Midway through the first episode of The Deuce (Sky Atlantic), David Simon’s gritty and deliberately dense portrait of the sex trade in early Seventies New York, a young prostitute sat at the end of her client’s bed, mesmerised by the 1935 film adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities. So tawdry is this series’ milieu, a rat-infested cesspool of pimps, hookers, police and porn-makers, that a reference here to Dickens felt oddly appropriate. But it may have also been a nod to the fact that Simon’s previous studies of social ecosystems have drawn him breathless comparisons to the Victorian author.
As with The Wire, Simon’s masterpiece depicting the decline of the drug-ravaged city of Baltimore, this eight-part drama is unflinching and unhurried, teeming with colourful characters from every social stratum. It doesn’t glamorise, nor is it didactic. Though it’s essentially about the founding of the American pornography business, from its advent in private peep shows through to it becoming a billion-dollar industry in the Eighties, you wouldn’t know that from last night’s 87-minute opener. Indeed, working with his frequent collaborator, the crime novelist George Pelecanos, Simon – a former journalist – is nothing if not punctilious, patiently exploring the minutiae of the world he’s infiltrated.