Wednesday, February 10, 2010

TV REVIEW: HBO's "How to Make It in America" - Pilot

I had a little treat last night when I got to watch the pilot of HBO's "How to Make It in America" before it premieres on Valentine's Day. Interesting premiere date, especially since the episode isn't strictly romance-related. It's just a snapshot into the lives of these two hustlers and the perfect set-up for what drives them. But I guess the date makes sense, since it's not really geared towards couples or guys who would necessarily bubble over with affection on such a date. Created by the producers of "Entourage," it has a boys' club vibe with enough emotion to not alienate the ladies.

Bryan Greenberg ("October Road" and Bride Wars) plays Ben, a self-doubting, broken-hearted Barneys employee who feels like a failure in every aspect of his life. He lost the girl of his dreams, Rachel (Lake Bell from It's Complicated), he screwed up his only get-rich-quick scheme, skateboard designing, and he can't quit smoking. He looks and behaves like most 20somethings in our current job climate, who thought they had it all figured out straight out of college, but soon crumbled under the pressure of their own personal mid-life crisis. But at least Ben has an apartment and a job. Cam (Victor Rasuk from Lords of Dogtown and Feel the Noise), on the other hand, mooches off his grandmother, refuses to get a "real job," spends most of his nights drinking and screwing, and constantly inserts himself into shady situations.

Their differences, however, is what makes them such great friends. Where one falters, the other excels. Ben might still be hopelessly in love (infatuated?) with Rachel, but Cam knows to take pity on him and play the fiercely loyal wingman. Cam borrows five grand from his ex-con uncle Rene (Luiz Guzman from Nothing like the Holidays), and Ben steps up to help him make it back by selling knock-off leather jackets. Ben has a nagging nicotine addiction, so Cam fines him $100 every time he lights up. Ok, that last one might actually be more beneficial to Cam. lol But Cam truly is Ben's sole driving force. If it were up to him, he'd waste his life away folding designer clothes and drowning his broken heart. Cam's the one who reawakens Ben's ambitions, making a very valid point. When Ben asks, "How long are you going to keep saying, 'Fuck the man!' for?", Cam responds, "Until we are the man!" He's right. Underdogs, free-thinkers, hustlers a.k.a entrepreneurs don't want to bring down "the man," the overbearing force that tells them what to do and when to do it and, essentially, how to be. They want to succeed enough so that their friends, their peers, and "the man" start calling them "the man," the ghetto version which denotes that you are the best and you've made it.

The plot is very topical and relevant for this current generation. I think viewers who love shows about trying to succeed and starting out as a little fish in a big pond—essentially lovers of everything from "Entourage" to "Grey's Anatomy" to "American Idol"—will appreciate the relentless ambition that drives this series. Twentysomethings will relate, but so will those who've already established themselves, whether it's in the industry they aimed for or settled for, because they'll get nostalgic for the days when anything was possible. What else does it have to offer? It has a light sense of humor, not exactly Ari Gold zingers, but it'll have you smirking every now and then. The cinematography is subversive, mixing photo stills, video camera footage, and regular single-camera action. Plus, the music—urban and up-to-date—is definitely downloadable.

Gripes? While I appreciate the inclusion of female characters, I hope they can do better than Bell, Shannyn Sossamon (40 Days and 40 Nights and A Knight's Tale), and Samaire Armstrong ("Dirty Sexy Money" and "The O.C."). I mean, it has nothing to do with them personally. It's the characters they've been hired to play. Bell's wasted as the uninterested ex, Sossamon as the arty, trust-fund kid who refuses to take daddy's handouts, and Armstrong as a…slut(?). Well, I guess "Entourage" was never really a great venue for women to begin with. Carla Gugino played a bitchy agent, Debi Mazar plays a bitchy publicist, Constance Zimmer played a bitchy producer, Perrey Reeves plays Ari's bitchy wife, Beverly D'Angelo plays Ari's bitchy partner, and Autumn Reeser plays the bitchy agent slash thorn in his side. The only characters on the show that weren't bitches, sluts, or crazy were the dream girlfriends: Sloane (Emmanuelle Chriqui), Kelly (Lauren London), and Jamie (Jamie-Lynn Sigler). Three women. So hopefully they'll get a female writer, who actually knows how a female thinks, to create three dimensional feminine personas that we can enjoy. Think sarcastic Karen from "The Office," no-bullshit Sonia from "Mercy," socially-inept Brita from "Community," confident Callie on "Grey's Anatomy" or even the enterprising Brooke from "One Tree Hill." I could name more, but you get the point.

As for the actresses to play them, I'd recommend even poaching Sophia Bush from "One Tree Hill." Greenberg, her former co-star, could totally set that meeting up. There's also Lindsay Price, who's free after the cancellation of "Eastwick," Katie Cassidy, who's series "Melrose Place" might not return next season, Eliza Dusku ("Dollhouse"), who could probably spice things up, and Kristin Kreuk ("Smallville"), who is free as a bird once she's done with her stint on "Chuck." And since we're on the subject of the canceled or dejected, if they need a slimy young investor to parallel Eddie Kaye Thomas's (American Pie) desperate-for-attention David, then I think Sebastian Stan ("Gossip Girl" and "Kings") could add the much-needed Upper East Side slime to the NYC business atmosphere they're about to infiltrate.

All in all, I think the series has a good start. I didn't love "Entourage" in the beginning either, so I think it's something you grow attached to after a few viewings. You'll get invested in these guys' lives and you'll start rooting for them. Hey, maybe even you'll get inspired. Because, let's be honest, if Ben and Cam can do it, so can you. lol

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