones,” directed the pilot and the final seg of the eight-episode first season. She spoke of the exacting detail that went into recreating the grunge of early 1970s Times Square. Most of those scenes were actually shot in Washington Heights, using a mix of carefully dressed streets and CGI, MacLaren said.

MacLaren was drawn to the show because of its larger themes.

“If you’re going to be looking at capitalism by looking at porn, you’re looking at something has no regulations on it,” she said. “There is something sexy and appealing and exciting always about lawlessness, and there are always consequences to that.”

Gyllenhaal said the show has taken on new relevancy in the last year with Donald Trump’s ascent to the White House in spite of his well-documented history of disparaging treatment of women.

“It became clear in a way that it wasn’t totally clear a year ago that there is a huge amount of misogyny in the world,” Gyllenhaal said. “I think we thought we were in a better place than we were. … If you don’t put that on the table and take a really clear look at it, nothing will change.”

(Pictured: Michelle MacLaren, James Franco, David Simon, Maggie Gyllenhaal, George Pelecanos and Lawrence Gilliard, Jr.)

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