Tuned In: "How to Make It in America"

HBO spotlights east coast hipsters in new comedy series

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Some describe HBO's new half-hour series "How to Make It in America" as an east coast "Entourage." Indeed, it's another guy-centric series about twentysomethings having fun while clawing their way to some sort of success. Rather than attempting to garner acclaim in the glamorous environs of Hollywood, these fellas are just trying to make it in the world. The characters are desperate to prove they are somebodies while fretting they may wind up nobodies.

Created by newcomer Ian Edelman and executive produced by "Entourage" stalwarts Rob Weiss and Mark Wahlberg, "How to Make It" (10 tonight) is not as instantly likable as "Entourage" was when it premiered. This is a grittier show that's comparatively humorless -- more of a half-hour character study than a comedy in the traditional sense (sort of like HBO's "Hung" and "Bored to Death").

If you're not a fan of hipster posers and the New York young bohemian scene, there's much about "How to Make It" to rub you the wrong way. The show's premise and title don't really coalesce until the closing moments of tonight's premiere. The show improves in next week's episode as wounded romantic Ben Epstein (Bryan Greenberg, "October Road") partners with hustler pal Cam (Victor Rasuk, "Lords of Dogtown") to start a line of denim jeans. (We know Ben is a romantic in this show's universe because Cam says he'll wait until 4 a.m. before trying to get a woman in the sack rather than making a move on her hours earlier.)

It becomes apparent that Ben and Cam are blundering into the prospect of building a business with no real plan or financial backing other than a loan from Cam's quasi-dangerous loan shark cousin, Rene (Luis Guzman, "Oz"). (Rene is also trying to make something of himself by forsaking the criminal life for the real business world of marketing and selling an energy drink.)

A more accurate title for the show might be "How to Make It in America When You Haven't Got a Clue" because episode two makes clear that these guys are in over their heads. But they won't be discouraged by those with actual business world knowledge, plowing ahead in their efforts to establish Crisp NYC as a viable company.

They want the glory but are they willing to work for it?

"Everybody's got ideas," a friend's rich dad tells Cam after he pitches a new store concept. "But nobody wants to put in the work. Don't tell me what you want to do, show me what you've done and then I'll write you that check."

Ben seems effortlessly cool but not particularly style savvy in tonight's premiere. Eventually viewers learn he is a fashion school dropout. He must have quit before taking any business courses because the show seems like it will be a constant two-steps-forward-one-step-back affair as the guys try to get the business on its feet.

In addition to career struggles, Ben nurses a broken heart over ex-girlfriend Rachel (Lake Bell, "Boston Legal"), who dumped him for unspecified reasons but one can assume it has to do with his failure to "make it" thus far.

"At this point, I'd be happy just seeing you have health insurance," Ben's father tells him in an upcoming episode.

"How to Make It in America" grows more interesting in episodes after the pilot as Ben's world expands and connections among the characters form. But to get that far viewers may need to be: a) Living Ben's lifestyle, b) Remembering their immature years fondly or, c) Have a high tolerance for slackers whose ambition outpaces their drive and/or intellect.

TV editor Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1112. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow Rob on Twitter or Facebook at RobOwenTV. First Published February 14, 2010 5:00 AM


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