It seems like HBO is taking a ‘throw everything against the wall and see if it sticks” approach when it comes to some of their programming the last couple of years. A show will air for two to three seasons then will be ushered out and replaced with something new, only to be relegated to the same fate. “How to Make it in America” was another creation of "Entourage" creators Mark Wahlberg and Stephen Levinson, detailing two young men attempting to make a successful clothing brand for themselves in NYC. It has now gone the way of other cancelled HBO shows Such as “Bored to Death” and “Hung”. “America” which is executive produced by Mark Wahlberg has been compared to his earlier work, Entourage. The similarities are just as they both deal with young ambition in New York City trying to become successful.
“How to Make it in America” Season 2 begins with innocent Ben (Bryan Greenberg) and urbane Cam (Victor Rasuk) meeting with shop owners in attempts to get them to not only carry many units of their startup clothing line Crisp but also fighting for the best display areas, the window fronts. They find out that their local competitors, another young upstart group named Neanderthal have grabbed some top spots in some of the local storefronts. Ben and Cam are nice guys with good moral intentions and may or may not have what it takes to be cut-throat enough to get ahead and push their brand. They have the talent but they need to use every friend and connection they have to help get them off the ground. That is the basic premise of the show.
There are lots of meet and greets with different financiers and stores with mixed results. They are told they are fresh but not edgy enough. They are told that they have a pulse on the current youth culture but they are not rising above it. It seems like they are stuck in the middle gray area. The peripheral characters are pretty standard. Ben’s ex-girlfriend Rachel (Lake Bell) is back in town after travelling and trying to survive in the big city without being broken down. Domingo (Kid Cudi) is the easy going friend with connections that can get Crisp a grass roots type of start. One interesting character is Rene Calderon played by the identifiable Luiz Guzman. He is attempting to get his own business up, an energy drink called Rasta Monstah. He and his boys are the muscle on the block but they do not instill the level of fear Tony Soprano showcased.
A major positive to the show is that it has a sense of immediacy to the proceedings. Fashion is an ever evolving entity where it only pays to be fresh and up to the minute with the current cultural vibe. It’s a ruthless business, not in a mob mentality way but in a ‘you snooze, you lose’ sort of way. These characters are excited out their brand and they want to bring it to the public but they are aware that the window for their success to ripen could be extremely small. Money is an issue for them. They rely heavily on favors from friends and the dependence of other people who are willing to help them as long as it coincides with their own dreams of being an actress, artist or performer. A scene early on where Ben and Cam do a “pop up shop” show where they invade a friend’s shop, completely redecorate it temporarily to promote their brand. They cash in favor to get even more friends to help hype up Crisp to people who show up. In an effort to try to be edgier, they hire aspiring hip hop dancers to do risqué performance pieces in the background. Rene, for giving Cam the day off from work, piggy backs onto his pop up shop by heavily advertising his energy drink alongside the clothes. There is an interwoven network of people help each other in hopes that they themselves with be discovered.
When the show is not in drama mode, it excels at being hyperkinetic in a music video aesthetic. There is good use of still shots for certain scene openers. It gives a chronicling feel to the culture it’s telling us about. However, some scenes feel like entire music videos set to club music which is nice but sometimes go on too long and feel like filler. There are some exceedingly funny comedic moments near the end of the season that would have been a nice direction to go in if they were to go to another season. The character of Tim, head of Neanderthal added to this as well. The season concludes with a satisfying arc for Ben and Cam. Their lives are starting to move in a upward manner and ends on a idyllic note.
HBO presents “How to Make it in America” in gorgeously rendered 1080p using a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. There is fantastic clarity and depth to many of the daytime scenes of the characters walking around NYC. Some of the nighttime scenes are obviously not as clear but still never dip below being impressive. Colors are realistic and there has been no tampering with filtering or “cinematic” style choices.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is equally impressive. Much of the talky scenes are clear and accurate and the cluttered city streets have a nice surround sound quality to them giving a very immersive presence. Where the soundtrack really shines is when hip hop, club music is being played and there is a lot of it throughout the show. It has a terrific low end and clarity.
The extras a light and are housed mostly on the second disc. The first featurette is a standard electronic press kit called “Inside the Series.” It’s an average segment with short interviews from the cast and crew. There are three episodes that have an accompanying commentary with the two main actors and the executive producer Julian Farino and creator Ian Edelman. The last extra is called “Three Days Downtown” which details the premise of the show.
Out of the recent HBO shows I have reviewed, this seems to be the most paint-by-numbers approach taken. Nothing about “How to Make it in America” stands out. It seems that they were trying to coast with a youth culture vibe by casting beautiful people doing young, ambitious things in the most fashionable city in the world. Play the most update to date club music, pepper some personal drama and sex throughout and voilà, instant consumable celluloid. It’s not a bad show; in fact, it is a highly affable show. It is just not very memorable. HBO’s presentation is stellar as usual with fantastic video and audio. Unfortunately, the extras are lite but fans of the show will want to go out and buy this without hesitation.