Part of the “Entourage” brain trust collaborates on “How to Make It in America,” a new HBO series that somehow manages to make the lightweight antics of that earlier show look substantial by comparison. Focusing on a more hard-scrabble existence in New York — where a couple of friends struggle and hustle, pursuing their dream of launching a new denim line — one can most charitably approach this breezy half-hour as what E. and the guys might be doing if Vince hadn’t made it as a movie star. Of course, that still doesn’t make “America” a place you’d yearn to be.
Bryan Greenberg and Victor Rasuk play Ben Epstein and Cam Calderon, respectively, the well-connected but financially strapped Brooklyn twentysomethings seeking a break into the fashion industry. They can get into the hottest clubs and bed attractive women, but paying the rent remains something of an adventure.
Their extended circle includes Ben’s ex-girlfriend Rachel (Lake Bell) and his Wall Street buddy David (“American Pie’s” Eddie Kaye Thomas), along with Cam’s cousin Rene (the always-welcome Luis Guzman), who is pushing his own get-rich scheme involving an energy drink called Rasta Monsta.
Created by Ian Edelman, none of these threads really add up to much. And while there’s a serialized arc to the storytelling, after four episodes it’s still difficult to identify what the principal hook is supposed to be, other perhaps than Ben’s pining for Rachel and her own slightly conflicted feelings despite having moved on to a more financially stable new boyfriend.
As with “Entourage,” the real star here is presumably meant to be the atmosphere, offering a window into a multicultural urban setting filled with the young and hungry — all itching to escape from the outskirts into the ranks of Manhattan swells. It’s just that the show doesn’t possess the conviction to present Ben and Cam with genuinely tough or compelling choices as they drift from one encounter to the next. At least “Entourage” offers vicarious thrills, providing a peek at life behind the other coast’s velvet ropes.
A cynic might conclude that this eight-episode order flowed somehow from a desire to keep the “Entourage” contingent happy, or perhaps to create a vehicle for Greenberg — last seen TV-wise traveling ABC’s “October Road” — who has a way with expressing youthful angst but can’t bring much to a relatively nondescript character.
Whatever the underlying motivation, “How to Make It in America” is slick enough but, in fashion terms, follows a too-familiar pattern. Barring a dramatic leap in quality, that’s no way for “America” to make it in pay cable.