David Simon Aims to Straddle a Fine Line With Porn Industry Drama 'The Deuce'

"We're not using misogyny as a currency to get you interested."
Courtesy of HBO
'The Deuce'

HBO could have a tough sell with David Simon's latest drama. The Deuce, named after Manhattan's seedy 42nd Street of yore, is about the dawn of the porn industry in 1970s New York. Sex and sexual violence seem inherent to that narrative, a fact that did not seem lost on Simon when he previewed the show for press on Wednesday night.

One year after HBO programming president Casey Bloys faced an aggressive line of questioning from Television Critics Association reporters about sex and violence against women in Westworld, Simon, his cast and fellow executive producers were asked about the same themes in their upcoming show. The celebrated auteur, who brought The Wire and Treme to the pay cable network, had a thoughtful answer — but not until one of his leads, Maggie Gyllenhaal, had her say.

"I feel like, after making the show, I get to take that one," said the actress, who plays a prostitute in the period drama. "I think it's become clear that there is a huge amount of misogyny in the world. I think we thought we were in a better place than we were."

Gyllenhaal got laughs for her not-terribly-subtle reference to Donald Trump's victory over Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election. She pressed on, getting a bit more serious. "We have to lay this on the table and do it in a way that’s thoughtful and smart and also real," the actress continued. "That includes having to see some things that look violent and uncomfortable. But, I think, if you don’t put that on the table and take a really good look at it, nothing will change and nothing will shift."

Simon agreed with Gyllenhaal, though he didn't vocally echo her hopes for seismic change.

"Sexual commodification or objectification aren't the currencies that are driving the show," he said, admitting that those harsh realities go hand-in-hand with the history of the adult film industry. "It’s what the show’s about. It’s the show’s reason for being. That is what the product is, this is what the product was."

The Deuce also stars James Franco (as twins) and Lawrence Gilliard Jr., and tackles the transition of pornography from paper-bag bootlegs to a legal business. Gyllenhaal said that it's probable that show will titillate some viewers, but Simon made one thing very clear about the dynamics between men and women in the porn industry.

"We're not using misogyny as a currency to get you interested," he said. "If we did that, we failed."

The Deuce premieres Sunday, Sept. 10, at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

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