HBO has already introduced us to rich mobsters, a shoe-obsessed sex columnist, and an A-list actor and his clingy entourage.
Now the network is downsizing with a series about two New York buds desperate to join the ranks of the rich and famous.
How to Make It in America, debuting tonight at 10 p.m. EST, is like a stripped-down, East Coast Entourage — on the surface. But the drama has miles to go before it digests as easily as Vince and his West Coast groupies.
Ben (Bryan Greenberg) and Cam (Victor Rasuk from Raising Victor Vargas) are just scraping by on New York’s mean streets. Neither wants to climb the corporate ladder, but both want the power to be had at the top rung.
So they try one Ralph Kramden-style scheme after another, from hawking stolen leather jackets to peddling skateboards emblazoned with the image of a no-name local legend. They skirt the law with alacrity but aren’t devious enough to fully exploit the system.
They eventually settle on creating a new line of designer jeans, a theme which should carry the show through its initial eight-episode run.
Just don’t tell them they don’t know the first thing about the garment industry, or business planning, or anything else that can make their project succeed. They’re just young and naive enough to cling to a dream that has precious little chance of becoming reality.
But isn’t that what the entrepreneurial spirit is all about?
Ben remains an optimist despite one setback after another, and he’s constantly distracted by Rachel (Lake Bell), his ex-girlfriend who reminds him that his dreams remain deferred. It’s one of several tired subplots which drag the show’s potential downward.
There’s still ripe material to found in America, but the show isn’t sure how to tap it. The ebb and flow of the main characters’ money schemes aren’t nearly isn’t intriguing as it should be, and Greenberg struggles to sell his character’s inner turmoil.
Rasuk fares better, especially when he dials down his hip-hop inflections around his smothering grandmother.
The fine supporting cast needs no tinkering. Martha Plimpton shines as Rachel’s feisty boss, while American Pie’s Eddie Kaye Thomas turns a potentially lame stereotype, that of the young, obscenely rich New Yorker, into a nerd to be admired.