[02/12/10 - 11:03 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "How to Make It in America" (HBO)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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(Sundays at 10:30/9:30c starting February 14)

The network's description: "HOW TO MAKE IT IN AMERICA follows two enterprising Brooklyn twentysomethings as they hustle their way through New York City, determined to achieve the American Dream. Trying to make a name for themselves in New York's competitive fashion scene, Ben Epstein (Bryan Greenberg) and his friend and business partner Cam Calderon (Victor Rasuk) use their street knowledge and connections to bring their ambitions to fruition. With the help of Cam's cousin Rene (Luis Guzman), who is trying to market his own high-energy drink, and their well-connected friend Domingo (Scott "Kid Cudi" Mescudi), the burgeoning entrepreneurs set out to make it big, encountering obstacles along the way that will require all their ingenuity to overcome."

What did they leave out? Co-stars Lake Bell and Eddie Kaye Thomas were upped to regulars following the pilot.

The plot in a nutshell: Best friends/aspiring fashion moguls Ben (Bryan Greenberg) and Cam (Victor Rasuk) have watched nearly all their friends achieve success while they struggle from the sidelines. And after taking a bath on their latest endeavor - skateboard decks featuring a now defunct skater - things couldn't look any gloomier. Well, actually they can. Cam's cousin Rene (Luis Guzman) has just gotten out of prison and is looking to collect on his $5,000 investment, one which Cam neglected to tell Ben was from his gangster cousin. Hope however arrives in the form of Dave Kaplan (Eddie Kaye Thomas), an old high school acquaintance of Ben's who's now a Wall Street hedge fund manager. More importantly, he's more than willing to burn a few thousand to party with Ben, the most popular kid in school. Ben however is more preoccupied with his romantic foibles as he still can't quite get over his ex, interior designer Rachel (Lake Bell).

Thankfully, Cam, with an assist from fellow pals Domingo (Kid Cudi) and Gingy (Shannyn Sossamon), manage to beat him out of his funk and before long they're back in the red with Rene in order to launch a new denim line, Crisp. Subsequent weeks trace their efforts to get Crisp off the ground, whether it be seeking out Ben's old design professor (Griffin Dunne) or a chance meeting with John Varvatos (who appears in a cameo). Ultimately, as they've come to expect, more doors are closed than opened but that doesn't stop their hunger to make it. Along the way we learn a little bit more about the dynamic duo and their circle - Rachel's slightly unfulfilled, despite a cool boss (Martha Plimpton) and an attentive, new beau (Jason Pendergraft); while Rene finds himself in bed with a shady soda company, whose energy drink Rasta Monster isn't exactly flying off the shelves - as well as get to see New York from a young, urban perspective that's never been captured quite like this.

What works: "America" almost perfectly captures the dual wonderfulness and sadness of being in your twenties. From the endless friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend parties that promise adventure every night to the daily grind of working for the man that makes you realize that life may not turn out exactly how you hoped, Ian Edelman's script and Julian Farino's lens make it all feel so beautifully painful. To that end, Ben and Cam populate interesting aspects in that spectrum. The former has gotten himself a livable wage folding clothes at Barney's while the latter still sleeps on his grandmother's couch, unsure of where his next dollar is coming from.

It's their friendship however that keeps them both humming along as without Cam, Ben's angst of having a talent that's unfulfilled would slip into depression, while without Ben, Cam's scheming would probably see him in jail or worse. The "guy love" here is refreshingly understated as it's something that's usually played for cheap laughs. It's also nice that "America" actually brings the funny - among the standouts, Ben finding himself rivals with an effeminate fellow for the chance at a one-night stand in the pilot - as HBO's half-hours as of late tend to lean towards being half-hour dramas. Granted it's not exactly wall to wall laughs, but there's a breeziness to it that reminds me of the early days of "Entourage."

What doesn't: The show's transitional device - still photos of young people out partying - feels a little too showy for my tastes. Furthermore the series in general can be a little pretentious - Oh the horrors of getting a 9-to-5 job! Not everyone gets to be a fashion designer! Ugh, I have to pay rent! - especially considering the current economic landscape. Nevertheless, there is some universality to the show in terms of what it has to say about friendship and the realities of pushing 30.

The bottom line: Here's hoping for more of the latter themes and less of the yuppie problems.

  [february 2010]  


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