Disappointed doesn't even begin to describe how I feel about HBO's much-hyped new series How To Make It in America. Three episodes in and the "from-the-creators-of-Entourage" tagline is wearing off. Where Entourage is a genuinely sweet show about a core group of likeable people, How To Make It In America falls somewhere into a no man's land most closely resembling a 2K10 version of KIDS.
How To Make It In America has no identity. I'd be giving the producers too much credit to suppose they are letting the show meander in some "cool" twilight zone on purpose as a treatise on the Me Generation's self-absorption. We've seen this "moment-in-time look into the lives of a group of New Yorkers just trying to make it" countless times before, and in better form, from Woody Allen to dare I say, Hype Williams' Belly. The show is a gimmick. And while Entourage takes the gimmick of celebrity and turns it into a cast of characters worth tuning into every week, HTMIIA takes the gimmick of the past four years of "underground" culture and attempts to make it into something mainstream. Unfortunately HBO viewers nestled between the two coasts don't really care who Damien Hirst is nor do they care if exclusive Japanese denim is being peddled at bargain basement prices by a Sean John wearing Mafioso down at the docks. This sort of post modern commercialization of formerly underground movements is a perennial phenomenon for film and television most of the time resulting in embarrassing caricatures (Homeboys From Outer Space) and rarely ending in a quality piece of television (remember New York Undercover or Miami Vice?).
Even from a purely technical standpoint, HTMIIA jumps between traditional storytelling and Arrested-Development-meets-Guy Ritchie cutaways and edits that could stand to be replaced by some solid acting and better dialog. While Entourage works because it's continually entertaining to see what sorts of predicaments any of our favorite cast members will find themselves in next week even if the plotlines stagnate at times, HTMIIA would be better served as a feature length film (albeit with some serious casting changes and rewriting) that truly existed as a moment in time, rather than some amorphous ongoing saga that is these twentysomethings' desire to make money. Money, although ever present on Entourage, is not the modus operandi of most of the characters (even Ari) and thus doesn't leave you walking away feeling empty; remember E's short-lived Murphy Group or Turtle's management career? Entourage is more like How To Make It in America And Keep Your Friends while How To Make It In America is more like How To Fuck Over Your Friends While Trying To Make A Buck.
HTMIIA is parading around as a hip, edgy, docudrama and maybe 15 years ago they could have gotten away with it, but this is almost like a series made by its own target audience and nothing more. I wouldn't be surprised if at the end of the season, one of the characters in the show gets his own fictitious TV show picked up by a cable network. And while long-running HBO series like Entourage and Curb Your Enthusiasm use similar art-imitating-life devices, great acting, storytelling (sometimes) and comedy spare those shows from falling victim to a self-reflexive vortex, HTMIIA swallows itself whole, focusing entirely too much on style and next-to-nothing on substance. Critics hurled insults at Entourage last season for plots unfolding at a snail's pace and having out-of-date issues of Sports Illustrated on the show but I'd trade that in a second to see one less "cool" cue on HTMIIA and one more character like Ari or Drama. I'm just not buying any of the actors on the show. Sopranos, Sex and The City and The Wire all had actors that made me believe the characters were real (in some cases they were in fact plucked from their environs); even the best writing in the world is useless if the actors aren't selling you.
While I generally loathe self-indulgent, meme films like Garden State and 500 Days of Summer, there's something to be said for their genuine hipster tendencies and their ability to get audiences to wholeheartedly jump headfirst into the world of the characters. HTMIIA tries way too hard to be cool and instead comes off as cold, alienating and downright depressing. Aside from the music, which I must say is deftly picked and placed (thanks to Entourage sups Scott Vener and Gabe Hilfer), HTMIIA literally has nothing going for it. Music fans will be excited at hearing some genuinely cutting edge cues but will be equally disappointed by the under usage and over-advertising of rapper Kid Cudi who has spoken maybe ten lines in the first three episodes.
Come on HBO. You made us care about four New York shopaholics, a Mafia boss, cold-hearted Baltimore drug dealers, a shitty Hollywood actor's entourage and Larry David; all of which are feats in and of themselves. Why is it so hard to make us care about some New York hustlers? I guess this is what happens when Hollywood tries to spoon-feed "cool" to the masses.