Judge Gordon Sullivan goes barefoot when in NYC.
Our review of How to Make It in America: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray), published September 19th, 2011, is also available.
Who will you become to get what you want?
HBO's last 30-minute mostly-comedy set in New York City (Sex and the City) was almost all glamour and glitz. Sure, Carrie sometimes had to worry whether she could afford another pair of Jimmy Chu's, but for the most part the ladies of that show lived in the lap of luxury. Fast forward a decade from that show's start, and we have How to Make it in America. My, what a change a decade brings. In contrast to the easy life of Carrie and company, this series is all about the hardscrabble life of young people trying to make it in the city. There are some overlaps—the emphasis on fashion, for instance—but this show feels in touch with a different kind of life, and even a different NYC than Sex and the City. Though the eight episodes of How to Make it in America: The Complete Second Season (Blu-ray) still find the show looking for its legs, fans of Season One will enjoy the continued development here.
Facts of the Case
Ben (Bryan Greenburg, Bride Wars) and Cam (Victor Rasuk, Raising Victor Vargas) hope to make a splash in NYC with their Crisp brand of jeans. This second season continues to follow their various schemes to get noticed and get paid selling fashion.
How to Make it in America is stuck in the shadow of better shows. The most obvious comparison is Entourage, a show that is similarly co-produced by Mark Wahlberg. That show had a cameo-heavy, joke-heavy vibe that made it a hit. By focusing on the ins-and-outs of those trying to get famous, the show played on the audience's vicarious desire to be in Hollywood. The series tries to replicate the same vibe in a different location and with a different industry. Moving from those struggling in LA to those struggling in NYC, the show loses most of its charm.
Entourage gets by in large part because if you want to act in film, Los Angeles is the place to be. Sure, some get their start in New York or Chicago, but generally LA is the place to go. The same is somewhat true of the fashion world. If all you want is to have a runway show, then New York is the place to be. However, Ben and Cam seem more like dilettantes than true struggling entrepreneurs. Unlike their Entourage counterparts, there's always the sense that they could move to some place where they wouldn't have to struggle so much, open up an online store, and, when they're rich and famous enough, go back to NYC. As the show is now, they seem like self-indulgent hipsters. Without the skill of someone like Lena Dunham (whose show Girls gets hipsters right), it's just a bunch of kids running around doing stupid stuff when they should be paying the rent.
Which is another problem with How to Make it in America: it doesn't quite know what tone to strike. In LA, it's easy to be detached in the sunny world of Hollywood. The workaday world of New York City, though, demands a little bit more gravity. It's that gravity that How to Make it can't quite deliver. There's no sense of the true stakes of failure, and when getting stoned and missing a big opportunity is a plot point, it's hard to feel sorry for any of the characters.
After sixteen episodes, the writers couldn't overcome these difficulties, so HBO cancelled the show. Though I'm sure it has its fans, Iâ€™m not surprised, based on these eight episodes.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I can't fault the performers for the fact that How to Make it in America doesn't quite work. The cast is solid all the way through, even if their characters aren't given the kind of direction I'd like. The standout, unsurprisingly, is Luis Guzman. He plays the smaller role of an ex-con cousin to our main character. His brilliant idea for making money is an energy drink, and Guzman goes after the role with gusto.
The show also does some interesting things with New York City. Though I think there's still lots of potential to show more of the city, How to Make it does at least try to show us something other than uptown fashion boutiques and loft apartments that no one could afford.
This Blu-ray release is also more impressive than the lightness of the show would suggest. The 1.78:1/1080p AVC-encoded high definition transfers are tack-sharp, with well-resolved fine object detail. Black levels aren't hugely important, but they're consistent and deep here. Colors are bright and pop off the screen with excellent saturation. No serious compression or digital authoring problems plague the image. This is as good as a contemporary show can expect to look on Blu-ray with anything less than an unlimited budget. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is similarly excellent. Dialogue is clear and well-balanced, while surrounds get used for lots of ambient effects. The show's soundtrack is well-mixed and sounds crystal clear.
Extras kick off with three audio commentaries with the creator (Ian Edelman), the executive producer (Julian Farino), and actors Bryan Greenberg and Victor Rasuk. They're chatty, and offer a lot of stories about making Season Two. There's also a short featurette that gives an EPK-style peek behind the scenes, as well as a featurette that focuses on the entrepreneurial aspects of the show.
How to Make it in America had the potential to be a great show, with a solid cast and the backdrop of NYC to work with. However, there's still too much meandering and lack of focus to make this a show worth recommending wholeheartedly. Those who enjoyed Season One will find more to love here, and the solid technical aspects of this Blu-ray make it easy to recommend for either rental or purchase.
Not Guilty. If the show keeps hustlin', it could be something.
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