How to Make It in America is often unfairly compared to Entourage (which had a similar tone in season one before it became every douchebag's favourite show) and referred to as its less popular, east coast cousin sans all the celebrities, glitz, and glamour. However accurate that description may be, and ignoring its shared writers and producers, I don't think anyone intelligent ever mistook Entourage as a thoughtful, genuine, slice of life experience.
HTMIIA uses New York City vibrantly as a splendid backdrop to tell little stories. The series is essentially about hustling. We all have to hustle for a slice of the American dream. The diverse cast of characters feel, while maybe not exactly realistic, certainly genuine. The city is full of stories and characters. The show follows the struggles of a group of friends trying to make it in the fashion (and energy drink) world. Unlike Entourage, I never feel HTMIIA vapidly reaching past the world of the cast of characters it creates, venturing outside the city.
Star Bryan Greenberg (One Tree Hill) has had a rough go of it as a leading man, but finds a nice, awkward balance as the affable Ben, who tries his best. Victor Rasuk as Cam, Ben's best friend, is charming and an amalgamation of a one man entourage all to himself. Kid Cudi is superfluous as the duo's pot dealing, dog walking, street hustler charmer.
Like with any many shows and most definitely on Entourage, HTMIIA suffers from weak female characters, sometimes regulated to underdeveloped sexual objects. However, Lake Bell as Rachel probably has the best character arc of the series as she struggles to define herself despite her success without feeling too much like white people problems.
The show is much maligned for its lack of anything substantive. I don't care. I like it precisely because it fails to project a sense of high drama or manufactured stakes. It just is. I find it fun and entertaining. The characters provide an honest, genuine feel of city life and career struggle. I connect with them, but maybe that's because I, too, am a vapid, young, twentysomething hustler. The relatively minor character and personal stories of HTMIIA reflect the New York lifestyle. Themes of loyalty and friendship pervade with honestly.
I'm really enjoying the second season as it continues to be a slice of life tale from one of the most interesting cities in the world. If nothing else, the superbly executed opening credit sequence played to Aloe Blacc's "I Need Dollar" (below) pumps me up for whatever menial plot Ben and the gang get up to.
I enjoy watching Ben and crew hustle and make things for themselves. Its universal themes with attractive, young people having lots of sex is entertaining and more substantive than most television anyhow. For this reason, the show could only exist on HBO's premium cable outlet. It is what is is and it doesn't care. Say what you will about How to Make it America, but it bursts with artistic flair and imagery, well set against the streets of NYC. It may not live up to that lofty mantle, but it's not suppose to. It reflects it.