The good news about How to Make it In America, which premiered on HBO last night, is that New Yorkers don't have to worry about an infestation of wannabes overrunning our city Sex and the City-style: it's completely forgettable.
Imagine a spinoff of Entourage that presents an alternate reality where Turtle had never met Vince and was back in New York with more dreams than talent, hustling to make it big any way he could, and you have the dull new series How to Make it in America, about two guys struggling to make it big as...uh, fashion designers? (I think?) without selling out to The Man.
Bryan Greenberg (Unscripted, Prime) plays Ben, who we know is a true artist because he used to design awesome t-shirts in high school. He's trying to quit smoking. He works at Barneys, where he refuses to wear his name tag, presumably because he thinks the job is beneath him. He also works, along with his roommate Cam (Victor Rasuk) hanging art at a friend's (Shannyn Sossamon) art gallery. Cam is the stereotypical (in movies and TV) fast-talking Puerto Rican hustler, who buys stolen bootleg leather jackets from the docks to sell on the street to pay back a loan from his recently-out-of-jail cousin (Luiz Guzman.) Most of the half-hour pilot concerns Ben being reminded by rich people (an old high school friend who runs a hedge fund, his ex girlfriend Rachel's (Lake Bell) new boyfriend)that he isn't one of them, and having a sad look on his face because he hasn't made it yet. Even though he doesn't appear to be actually trying:
Let's talk about the aspect of the show that is a little realistic: it's true that in New York, there is, to a degree, a symbiotic relationship between the downtown (or outer borough) outsider/hustler and the super-rich art collector type. This relationship is what this show is about — as evidenced in one scene, where Ben and Cam try to sell the hedge-funder a photograph and he isn't interested, but he says he'll give them the money ($3k) if they get him in with the doorman at an exclusive club. See, he needs them, because they're the kind of bottom feeders who would naturally know all of the club bouncers in the entire city.
The show goes out of its way to present a version of New York that is all about different social groups bumping into one another — Cam inexplicably gets a ride on the back of a small Hasidic boy's bicycle (a thing that would never happen), a little African American boy sells peanut M&Ms on the subway to keep himself off drugs and makes fun of the two grown men for taking the subway. The lesson of the show is supposed to be that everyone is hustling, trying to get by, you know, in this economy. It's gritty, man! But the show fails to define what these characters want, except to "not work for the man" but instead to "be the man," by any means necessary. It shares this flaw (and producers) with its predecessor, Entourage. Both shows depict insecure losers whose primary emotion is self-pity and whose highs come from pure luck, never hard work or inspiration.
There was one laugh-out-loud moment in the pilot, but unfortunately it was unintentional: Cam, standing next to Kid Cudi at a chi chi Lower East Side party says to Ben "We're gonna go get some grub at the Blue Ribbon courtesy of Harold's Conde Nast expense account. Are you in?" Ah, New York, where anything can happen. Get it?