How to Make It in America -- TV Review

"How to Make It in America"


HBO's new half-hour series "How to Make It in America" is a misnomer. A more accurate title might be "How to Make It in New York City When You Can't Get Your Ass in Gear." But that would be hard to fit on the TV screen.

"America" is all about being on the make: This is a New York where Horatio Alger would get his pockets picked. From the scrappy kid on the subway selling candy "for my own damn self" to twentysomething hapless heroes Ben (Bryan Greenberg) and Cam (Victor Rasuk) yearning to do more with their lives than sell clothes (retail or on the street corner), everyone's doing the hustle.

On some level, it's also "Sex and the City" inverted. Filmed in a gritty, choppy style that conjures ghosts of New York's 1970s decadence, it's about living in half-furnished tiny apartments, waking up early to help a friend set up a photo exhibition, then dashing out to a crappy retail job. It's about late-night parties, an ex-girlfriend one drunkenly visits at four in the morning and the hot chick you think you've landed who ends up locking tongues with the metrosexual who has been dissing you all night. It's about not making it, and worse, not having the passion or drive to really reach beyond the barest of efforts to make it.

Unfortunately, "America" isn't as textured and riveting as it thinks it is. There are flashes of light -- Rene (Luis Guzman), the ex-con Our Heroes go into debt with is a menacing delight with his own delusions of grandeur, and Cam's frenetic, audacious ambition blasts the plodding story line along in most unexpected ways. But Ben, sans direction or real ambition, is a black hole in every scene and fails in convincing the audience that he knows what he wants for dinner, much less out of life.

"Everybody's got ideas, nobody wants to put in the work," Cam learns from a potential investor, a theme that exudes from every second of the first two episodes. Is this a comedy? A drama? No reason it can't be both, but "America" is less funny than full of somber irony and resignation. It's a tone that clings like the film on Gotham windowpanes, obscuring what otherwise might be a very entertaining view out on the streets. Alas, we're all stuck inside with the losers.

Airdate: 10-10:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 14 (HBO)
Production: Get Yours Inc.
Cast: Bryan Greenberg, Victor Rasuk, Lake Bell, Luis Guzman, Scott "Kid" Mescudi, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Martha Plimpton, Jason Pendergraft, Shannyn Sossamon
Executive producers: Stephen Levinson, Ian Edelman, Rob Weiss, Jada Miranda, Julian Farino and Mark Wahlberg
Creator: Ian Edelman
Co-executive producer: Norman Morrill
Produced by: Jane Raab
Producer: Sarah Treem
Director: Julian Farino
Directors of photography: Stephen Fierberg, Tim Ives
Production designers: Nicolas Lundy, Dan Davis
Costume designers: Kurt & Bart, Stacey Battat
Casting: Amanda Mackey, Cathy Sandrich, Sheila Jaffe, Susan Abrahmson