Its an honor to live in New York City. Sure its also a never-ending struggle with no day like the last, and the MTA is rarely on your side, but there’s truly nothing like it. I live for the days in this city where everything seems to work in my favor, and the nights that are the most memorable are the ones you didn’t even plan for. If you’re without direction here, you’ll be trampled over—and that doesn’t only apply to the tourists, that’s also to the ones comfortably in their “figure it out” phase. I go through these dry spells of creativity sometimes that, rather than fight them, I choose to embrace. I take it as a way of my brain telling me to take it easy, and so I do just that. In my phases where I lack inspiration, I have a number of fix-its. One of them happens to be binging HBO’s short-lived How To Make It In America series. The two-season cult favorite highlights the lives of Ben and Cam, who are struggling to get their denim brand Crisp off the ground while maneuvering life in New York City. There’s something about the time frame it’s set in, and the ambition of the characters and their goals, that speaks to me every time. There’s Ben (Bryan Greenberg) who’s fresh out of a relationship and trying to find stability creatively and financially, but gets in his own way of progression at times, and then there’s his best friend Cam (Victor Rasuk), who’s ambition and will to push forward is all the boost they both need for triumph. The duality of them both is a clear depiction of the will to succeed and the hunger needed to prosper in this city.
Their fashion line Crisp was very much a representation of how streetwear fashion was in 2010. Japanese denim and graphic T-Shirts were all the craze, and the brand drew inspiration from other big names such as APC and Supreme to make things work. Executive Produced by Mark Wahlberg, the show garnered comparisons to Entourage—which he also produced. But unlike Entourage, one of How to Make It‘s focuses was to capture the gritty essence of the grind in New York City and depict the get-rich mentality of making it that could work in your favor with consistency. It also spotlighted the realism of the struggle to keep your head above water financially.
Domingo, played by Kid Cudi, was considered an underachiever. The easy-going character, however, always found his way when it came to making money. In order for his rent to be paid he sold weed and walked dogs for a living. His care-free nature provided the perfect balance for the go-getting main characters. “See that’s why I’m self-employed. I’m already at the office,” he bragged. His care-free nature didn’t hurt when it came to women, either.
Ben’s on and off girlfriend Rachel (Lake Bell) was finding her way as an interior designer one minute, a journalist the next, or traveling to Africa on a spiritual journey. She was still very much in the pursuit of her well-being as most of us are—even though it got a bit too messy when she started seeing Domingo. The characters were all flawed in one way or another, but shared one objective— whether they knew what it was or not, they were are all just looking to flourish in their areas of focus in a city designed to stiff-arm the weak.
For our protagonists, and often in real-life, with every major win comes a handful of obstacles. We see this when Ben and Cam are finally able to organize a pop-up shop party for Crisp—only to end up missing the big show thanks to a drug mishap. Or when Rene (Luis Guzman), Cam’s much feared cousin who’s trying to start a business of his own with his energy drink, briefly sabotages Ben and Cam’s progress as a way of teaching them a lesson. The key obviously, is not to get discouraged by the trying times, because there will be many—especially when the route to desired success is considered an alternate path. A college degree wasn’t gonna pave the way for these dreamers.
Rene’s character was probably the most interesting of the show. With his troubled past, he built a lot of respect, which he stood on to start his business. Though he tries to keep a clean profile, he wasn’t above shaking someone down for money they owed him, or forcing a pro-skater to take part as a sponsor for his business. Surrounded by young, creative and ambitious minds, the street veteran relied on his old ways to gain leverage.
Unlike Rene, Ben and Cam made sure they capitalized off of the relationships they had in a less harmful and effective way, which, in a rule book on how to make it in life somewhere, I’m certain this would be echoed as a must-do. For instance, Ben charming a well-known and respected designer like Nancy Frankenburg (Gina Gershon), doesn’t hurt with their brand development. Although it went on to bring the characters some added stress, it exemplified how far a smirk and playful banter could sometimes work in your favor. Reconnecting with their high school friend Kapo (Eddie Kaye Thomas) didn’t hurt them either, as he’s both wealthy and eager to believe in something enough to invest his money in.
Though the show is arguably more loved now than it was while it was on-air, I think I identify with it because the characters never stopped moving. They never loss focus of what they wanted, and they didn’t downplay how challenging life can be in New York City sometimes. “I used to look at it and think that it was mocking me. Like it represented everything I wanted but couldn’t have.” Ben said this in season 2 as he looked over at the city from a Yacht before adding: “Tonight I feel like I’ve got a shot.” It’s that heightened feeling that only New York could give you—one that even if the feeling is only temporary, it feels worth it. I strongly believe that if you’re putting in the time for what you love, that feeling of euphoria can be sustained. It was essential for a younger audience to receive a show about “getting there.” And though the journey was cut short, the message continues to thrive in my frequent binging sessions.