Why, New York City? What more do you want from us? How much more do you expect us to give? Why is it that everywhere we look in American fiction, you’re there, towering over the rest of the country like that hip, older cousin who is willing to buy us alcohol? Sure it’s cool, but it’s starting to get a little sad, no? A little desperate? We know what you’re going to say: “It’s the biggest city, bro! 8 million people! Deal with it!” But nobody is buying it. There are 292 million of the rest of us, and we’re not taking it anymore. It was one thing when you had the likes of Scorsese, Lumet and the Wu Tang Clan singing your praises, but “How to Make It in America,” HBO’s newest show, is the last straw.
“How to Make It in America”
Sundays at 10 p.m.
Set only in the hippest, most visually dynamic parts of contemporary NYC, “How to Make It in America” follows the exploits of two young men as they try to make a buck. Ben, played by Bryan Greenberg (“October Road”), is the charming, affable nice guy who is foiled by his less scrupulous sidekick Cam, played by Victor Rasuk (“ER”). Together, the pair traipses around New York, from gallery openings to after-parties to street markets, with vague aspirations of becoming “The Man” without having to submit to the shame of getting a job.
Sound like puerile nonsense? It definitely is. And the worst part is, we’re supposed to buy it because it’s set in New York City. The smug hipness dripping off every moment in “How To Make It,” is punctuated by b-roll “urban” photography to remind us of the setting: street vendors, taxicabs, subways, graffiti, blah, blah, blah. Sure, these stock characters are uninteresting, their relationships are tacked on and predictable, their antics are snotty and obnoxious, but we’re in New York! Look at the homeless people. It’s mad real, son.
“How To Make It” is brought to you by several of the same producers that gave us that other HBO show about hip fame-seekers, “Entourage,” and the similarities don’t end with the production staff. A boyish white guy who can’t seem to get over his ex? Check. Said white guy doesn’t know what to do with his life amid the success of his peers? Check. Dudes having “real talk” about bitches and sexual longevity while on their way toward another misadventure? You better believe that’s a check. But while “Entourage” has the film industry and all of its nuances and intrigue to fall back on, “How to Make It” has only a superficial veneer of the NYC “underworld,” with inexplicable black-market salesmen hanging out on the docks and “shady-ass” cousins/loan sharks. These elements, one can only assume, are supposed to lend an air of street cred to the proceedings, but are so transparently contrived that they are baffling to watch.
There are a few moments of relief. A Hasidic kid with sidelocks giving Cam a ride on the back of his bike; another kid hustling for change with rehearsed frankness on the subway; both of these provide some interesting, though unexplored, images and sentiments. And the title sequence and song is pretty cool. But all of those city-soaked moments take place within the first three minutes, and they leave the remaining 25 all the more cloying and hollow.
Of course, it isn’t New York’s fault we’re being submitted to this kind of dumb-witted bullshit. New York City is obviously an amazing, diverse, fascinating place and entertaining stories are being concocted there every day. But “How To Make It In America” isn’t one of them. Rather, this crap is just riding on NYC’s coattails, feeding off the myth that doing nothing in New York is better and more interesting that whatever it is you’re doing, wherever you happen to be. But if we ever needed proof that life in New York can be just as dull and pointless as in the flyover states, we don’t need to look any further than “How to Make It in America.”