Watching HBO’s new series How To Make It In America, it’s inevitable to draw comparisons with the more established LadCom Entourage.
Yes, the coasts are different. The businesses are, too, and How To Make It relies on a street-level grit and drama rather than Entourage’s house-in-the-hills fantasy. But both shows offer a look at the fundamental questions of, yes, how to make it in America while remaining true to yourself—and in worlds where success is often directly related to a willingness to compromise.
The key difference in the two series is that How To Make It’s two main characters, a Dominican dude named Cam Calderon (Victor Rasuk from Lords of Dogtown) and his Jewish buddy Ben Epstein (Bryan Greenberg), haven’t made it yet in the fashion and garment business. Even in the first season of Entourage, the boys were comparatively well-placed in Hollywood thanks to Vince’s early success.
It’s just the beginning, but I love How To Make It's energy. HBO has always had a knack for great opening sequences, and How To Make It’s is among the best with rapid-fire footage of New York City set to Aloe Blacc’s “I Need A Dollar.” The song asks the question, “If I share with you my story, would you share your dollar with me?” and before we even get to answer that, we’re pulled into Cam’s and Ben’s worlds.
There’s Ben, depressed and surrounded in his apartment by stacks of unsold skateboards with custom artwork. And as the music pulses, here comes Cam, smiling and standing on the back of a Hassidic kid’s bicycle, his eyes bright and surveying the street as if his conquest of the city is just a matter of time and not a long shot.
Cam and Ben are still on the edge. Cam is scamming hot leather jackets down on the docks while Ben remains stuck folding jeans at Barney’s. But they’re surrounded by all the trappings of success—except that the hot models, expensive art, and prime apartments remain out of reach. Plus, Cam is in hock to his cousin Rene (it's good to see Luis Guzman playing The Man instead of a sidekick).
We’ll see where How To Make It is at after a few years, assuming it gets that far. Heading into Season 6, I tend to watch Entourage more out of habit now. The show still has its moments, but the fantasy world that Vince and the boys occupy seems to be free of real-world consequence and drama. The show violates a fundamental life rule perhaps best expressed in the film Broadcast News, as golden boy newscaster Tom Grunnick (William Hurt) confides to nebbishy producer Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks):
Tom: What do you do when your real life exceeds your dreams?
Aaron: Keep it to yourself.
So along the way I’ve stopped rooting for the Entourage boys even as I keep watching the show. Gee, Turtle, that’s a tough one: Jamie-Lynn Sigler or a hot UCLA coed?
But I did get caught up in Cam and Ben’s stories. It’s all about the striving, isn’t it? The show pops with a different kind of energy because its drama isn’t akin to whether Vince will have to lower himself and take a supporting role instead of a lead; it's whether these guys can move those leather coats from a rack set up on a street corner before the cops shut them down. Or whether Ben can sell a photo to the high-school geek turned hedge fund manager and art collector to help Cam pay off Rene.
And let's face it: Surviving and making sure your friend doesn’t get his arm broken is a more compelling story than one based on rarefied gourmet issues such as Aquaman’s artistic integrity and what to do when your best buddy gives you a Ferrari and your actress girlfriend gives you a Porsche for your 30th birthday.
Ben and Cam really need that dollar, and at this point I’m happy to give it to them.