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Review: 'How to Make It in America' Brings a Scruffy Energy to Season 2

by Maureen Ryan, posted Sep 30th 2011 1:30PM
Given how many new and returning shows are coming down the pike right now, I'm not sure why HBO, in its apparently finite wisdom, decided that now would be a good time to bring back 'How to Make It in America' (10:30PM ET Sunday, HBO).

It would be a shame if the scruffy saga of two would-be streetwear magnates got lost in the fall shuffle, but then, HBO seems to be content these days to let its generally low-key half-hour programs find their own audiences and perk along under their own steam.

Having said that, 'Bored to Death,' which also has a nicely detailed and lived-in New York atmosphere, would be a better 'HTMIIA' companion than the dour 'Hung.' Certainly the best thing about 'HTMIIA' -- aside from its terrific opening credits -- is the authentic feel of the lives of strivers who wouldn't dream of living anywhere else.

The problem with Ben (Bryan Greenberg) and Cam (Victor Rasuk) is that they may just be too nice to make it in New York's unforgiving garment-industry game. They have ideas and strategies for how to promote their CRISP brand of hoodies and T-shirts, but a lack of funds and a tendency to get in their own way trips them up almost every time they appear to be closer making their dream a reality.

Still, in season 2, they take a few steps forward in their goal of getting their well-made garments into the nicer store and boutiques, and the show casually yet purposefully weaves together the lives of the two main entrepreneurs and their memorable yet understated group of friends. They include Ben's ex, Rachel (the surprisingly versatile Lake Bell, whose interesting choice of roles in recent years has proven me wrong about her talent and her range), Wall Street dealmaker David (Eddie Kaye Thomas) and Domingo (Scott "Kid Cudi" Mescudi), whose business, which combines pot dealing and dog walking, may have the best chance of success.

Fitting nicely into Cam and Ben's world in the second season are guest stars James Ransone ('Generation Kill,' 'The Wire') as a douchey streetwear designer who wants to get into "proper haberdashery" and Gina Gershon, who plays an influential fashion-business insider.

It's nice to see that in the first three episodes of the eight-episode second season, the plots, such as they are, have a little more discipline and focus than they did in season 1, but 'HTMIIA' never forgets what its true strength is -- depicting the scrabbling energy of those on the lower rungs of New York City's creative classes. At times, watching 'HTMIIA' makes you feel like you're eating an authentic New York slice while walking around the Lower East Side, and the show's vibe is often best expressed in scenes with Luiz Guzman's character, who is wonderfully deadpan and endearingly sincere as the energy-drink maven Rene.

It's hard to believe that his drink, Rasta Monsta, will ever really take off, but it's New York City. Anything can happen, right?

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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Rebecca H

This sounds great! I can't wait to watch it. I haven't heard of this show before, but I plan on checking Netflix for season one. I would love to go to New York sometime, but I feel like I wouldn't have the proper streetwear. Everyone always seems so fashionable there.


January 12 2012 at 1:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I can't seem to find if PanAm was cancelled, I hope not because this show had me hooked fromthe beginning...

October 09 2011 at 7:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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