This review will be biased. It will be biased for two reasons. One: there are few things in the world I would rather do than Bryan Greenberg. Two: I’m from New York. These are important biases because Greenberg plays the protagonist, Ben Epstein, a jeans folder at Barney’s. And although the show’s title is _How to Make it In America_, I have little faith that the storyline will make it north of 14th Street, let alone out of the city proper.
Yes, much like _Sex and the City_ before it, the implicit protagonist of _How to Make it in America_ is New York City herself. The opening credits are a video montage to the gritty, real New York: skateboarders, pigeons, girls with bangs and sunglasses, street performers, homeless men, Hasids, and bootleggers; but mostly girls with bangs and sunglasses.
This leads me to my first critique: _How to Make it in America_ falls into every single cliché typical to shows set in New York City. It is a completely unrealistic portrayal of the city. Even Executive Producer Ian Edelman admits that the show portrays a “bougie bohemian city.” The apartments are too big, the jobs pay too little, and it makes reference to too many things that even I have no idea what they’re talking about. Has anyone heard of Avenue? Is it a club or a gastro-lounge? Is there a difference?
_How to Make it in America_ has intermittently dispersed compilation video and pictures that reminds me of the installations in the Dash Snow memorial exhibit. And just like the Snow exhibition, it reminds me of the hipster maximalist scene of the 2000s. Before the bubble burst, trust-fund babies were flocking to the city, doing copious amounts of cocaine, fucking each other’s brains out, partying all the time, and telling the world about it in their various print journalism jobs.
Now that the movement’s fearless leader, Snow, has died of a drug overdose, and Condé Nast is almost a historical relic along with any other job a twenty-something could hold, is it still cool to portray this over-the-top New York City lifestyle? The Executive Producers are hoping the answer is yes.
The first scene of _How to Make it in America_ opens on a twenty-something Puerto Rican man riding on the back of a pre-teen Hasdic boy’s bike in Williamsburg while listening to “Oh Boy” by Cam’ron (respect). This would never happen. Actually it might, but I’d be just as disgusted by it as I was when I watched it on my TV screen.
All of these complaints are standards of New York shows from _Friends_ to _Living Single_ and back again. You either can’t stand it or don’t care; it is what it is.
If the point of the pilot was to fall in love with Ben Epstein and his crew, then Mission Accomplished. Much like the casts of _Kids_ and _Skins_, you wish you could be friends with the characters on _How to Make it in America_. By the same token, if the point of the second episode was to start to get bored of these characters, well then Mission Accomplished.
Ben Epstein, the white guy and therefore “leader” of his group of friends, is adorable but kind of a wuss. He recently broke up with his girlfriend, Rachel. We don’t know much about their relationship after the first two episodes: only that he broke up with her then she broke up with him.
Ben seems to be taking the break-up much harder than Rachel. In the first episode, he drunkenly rings Rachel’s doorbell at four in the morning only to be shooed away by her new beau. In the second episode the pair meets up for sushi (eye roll) to talk about it. The verdict? He’s a bitch, she’s a bitch, and I’m already bored of this story line.
Ben’s best friend and business partner is Cam Calderon. He’s a Puerto Rican hustler from the Lower East Side. Hustler is an over-statement. Cam is a schemer, who tries any way to “make it in America.” From flipping leather jackets to pitching a make-your-own doughnut shop to his friend’s rich father, Cam is always trying to make some loot. He’s slightly shorter than Ben, but has twice as much game. So in the end Cam gets the Wilhelmina models, and Ben gets to cry on his ex-girlfriend’s stoop. Cam is funny and fun without being a token minority. He’s not just an apparition who pops in for comedic relief; he is an integral part of the show and the plot. If I really wanted to I could argue that he’s the true main character, but I don’t care enough.
In the first episode we see Cam’s apartment on the Lower East Side and meet his grandmother whom he lives with. While in the apartment, Cam learns that his thug cousin Rene, played by the immensely talented Luis Guzman, is back early from Sing Sing on good behavior. None of these characters have stereotypical or overly faked Puerto Rican accents, which is a nice departure from the ambiguous and offensive portrayals on network television.
Rene is hands down the best character of the show; Guzman portrays the thug with an incredible amount of grace. You are as scared of Rene as Cam and Ben are. He is as funny as he is terrifying. When Rene shows the boys the new truck for RastaMonsta, the energy drink he’s peddling, you can’t help but laugh at his pride. The truck is ugly, but don’t tell Rene that.
The lead cast is rounded out by Domingo Brown and Gingy Wu. As far as the first two episodes indicate, Domingo Brown was a narrative device invented to include Kid Cudi in a TV show so more people will watch it. The character doesn’t seem bad, per se: he has some funny lines here and there. But as an audience member, I’m confused as to why he’s there besides to give fourteen year-old white girls some eye candy. Gingy Wu, played by Shannyn Sossamon, is a typical trust fund baby who works at a gallery and has friends who write for _Nylon_. Though I’m pretty sure this person doesn’t exist anymore, it’s nice to see Sossamon get work after _A Knight’s Tale_ (R.I.P. Heath).
Unfortunately, after watching the first two episodes I can’t tell you what the show is about. This is because nothing has happened thus far. Ben and Cam go to a couple of parties with models in incredible lofts that my parents probably couldn’t even afford. Ben feels sorry for himself and probably weeps when he masturbates. Did I tell you Kid Cudi was on the show? That’s cool. Oh, and Luis Guzman is, as usual, the Original Gangster.
If I Had to Guess, _How to Make it in America_ is going to be about Ben and Cam launching a denim line and their personal growth along the way (aww). At the end of the first episode the duo purchases a spool of stolen premium denim from Japan using money Rene lent them. At the end of the second episode some hot shot at John Varvatos tells Ben and Cam to give up. But that won’t deter them! Ben says “fuck that guy” and I’m assuming, they continue down the road to financial ruin, broken dreams, and more masturbation while weeping.
There were some things that I liked about the show. There’s this running gag about breakfast sandwiches which is pretty funny. The music direction is solid. With jams like “Can I Kick It” and “Down and Out” in the roster, _How to Make it in America_ plays hometown hits. Also, while the situations are pretty formulaic, the dialogue is genuine and the cast has good chemistry.
I am going to continue watching _How to Make it in America_, and I encourage you to do the same. Not because I think you would particularly enjoy it or because I think it’s a great show: I want you to watch it so it won’t get cancelled, because nothing makes me happier than watching cutiepie Bryan Greenberg brood in my hometown for twenty-three minutes every week. What can I say, I’m biased.