David Simon, at least judging by an interview he and George Pelecanos gave to The Globe and Mail last month, would prefer that viewers of The Deuce interpret the HBO show’s second season purely on its own merits. When asked specifically about allegations of misconduct regarding the show’s star, James Franco, that emerged in the midst of the #MeToo movement last year, Simon seemed to react angrily. He then explained the efforts he and Pelecanos had taken in terms of looking into those allegations, and why Franco himself hasn’t yet addressed them in depth.
“There’s probably going to be a point at which [Franco] wants to speak more in detail about that,” Simon said. HBO, he explained, thought that for the actor “to do so in advance of [The Deuce] airing would take the emphasis off the content of the series.” (Franco was accused by former students of exploitative and unprofessionally sexualized behavior, as well as removing plastic safety guards from female actors while filming oral-sex scenes.)
Here’s the snag, though: There’s no way to watch The Deuce without thinking about sexual misconduct and the routine abuse and harassment of women in the entertainment industry. It’s what the show is about. If the first season, which debuted last year, felt like stage setting for the show’s main exploration of the pornography business, the second is immersed in the sex industry. Set five years later, in 1977, it features predatory film producers, casting-couch moments, the ritualized depersonalization and objectification of female bodies, and women becoming increasingly aware that they need to fight back. As for Franco, it’s hard to disassociate the actor from the #MeToo movement when a scene in the second episode shows one of his characters blithely encouraging peep-show dancers to allow themselves to be groped for bigger tips.