No one starts out with the intent of making a bad show, but it’s quickly apparent after watching the second season of How To Make It In America that not a lot of thought went into the series. HBO was desperate to repeat the success of Entourage and attempted to apply the formula from that show to the streetwise fashion industry of New York City. But Entourage had a wit and charm of its own with great characters. How To Make It In America has no memorable characters and for a dramedy is severely lacking in comedy or intriguing plot twists.
The story primarily revolves around the lives of Ben (Bryan Greenberg) and Cam (Victor Rasuk), two twenty-something friends hustling to get their fashion label “Crisp” off the ground and make their dreams a reality. Ben and Cam are as generic as characters as they could be, possibly picked out of a catalog to target the hip, urban viewing demographic HBO wanted when they made the show.
Along for the ride is Cam’s cousin, Rene, an ex-con loan shark and gang boss hoping to go legitimate with his energy drink, “Monsta Rasta.” It’s a show where story-lines run off in their own direction with little cohesion and everything can be predicted in advance. The only saving grace is Luis Guzmán, whom plays Rene in an off-beat manner that humanizes the gangster.
HBO sprinkles in their typical mix of past-their-prime Hollywood stars as cameos, like Gina Gershon as an aging cougar that seduces Ben. Lake Bell as Rachel gets the role of Ben’s ex-girlfriend, though her story quickly diverges from the rest of the show. Her character seems included simply because they needed to fill out time, as her story is poorly integrated and feels tacked-on.
The main plot involving Ben’s struggle with the fashion industry has absolutely nothing new to say about making it in America or young entrepreneurs. When the plot starts dragging, the show throws in some sex or hints of violence to make viewers forget the boring machinations of the fashion industry.
It’s not a coincidence that HBO canceled this series after only two seasons on the air. How To Make It In America is a boring watch and most of the characters are paper-thin. Everything that happens feels false and hollow, stripping the show of any authenticity.
HBO has given this season an excellent transfer, as the show has been primarily shot on digital cameras. The eight episodes are spread evenly over 2 BD-50s, allowing the video bitrate to average well over 30 Mbps. The video is encoded in AVC with no compression artifacts. Presented in its native aspect ratio of 1.78:1 at a resolution of 1080p, the image is clean and largely noise-free, producing superior detail most of the time. It’s not the flashiest presentation but works quite well for this series.
A few scenes have been shot on regular 35mm film stock. Some of the interior scenes in darker settings, like a bedroom at night, have a grittier feel with visible grain. Exterior shots in New York City look beautiful, with a vivid color palette and bright colors.
It’s not the best picture quality for a production shot digitally, but it’s still very good. Clarity is usually at a high level, though the contrast is a tad dark. The one failing might be occasional lapses to the shadow detail, as How To Make It In America lacks the superior delineation of more carefully filmed programs.
HBO has graced this set with a 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack that beautifully integrates the dialog with the raucous Rap music featured in the score. The series doesn’t give a huge amount of opportunities for the surround spectacle of most action movies, but sprinkles in the ambient sounds of the city in the rear channels. The urban music of the Pop soundtrack nicely uses the LFE channel, creating a wonderful amount of thump. Slice-of-life shows rarely make for solid demo material and this set is no exception.
Secondary options include a 5.1 French DTS soundtrack and a 2.0 Spanish DTS soundtrack. Subtitles include: English SDH, French, Spanish, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish.
A handful of extra features have been included, but honestly they are lifeless and boring. Three episodes (1, 2, and 8) feature audio commentaries from the two main stars and the show’s creator. These are very casual conversations dominated by Bryan Greenberg, but none of them have anything interesting to say about the series over the three episodes. Only the most hardcore fans will find them interesting, as most of the content is very banal.
Two short featurettes have also been included. “Inside The Series” (10:09 in 1080p) is a brief behind the scenes documentary of the series, with interviews from some of the actors about the show. “3 Days Downtown” (8:25 in 1080p) interviews a handful of real-life entrepreneurs in New York City, detailing their struggles to get businesses off the ground. Both features seem slapped together with not much thought behind them.
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A note on the screen shots: Some technical bumps caused some flubs in the timing. Take these shots as they are sans time stamps.