How to Make It in America: The Complete First SeasonOverview -
In the bohemian subculture of downtown NYC, two 20-something friends plot a series of entrepreneurial strategies to short-circuit the traditional route to success – and achieve the American Dream on their own terms. Bryan Greenberg and Victor Rasuk star in an all-new HBO comedy series from executive producers including Stephen Levinson and Mark Wahlberg (Entourage): How to Make It in America.
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
HBO consistently puts out original programming that draws you in with its drama and characters. Even a show like 'Entourage' has its fair share of dramatic moments, coupled with good amounts of humor and characterization. However, something went wrong with 'How to Make it in America.' There's just something missing. Every episode feels half done. The characters feel one-dimensional. In short, not one of HBO's best series.
Ben Epstein (Bryan Greenberg) is a self-loathing artist who can't seem to get his big break. Maybe that's because he spends all his time feeling sorry for himself rather than actually doing something. His friend Cam (Victor Rasuk) is a smooth talker, and even though he can smoothly talk his way out of just about any situation, his dialogue quickly becomes mundane and superficial. The show is populated by other known faces like Luis Guzmán, who plays Cam's criminal cousin Renee; Lake Bell who plays the woman Ben will never get over; and Shannyn Sossamon who plays Gingy, a character that shows up every now and then with no discernible purpose to the overall story.
Ben and Cam would like to think they're hustlers. The truth is they simply have an aversion to honest work and feel like scheming is the best way to make it rich quick. Ben is genuinely talented as an artist, but never uses his work for his own betterment. Instead he follows Cam around borrowing money from Cam's criminal family, trying to make quick bucks here and there. Schemes, which – surprise, surprise – hardly ever work out in their favor.
What they'd really like to do is break into the fashion business. First they try to start up a denim line, but that doesn't quite pan out. We get a hint that Ben was at one time enrolled in clothing design school, but that angle is quickly forgotten. Little time is spent on the actual design process, and far too much time is spent following Cam and Ben to New York's nightspots and various bars. They're always whining about not having any money, but they're going out every night. Where are they getting the moolah for all those drinks? I guess that can be quickly explained away by the presence of an old high school buddy, Kappo (Eddie Kaye Thomas), who struck it rich in the hedge fund business. I just assumed he was always paying for the drinks as he tries so desperately to fit in and be hip.
Ben and Cam go about things all wrong, but we're still supposed to root for them. They act as if life owes them something and then instead of just asking people to invest they try to weasel the money out of them other ways. It's frustrating watching them scheme over and over just to fall flat on their asses every time they try.
Perhaps the biggest thing holding 'How to Make it in America' back is its complete lack of anything dramatic. The episodes play like fluff pieces. A photographic kaleidoscope of neato New York hotspots and that's it. It's as if the creators care more about showing the streets of New York rather than dealing with the characters on screen. That's okay though, since these characters have literally nothing going on in their lives. The plots, subplots, and forbidden love story (between Ben and Rachel) aren't the least bit interesting. This show needs a serious dose of real drama to make me care about it. Season two is a go, but I can't see why you'd want to continue watching it after this season. There's nothing that hooked me. None of the characters are interesting enough to care about. I guess we should count our blessings that HBO usually picks up the right shows, and that this one is an exception to the rule.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'How to Make it in America' is an eight episode season, each episode is roughly 30 minutes long. You'll breeze right through this and wonder why you just spent $30 on it. The two 50-GB Discs come packaged in a cardboard tri-fold with two disc hubs. It all slips nicely into a cardboard slipcover. The set is marked with a Region A code.
Even though the show is less than stellar, at least HBO has given it its patented HD touch. The studio continues its solid list of Blu-ray releases with 'How to Make it in America.' From the opening scene the visuals are crisp and clear. I was taken aback by how bright and vibrant the colors were. Even in the darkest, dankest parts of New York, there are still vivid colors to take in – whether they be the brightly colored clothing of its inhabitants or flickering red neon signs advertising big slice pizza.
Blacks are welcoming and sufficiently deep. Shadows never crush out dine detail. The show definitely benefits from the filming which is done with 35mm. It captures fine detail from the pores and hairs of individual faces to the cracks and stony textures of New York's myriad of buildings and skyscrapers.
Being a down-to-earth character driven show, it doesn't sport any huge effects sequences, but it's easy to see the amount of detail provided as you watch the backgrounds as Cam and Ben walk around the city. Even distant photography is clearly discerned. Making the whole experience seem like you're actually visiting the Big Apple.
This is a talkative drama without much fanfare, so don't be expecting much. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix still packs a few surprises along the way. Yes, the set does provide clearly intelligible dialogue through each of its eight episodes. Even Cam's lightning fast deliveries, which are full of lingo, can be understood without problem..
The busy streets of the city add to the ambiance of the soundtrack. Honking cars, bustling crowds of people, all the noises of New York are piped through the surrounds creating a fairly encompassing experience. LFE is reserved for the soundtrack mostly, since it's peppered with hip-hop songs which require heavy bass.
Another solid audio outing for HBO Blu-ray.
- Audio Commentaries – There are eight commentaries, but the setup is strange. They don't cover the eight different episodes. Instead there are four episodes with two commentaries each. Why? I really have no idea. They would have been better off going with one for each episode. The episodes that contain commentaries are "Pilot" (episode 1), "Unhappy Birthday" (episode 4), "Big in Japan" (episode 5), and "Never Say Die" (episode 8). The commentaries follow a pretty rigid structure. One commentary is for actors only, and the other is for the showrunners. Bryan Greenberg, Victor Rasuk, Lake Bell, and Luis Guzman all make appearances. The showrunners consist of creator Ian Edelman and executive producers Rob Weiss and Julian Farino. I found the acting commentaries to be more enlightening and fun to listen to, especially with Guzman. Still, it would have been better to have a mixture of both technical and acting aspects over all eight episodes.
- The Get By: Making it on the Streets of NYC (HD, 19 min.) – A look at skating in New York and the professionals that started out on the streets and then made it big.
- The Legend of Wilfredo Gomez (HD, 10 min.) – People from the professional skateboarding world talk about the myth and legend of one Wilfredo Gomez. A fabled skateboarder who wanders around New York on his board.
- Hustle Stories (HD, 24 min.) – These behind the scenes featurettes have a fairly promotional feel to them. They're clip-heavy, but some of them are interesting. I liked the idea of telling the story of the show from different points of view. There are seven featurettes in all: "Boogie," "John Variations," "Eric Goldstien," "Kid Cudi," "Stacy Battat," "Lee Quinones," and "The Cast." Eric Goldstien, the real owner of The Jean Shop, talks about the episode that featured his store and how the competitive nature of the denim business is portrayed spot-on. It was interesting to hear from someone in the real-life jean business about how the situation in the show accurately depicts what happens on a weekly basis there.
- Deleted Scenes (HD, 6 min.) – Six deleted scenes in all. There's no information as to where these deleted scenes should be placed throughout the eight episodes. Some are easy to place since key plot points are being discussed, but others are random and impossible to nail down where they should have gone. It doesn't matter because each of them are, on average, a little under a minute. So, they're pretty inconsequential anyway.
'How to Make it in America' failed to hook me on any level. It isn't funny enough to watch as comedy, it isn't dramatic enough to watch for drama, and the characters aren't interesting enough to ever care about. Couple all that with the willingness of the creators to sacrifice story and substance for a Chamber of Commerce tour of New York, and you have a lukewarm show at best. Yes, it looks and sounds great because it's been put out by HBO, but the love just isn't there. 'How to Make it in America' is borderline tedious at times, and is essentially a waste of four or so hours. I suspect that its second season will be its last. Although, I'm mystified how it actually ended up getting a second season in the first place. This Blu-ray set is for fans only.
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