Although it still produces enough laughs to keep me watching, HBO’s “Entourage” has suffered a certain loss in quality over its many seasons on the air. Perhaps it’s just the inevitable signs of age any TV series exhibits over time. More likely, though, it’s the fact that the show has lost a bit of the creative spark it had when it started. Originally, the show was about a quartet of knockabout best friends from New Jersey who stumble into the Hollywood high life after one of them becomes a flavor-of-the-month movie star. Despite the mansions and the limos, our four main characters were still those good old neighborhood boys from back in Jersey. Six seasons in, though, the boys find themselves surrounded by an increasing numbers of celebrity guest stars, making it harder to spot their non-Hollywood origins.
Now, some of the producers behind “Entourage” (including celeb inspiration Mark Wahlberg) have come up with a new show called “How to Make It in America.” The series leans a little more toward drama than comedy when compared to its spiritual precursor, but the show could easily be a mirror of the events unfolding on “Entourage.” What if Vince, Eric, Johnny Drama and Turtle didn’t become overnight successes in Hollywood? What would their life back on the East Coast look like? “How to Make It in America” introduces us to that scenario.
Our main characters here are Ben Epstein (Bryan Greenberg, HBO’s “Unscripted”) and Cam Calderon (Victor Rasuk, Lords of Dogtown), two twentysomething pals and occasional business partners. In their youth, Ben and Cam were a couple of low-rent hustlers, doing anything they could to make a dollar on the streets of New York City. Recently, though, Cam has tried his best to grow up, act responsibly and get a real job—for all the good it’s done him. He’s stuck wearing a name tag, slaving away in a retail store and pining for his ex-girlfriend (Lake Bell, “Boston Legal”). So when Cam suggests a new get-rich-quick scheme, Ben jumps on the opportunity.
Unfortunately, Ben and Cam’s plan (creating their own line of high-end jeans with some illegally obtained material) puts them in business with Cam’s sketchy cousin Rene (Luis Guzmán). Rene is a just-out-of-jail loan shark who’s fronting the dough for our entrepreneurs’ little business plan and isn’t above breaking his own cousin’s knees if the payments don’t show up on time.
So far, “How to Make It in America” is a slow starter. We’re still getting to know the main characters and the supporting cast (which, impressively, includes Martha Plimpton, Shannyn Sossamon, Eddie Kaye Thomas and Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi). Still, there’s quite a bit of potential here. By mixing streetwise characters, gritty settings and a classic American Dream story arc, “How to Make It in America” shows flashes of what “Entourage” used to be. ... Let’s just hope these new guys don’t get spoiled by fame and fortune.