David Simon: HBO's new show 'The Deuce' is really about ... business

Andy Serwer
Editor in Chief

You may have heard that writer/producer David Simon’s new HBO (TWX) series, “The Deuce,” is a knock-dead dive into the ultra-sleazy world of Times Square porn in the 1970s. Which in fact it is. But if all you take away from the show is steaminess and grit—or are even merely seduced by the usual incredible Simonesque characters—you’re missing the big picture.

To me “The Deuce” seems to be all about, well, business!

OK, sure I’m a financial journalist. And you know the line: “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like nail.” But when I put this supposition to Simon, he lit up.

“Thank you for noticing that,” he said. “I guess I have to come to Yahoo Finance and places like that … Yeah, this is a piece about capitalism.”

‘A critique of market-based logic’

Let me pause for a disclosure. Simon and I worked together on our high school newspaper, the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Tattler, (Bethesda, Maryland) in the 1970s. He swears I mangled his first piece of copy as his editor, which sounds about right. David became a force-of-nature reporter at the Baltimore Sun and then made himself into perhaps the best show-runner in television and created the best TV show in history, “The Wire.” And he picked up a MacArthur “genius” award along the way.

OK, back to the story. Let’s start with a bit more on the show. “The Deuce” stars Maggie Gyllenhaal as a streetwalker with a plan (her sex scenes are incredibly graphic but hardly sensual—hence the plan) and James Franco playing identical tough guy twins. And there are a dozen or so other Characters (yes, with a capital “c”) to get wrapped up with. The conceit of “The Deuce”—street slang for 42nd Street—is really about the inception of the modern porn industry in America. But that’s just the surface.

From “The Deuce,” a deep dive into the sleazy, gritty street life of 1970s New York City. (IMDB / HBO)

All of Simon’s shows—from “The Wire” to Treme” to “Generation Kill”—are built layer upon layer. Simon puts real nuance into his stories and characters—many of whom are semi-fictionalized—with more shades of gray than blacks and whites. For instance, listen to what Simon says when I ask him to elaborate about the aforementioned business theme of The Deuce:

“[‘The Deuce’] is a critique of a market-based logic that I think has prevailed almost to the exclusion of other metrics in terms of how we measure our society,” Simon says. “There’s a libertarian notion of our markets will show us the true value of things since the 1980s. So here’s an interesting allegory. Here’s a moment where something isn’t a legal product and then suddenly it is. Let’s follow the money and see who gets paid…who gets exploited, who gets left out, what happens to labor, what happens to capital.”

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Does that make Simon some sort of 21st century alt-Communist? He addresses that head on:

“It’s healthy and possible to critique capitalism while at the same time not donning the cloak of Marxism. There’s a lot to critique about the notion that profits are the great metric for society. At the same time…the idea that everything can be administered by the state didn’t exactly survive the 20th century. Somewhere in the middle lies the truth and that’s what we’re chasing.”

‘I just read stuff and get pissed off’

Simon’s take on Donald Trump—as you might imagine or as you know if you’ve seen him on Twitter (@aoDespair, 133K followers)—is decidedly negative.

“I’m appalled. I am appalled. I think this is a man who is ill-equipped to be a citizen of this country much less its leader. I think there’s been an incremental journey to Donald Trump that has a lot of causes, but one thing I don’t get around is that on a day to day basis this man doesn’t have the temperament or the knowledge or the background to be the president of the United States.”

“The Deuce” (IMDB / HBO)

And by the way, Simon does tweet a fair amount. “I just read stuff and get pissed off,” he says. “Twitter is a very flawed medium for doing anything substantive. You do acquire an audience. [Now I tell them] ‘Thanks for staying with me for the last 10 months of ranting but anybody want to watch this television show?’ So on some level I did it for brand but on some level it’s pure.”

What’s next for Simon after “The Deuce?”

“The next piece is going to be about Capitol Hill and money. That’s the broken part of our government, the legislative branch.”

If that series is anything like his other shows—and I hardly see Simon pulling in his horns at this point—there will be a number of Beltway insiders who’ll be getting gored fairly soon. In a semi-fictional, nuanced and layered way of course. But for now, all Simon’s action is on 42nd Street.


Andy Serwer is Yahoo Finance editor-in-chief. Read more: