Season 2 of HBO’s gritty series “The Deuce” began Sept. 9, 2018. Whether viewers have kept up with the series in real-time, or have caught up through streaming services, they are sure to have noticed the series’ music.
While music has always played an integral role on the show, that it has changed indicates to audiences that things are different now- -on the show that is. The early 1970s, as depicted on “The Deuce” are different from the late 1970s, which is where viewers find the cast of characters who survived from season 1.
“The Deuce”: world-building with music
The first thing viewers will notice about the new season is a new theme song. While the development might sound insignificant, it is unlikely that many viewers have seen the idea used before. The theme songs have worked as framing devices for the mood of the seasons. Also different, is the opening montage. In the first season, Curtis Mayfield’s “(Don’t Worry) If There’s a Hell Below, We’re All Gonna Go” is the song that opens each episode. The 1971 song almost detracts audiences from its dark message with its hypnotic, fuzzy bass and horn accents. The rhythm matches the vibe shown onscreen– menacing scenes of early 1970s Time Square with a variety of scenes of nightlife and the players involved in the blossoming pornography industry.
For season 2, the scenery and the music is a little bit lighter. A relatively stylish montage layers upon itself as “This Year’s Girl” by Elvis Costello plays. The song indicates the relative independence that women in the show are gaining this season. Even the pornography industry has attempted to legitimize itself through an Oscar-style award show. At that award show, two of the show’s regulars win for supporting actress and directing duties. Viewers are shown late 1970’s Los Angeles, and are allowed to appreciate the sunny vista the prostitute-turned porn actress sees from her hotel balcony. Her naïve expression in regard to the relative beauty is engaging, and she reminds no one of the street-smart young woman she is in New York City. She is clearly this year’s girl.
Another woman who is continuing to find her own voice is former prostitute, Candy, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. Candy was always different from the other prostitutes because she didn’t have a pimp. At the end of season 1, she was interested in pornography, but was getting serious about directing. In season 2, Candy is calling a lot of shots and is making the movie she has dreamed of.
Throughout the episodes, women are finding their voices. A former prostitute comes back from California to work with a mission group that aids street workers. Her accidental meetings with her former pimp are unnerving and gut-wrenching, but it is good to see that she has distanced herself from her former life.
But it isn’t just women who are reflected in the new soundtrack. Depending on which source a person consults, the new season starts in 1977 or 1978. Punk scenes play a role in the opening credits, with shots of famed club CBGB featured prominently, in addition to pictures of young people with mohawks. Even with the growing popularity of punk, disco was not dead yet.
Case in point, the use of Tavares’ “It Only Takes a Minute.” The song is played in a celebratory scene and features several cast members dancing and really interacting with the song. The song itself has a heavy and nuanced groove and bass line. What sounds like a keyboard plays a bouncy motif above the heavier groove. If the urban 1970s had its own soundtrack, then “It Only Takes a Minute” would definitely be on it.
This song adds the world-building because in real-life in the 1970s, Tavares had a hit on the then-new “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack with “Disco Inferno.” With the placement of another Tavares song in a scene on “The Deuce,” it was as though viewers are watching people celebrate a group who has just become popular continue their success.
“The Deuce” succeeds on the basis of the show’s creators’ abilities to capture the fine points of what it meant to live in a certain section of New York City during the 1970s.