How to Make it in America sits comfortably on the ever-growing list of entertaining TV series that were prematurely cancelled before they got their fair shake.
Call it a victim of bad timing.
The series centered on Ben Epstein (Bryan Greenberg) and Cam Calderon (Victor Rasuk), two struggling New Yorkers trying their best to be entrepreneurs. Several journalists compared the series to Entourage. Unfortunately, both shows were on the same network. At the time of Ben and Cam’s premiere, Entourage had already shifted past its heyday and was wearing on its audience. Ben and Cam entered a space that wasn’t looking for another Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier), Eric Murphy (Kevin Connolly), Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon), and Turtle (Jerry Ferrara). The Entourage boys may have been from New York, but their lifestyle bore the glitz of LA. You always felt like something good would happen and they’d just keep making more money.
Unfortunately, for Ben and Cam, the comparison ended up being an awkward misnomer. Ben and Cam weren’t two people destined for success. They were two people trying their best not to fail – again and again. There was nothing truly glamorous about their lifestyles, except for the occasional party in NYC’s Meatpacking district. Ben was a college dropout, a born designer working at Barneys. Cam was the man with the dream – an innate salesman with a gift for gab, who couldn’t help but make mistakes. They were ordinary, salt of the earth, blue-collar workers who didn’t want to “work for the man.” Their motto was “fuck LA.” New York City and all the grit that came with it was their home and they’d make it there.
The first season of How to Make it in America was a struggle just to get a T-Shirt sold and pay rent. Driving around in fancy cars wasn’t even close to a pipe dream. Season 2, the fated final season, saw the boys trying to get their shirts and hoodies into the eyes of the fashion world. They didn’t have Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven) at their side pulling strings. Nor did they have endless cameos from celebrities to grab ratings. The biggest cameo was Pharrell, who only showed up to give these boys a comforting smile and pat on the back. However, an awkward glance – when Pharrell said goodbye – left the viewer knowing that the barricades to success were still present.
But, you know what. That didn’t stop Ben and Cam.
How to Make it in America appeals to anyone who has ever had the dream of doing something more. It also appeals to those who have tried and failed – relating the simple message, never give up. Even Rene Calderon (Luis Guzmán), Cam’s older ex-con cousin, is a relatable character. While you may not have stolen a car, sold drugs or been a neighborhood kingpin, you will relate to Rene’s innate determination. He wants to change, to do something more with his life. But for some reason, just like the Godfather, he always gets pulled back from his goals. You really feel Rene’s struggle in season 2, as he tries to make a life with his girlfriend Debbie (Andrea Navedo. Unfortunately, try as he might to do right and become the proud, legit CEO of the Rasta Monsta energy drink in North America, he constantly realizes that making it in America legally isn’t as easy as it sounds. But, he still tries.
How to Make it in America Season 2 is a little flashier than the first season. The series adds in more women, parties and sex scenes. You won’t need to watch the first season to fall in love with these characters. It may actually be more rewarding to watch the second season first and then go back and see the origins of Ben and Cam’s entrepreneurial endeavors.
In Season 2, we also discover what Domingo (Kid Cudi) actually does for a living and dive further into Ben’s relationship with Rachel (Lake Bell). However, Ben and Cam never jump the shark. Their goal is succeed without sacrificing their souls or the integrity of their fashion label, Crisp. Bigger meetings only mean bigger obstacles. Unlike Entourage, money never feels like their end game. These New Yorkers just want to stand on their own two feet as independent entrepreneurs.
The Season 2 DVD has two behind-the-scenes featurettes with artists and club owners in New York – some of whom appear in cameos throughout the season. There is also a featurette with the cast and crew.
Just like Ben and Cam, the TV series How to Make it in America struggled to find its audience. It had a good product, like Crisp, but to be a success in America – sometimes a good product is not enough. The short 8-episode seasons are easy to watch. I, for one, will continue to “run” these seasons back again-and-again – always wondering what could have been if the series got the third season it deserved.