The Deuce, HBO’s unfortunately titled new drama series, might feel a little familiar to fans of The Wire. Although one concerns the dawn of the porn industry in 1970s New York City and the other is about the contemporary drug trade in Baltimore, both are bursting with urban grittiness, moral ambiguity, and about a million and a half distinct characters. Both shows also happen to share a lot of talent both in front of and behind the camera.
The new series, which premiered to rave reviews last week, incorporates actors and directors from some of co-creator David Simon’s previous HBO projects, like Treme and Show Me a Hero. The most overlap by far, though, is with The Wire. Perhaps not coincidentally, The Wire is also Simon’s most beloved creation and is widely considered one of the all-time greatest TV shows. Drawing heavily from that talent pool sends a signal flare to Wire-lovers that Simon is operating in full-on beast mode once again.
The marquee names on The Deuce–stars/producers James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal–may have nothing to do with The Wire, but below is a guide to who’s who on both shows.
The Brain Trust
David Simon: A 12-year veteran of the Baltimore Sun before moving into television, Simon works with both feet planted firmly in reality. Although The Wire was his baby, he had a lot of help bringing it to term. With The Deuce, he has even more help, including a co-creator.
George Pelecanos: Pelecanos is an author of hardboiled crime fiction, like The Sweet Forever, who hooked up with Simon in The Wire days. He was a producer on season 3—which many consider its pinnacle—and a writer of seven episodes. With The Deuce, the pair’s collaboration has become a full partnership.
Richard Price: A kindred spirit to Simon. Price’s milieu is New York City’s seedy underbelly. (See for example his novels Clockers and Lush Life.) He successfully transplanted his urban insight to Baltimore when writing for The Wire, but as a producer and writer on The Deuce, he puts his expertise in New York nightlife to great use.
Gbenga Akinnagbe: On The Wire, Akinnagbe played Chris Partlow, a stone cold hitman (with subtle shades of depth) who worked directly under rising kingpin Marlow Stanfield. Here, he plays Larry Brown, a vicious pimp (with subtle shades of depth.)
Chris Bauer: On The Wire, Bauer played Frank Sobotka, the compromised treasurer for a union of Stevedores on the Baltimore docks in the series’s highly underrated second season. Here, he plays an ill-tempered construction foreman who happens to be a brother-in-law to Vincent and Frankie Martino, the twins (!) played by James Franco.
Lawrence Gilliard Jr.: On The Wire, Gilliard Jr. played D’Angelo Barksdale, the conflicted nephew of The Wire‘s initial drug-dealing focal point, Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris.) Here, he does a tonal flip to play Chris Alston, a New York City patrolman whose jurisdiction, Times Square, is the series’ prime location.
Anwan Glover: On The Wire, Glover played Slim Charles, a slow-drawling, heavily braided enforcer for Avon Barksdale who later drifts to Proposition Joe’s team. Here, he plays Leon, the owner of a midtown diner that caters to pimps and prostitutes.
Michael Kostroff: On The Wire, Kostroff played Maury Levy, the slimy defense attorney who basically lives inside the well-lined pockets of a series of murderous drug dealers. Here, he plays Rizzi, a character whose provenance is unknown as yet, but who appears to be less slimy than his predecessor.
Method Man: On The Wire, the rapper/actor born as Clifford Smith played Cheese, the hotheaded nephew of Proposition Joe. Here, he plays Rodney, a not-particularly-pleasant pimp with Katt Williams hair.
Ernest R. Dickerson: A director of six episodes of The Wire who is in the directing stable on The Deuce.
Uta Briesewitz: A director of photography on The Wire, now working as part of the directing stable on The Deuce.
Nina Kostroff-Noble: A producer on both projects, who is also the sister of actor Michael Kostroff, mentioned above.
Alex Hall: An editor on The Wire, now working as part of the directing stable on The Deuce.
Chris Yakaitis: A researcher on The Wire, now a writer for The Deuce.
Will Ralston: A sound editor on The Wire, now a writer for The Deuce.
These last few names reveal how David Simon is not only loyal to his collaborators but also gives them opportunities to try new things. Now we just have to see if loyal fans of The Wire will show up for Simon’s new project.