Midway through the first episode of The Deuce, premiering on HBO Sunday night, Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a veteran sex worker, explains to a nervous teenage client whose encounter with her has ended prematurely why he can’t try again without paying for it. “It doesn’t seem fair,” the boy complains, evolving from shy nervousness to nasty petulance in a blink. Candy asks what his father does, and when the teenager replies that he owns a car dealership, she issues a free lesson in the principles of work. If his father sells a car, she explains, “he doesn’t give the easy customer two cars for the price of one, right? This is my job, Stewart.”
It’s a scene that’s characteristic of David Simon. Candy, distilling the tenets of capitalism from micro to macroeconomics, could be Stringer Bell lecturing street dealers on supply and demand. And The Deuce, like The Wire, is about infinitely more than the industry it’s profiling—in this case, sex in 1970s Times Square rather than drugs in early-aughts Baltimore. There are familiar faces, too (the kick from seeing Cheese and Chris Partlow in bell-bottoms would be worth the HBO subscription alone). But it’s in the scope of its story and the complexity of its characters that The Deuce (created by Simon and George Pelecanos) comes the closest to Simon’s earlier masterpiece. It’s about the sex trade, but also about the weirdness of human sexuality; there are Mafiosi gangsters, and corrupt cops, and selfish journalists, and new pornographers. The playing field is different but the game—and the rules—are the same.