Can ‘How to Make it in America’ Make it on TV?
HBO is a network known for taking chances on its original programming. This season, they took a chance on a show about a group of people that are usually skeptical about anything mainstream. The show ‘How to Make it in America,’ chronicled the life of two hipsters trying to get paid sans the 9 to 5. The big risk in doing a show like this is you’re marketing to a group of people that aren’t always amenable to marketing.

This is a subculture of individuals that rolls it eyes at conformity and will tune out anything too cheesy or cliché, posing a problem since a lot of TV is cheesy and cliché. Pull it off and you get to operate within a niche market that nobody’s really in. This was the first show about the day to day struggles of 20 something’s in the city trying not to work for the man.

To help reel us in, Kid Cudi was prominently featured in a lot of the advertising for the show, although he’s probably had a total of 10 minutes of screen time during the entire series and is a minor character at best. Without a ton of details besides the appearance of an up-and-coming rap star, I think many people figured this would be Entourage for hipsters. When we learned they were going to make clothes we were probably expecting ‘The Life and Times of Bobby Hundreds.’ After 8 somewhat slow episodes, the show had enough going on to keep us tuned in each week, while moving slow enough to leave us disappointed every week.

While HBO will have no problem carrying a show that’s critically acclaimed but sags in the ratings (1. The show is averaging less than a million viewers per episode, which is terrible. 2. The Wire is arguably the greatest show of all-time and never had the ratings to match, which really wasn’t a big deal to HBO), what to the fans and critics think? With only 8 episodes in the book, and a lot of plot angles left wide open, I’m not sure if we have enough to really evaluate the show.

As it stands now, HBO is on the fence about renewing the series, though they rarely dump a show after one season. This show is backed by Mark Wahlberg, whose success with Entourage should be enough to keep Ben and Cam in our lives for another 8-10 episodes at least. If this show is on the rocks, here are the strengths and weaknesses of the show and what it needs to do to survive.

A strength and weakness of the show is its audience. As mentioned earlier, there aren’t a lot of shows targeting this audience. However, as a group its relatively small and many in the 20 something, post-grad trying to make it bucket: A.) don’t watch TV or B.) can’t afford HBO or cable because they’re trying to make it and are broke. Compare that to Entourage, which has a wide appeal and you can see where the problems start.

Speaking of Entourage, the Wahlberg x Cudi hype before the show boosted expectations that the show would be Entourage like (HBO might run into a similar problem with ‘Treme,’ David Simon’s upcoming drama based in New Orleans featuring two of the bigger stars from ‘The Wire,’ which of course is the greatest show ever). I figured they’d be making jeans by the third episode and would be running around NYC spending tons of guap by the finale. Instead, they were barely making ends meet throughout the show. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and is a lot more realistic, but it’s a lot different than we were lead on to think. Even if there is a second season, I think there will still be expectations for ‘Crisp’ to blow up, and the show’s big brother Entourage will always loom or stand as a basis of comparision.

The characters are easy to relate to, which is an advantage. Ben is the guy who hates his 9-5 and is always one legitimate start up a way from leaving it all behind, the guy who’s only a slacker because he doesn’t give a ‘s’ about what he does now, and would hard in something he likes. Cam is the schemer who never has a legit gig, but always seems to make ends meet. None of the schemes ever really go far, but they do enough to keep him out of grandma’s basement. Capo is the rich dude whose money is a lot longer than his cool, and utilizes the bucks to forge his way into the in-crowd. Rachel and Julie are the artsy girls trying to figure out what they want to do, while balancing their ambitions with their convictions, on top of the need/want to make money and have nice things. Rene is the hustler trying to go legit and Cudi … actually I’m not sure what Cudi is bringing to the table at this point.

A lot of us in the target audience either play those roles now, have friends that fit those molds or have so in the past. These characters should stick around, although it looks like they might be writing Rachel out and Cudi needs to do something because his last few appearances have looked contrived at this point.

The plots that don’t quite intertwine are probably the big problem. Number one, there’s too much going on which has kept the show from moving at a faster pace. The trials and tribulations of ‘Crisp’ are cool, which also include Ben’s love life and their moral hazard of figuring out if they like Capo, his investment money or both. Rene’s escapades with Rasta Monsta fit in since he also has ties with ‘Crisp’ and is Cam’s cousin. That should be it. It looks like they’re going to be either writing Rachel out of the show, or downsizing her role, which is good.

The parallel plots in Entourage work because E, Johnny Drama and Turtle are big enough characters to carry their own plots. Anybody not tied into what Ben and Cam are up to shouldn’t matter. It looks like the writers figured that out late in the season, although it might be a bit too late.

Hopefully, the reductions will help the show pick up the pace. In the second season they have to do more than make one pair of jeans and a few hundred shirts. At this point, I’m not expecting ‘Crisp’ to turn into the next Supreme in 10 episodes, but the business aspect of the show should pick up. The appeal of the show is strongly tied into the business aspect of it. I’m not sure if they realize this or not, yet. A lot of us tune in because we might have dabbled (or are currently dabbled in) fashion, music, party promotions, acting/film and just about anything else that would give us enough cash to not wear a shirt and tie for a living.

A plot/character reduction would be good for the overall feel of the show as well. Characters like Rachel, her boyfriend, her boss, her friend doing the Peace Corp thing in Africa and Kid Cudi seem to only exist in the show to cover the prototypical character bases. If they don’t fix this problem, don’t be surprised if Ben starts dating a woman in “Teach for America” and Cudi puts out a mixtape or two.

That said, I think the show has a lot of potential. The life and times of people in their 20s trying to make it can be just as interesting as watching the adventures of a crew of 20 year olds who’ve already made it big. Despite its shortcomings, it’s made it far enough to have us wondering what will happen next. Will they go to Japan? Will Ben get back with Rachel? Will Cam and Rene get in trouble for destroying the truck? If they trim the fat and really focus around the core characters, I think “How to Make it in America,” can make it on HBO.

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  1. Edwin Akrong

    i might be in the minority of those who really liked the show.. I just enjoyed watching a show where not everything was glamorous (a la entourage) and the characters actually had struggles that were sort of similar to what I am familiar with…

    of course the prps episode made me a bit upset.. but what can you do… they probably got paid a bit to feature the brand..

  2. Rtoda

    I agree with everything said here. I def hope it sticks around another season. Looking back, the first season of Entourage wasn’t that great either. I’m sure by Season 2 HTMIIA should find it’s stride.

    but someone brought up an interesting point the other day.

    What if they did a switch up like they did with the Wire Season 2 & took the show in a totally different direction. Like what if they decided that HTMIIA Season 2 was set in LA or Philly and we got to see how people hustle in other cities……and then maybe in season 3 they bridge the stories…..

  3. Clark Kent

    I like some of the episodes. When I first saw some of the advertisements for it I expected to see pure grindin / hustling drama. “HTMIIA” is both too soft and too slow paced for it to be NY 2010 and for them to be hungry. Ultimately I would like to see them return for another season but if it didn’t I am not sure I would miss it.

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