“I’m just a hard working man trying to get by.”
HBO has a way of making series that feature cities like one of the major characters, and How to Make it in America showcases New York City. Not the NYC of Sex and the City, which was all uptown preppie, How to Make it in America takes it to the streets. Not since Woody Allen have the boroughs been so lovingly represented. Much like the hustle of the NYC, How to Make it in America crackles with street-savvy vigor and style.
How to Make it in America is a post-recession show produced by Mark Walberg and the people behind Entourage. Where Entourage revels in indulgence and a life of excess, How to Make it in America explores with the challenges of getting by while hustling a business of your own. Whilst more drama then comedy, hunger for success is contagious.
It follows three different business scenarios. Ben (Bryan Greenberg) and his best friend, Cam (Victor Rasuk) attempt to break into the fashion industry, Ben’s ex-girlfriend Rachel (Lake Bell) and her boss, Edie (Martha Plimpton) run a startup designing agency and recent ex-con Rene (the magnificent Luis Guzmán) takes on energy drink distribution attempting to introduce the drink Rasta Monsta to America.
The drama is pretty straightforward. Ben still harbors feelings for Rachel. Rachel’s rich boyfriend, Darren (Jason Pendergraft), is too perfect and making Rachel doubt her feelings for him. Cam is forced to work off past debts with his gangster cousin Rene. Rene struggles with straight life.
What really sold me on this series are the unapologetic bohemian lifestyles. Once the work day is done, the folks know how to party. The cast is so damn likeable, I wanted to hang with them. Wonderful lofts and apartments, with real style and character, serve as settings for amazing get-togethers. These people put race and class aside and authentically seem to love one another.
I found Ben’s character a bit mopey, but whenever he is with Cam he comes alive. Victor Rasuk is charismatic with infectious energy. Luis Guzmán steals the entire series though. Not only is his storyline easily the most engaging, Guzmán’s performance is so compelling and layered they should have a series just about Rene.
There are great supporting actors and cameos. Ben’s rich old friend Kappo (Eddie Kaye Thomas) redefines geeky Jewishness. Domingo (Kid Cudi) is Ben and Cam’s effortlessly cool friend. Gingy Wu (Shannyn Sossamon) is a gorgeous, rich gallery owner who keeps the boys under her protective wing. Fashionista John Varvatos makes a cameo as does Griffin Dunne as one of Ben’s former professors, but the real star is the streets of New York City. I want to live there and party with these people.
Each episode receives a 1.78:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer on a BD-50 disc running an average of 38 Mbps. Once again HBO has put out a stellar looking Blu-ray. The colors pop in both day and night scenes. The blacks are rich and stable. Detail is amazing. Skin tones are perfect. I didn’t notice any compression issues, very minimal aliasing, and no excessive noise.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks are just as impressive. Dialog is sharp and clear. The surround is immersive, especially on the streets. The music is lively and wonderfully supportive of the narrative. Subs are deep and rich, especially in the nightclubs and parties. The balance between SFX/Soundtrack and dialog is spot on.
Eight dual commentaries, featuring cast and crew including Bryan Greenberg, creator/executive producer Ian Edelman and producer Rob Weiss, are available for episodes 1, 4, 5 and 8.
- The Get By: Making it on the Streets of NYC (18:38/HD) about the pro skateboarders touring the streets of New York City.
- The Legend of Wilfredo Gomez (9:47/HD) features interviews covering the myth and legend of the sketchy skater.
- Deleted scenes (5:55/HD) various scenes with no reference point as what episode they were supposed to be in.
- Hustle Stories (24:15/HD), Interviews with cast, crew, and guest stars reveal their own struggles for success and reveal what great lengths the show’s creators went to make How to Make It in America authentic.
When I first saw this coming on HBO I passed on it, thinking it was going to be an Entourage clone. The subject matter just didn’t seem that interesting. Watching it on disc really brought this series home for me. It really isn’t very funny, but it is warm and engaging. Not that I didn’t laugh out loud; I did a few times, but the rich characterizations keep you locked in. I cared about their business ventures and wanted them all to succeed. I feel the same about the show. I will definitely catch the next season and hope it keeps up the hustle.
“We’re not gangsters. We’re not thugs. We are Jews.”