How to Make It in America

TV review by
Kari Croop, Common Sense Media
How to Make It in America TV Poster Image
Mature drama adds grit to the pursuit of a glamorous life.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

The show stresses that get-rich-quick-schemes don't usually win out over hard work, but that doesn't stop Ben and Cam from trying to cut corners and get their latest pet project off the ground. There's also a subtle message about competition between friends and acquaintances to see who's involved in the most impressive enterprise. Success isn't always equated with money, but the two tend to go hand in hand.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ben generally tries to be a "good guy," and he's uncomfortable getting involved in schemes that could get him into serious trouble. But Cam is less scrupulous, running from the cops, etc., when he needs to save his own skin. Cam's cousin Rene has a prison record but is trying to go legit.

Violence

A secondary character has a prison rap sheet and views violence as an acceptable way to resolve conflict -- although he's trying to reform. Most violent incidents (like someone throwing a person out the window) are described rather than shown.

Sex

Some casual sex, in terms of guys sleeping with girls they met at parties or at a bar, etc. Sensitive body parts aren't usually shown, but sometimes a nipple is visible through a T-shirt, etc.

Language

Unbleeped swearing with heavy use of "f--k" and all its incarnations; other audible words include "s--t," "asshole," "bitch," "ass," etc.

Consumerism

Some real-life brand names pop up (including fashion designer John Varvatos, who makes a cameo) but it isn't excessive.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Social drinking at bars and parties in nearly every episode, with some imbibing (and overimbibing) more than others. Party guests guzzle wine right out of the bottle; another secondary character smokes marijuana and rolls her own joints.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this adult-oriented drama follows characters in their 20s and 30s who live and work in New York City. Some are in committed relationships but most are active on the "dating" scene ... which tends to translate into sleeping with attractive strangers they've only just met. Moms and dads should also be aware that since the show airs on pay cable, the language is unbleeped. A few characters are prone to throwing around F-bombs in sentences like "You f--kin' suck! Up yours, motherf--ker!" or saying sexually insensitive things about women like "I would tear that ass up!"

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What's the story?

Fashion-school dropout Ben (Bryan Greenberg) and his best friend, Cam (Victor Rasuk), are trying to figure out HOW TO MAKE IT IN AMERICA. A lot of the people they run into at bars and parties seem to have it figured out -- or at least that's what they'd like everyone else to think. But Ben and Cam are juggling so many distractions that it's easy to get sidetracked in small-time scams. Making it even more interesting are Ben's unresolved feelings for his ex (Lake Bell) and Cam's unpaid debt to his recently paroled cousin (Luis Guzman).

Is it any good?

Given the show's old-friends-from-the-neighborhood premise and Mark Wahlberg's executive producer credit, it's inevitable that How to Make It in America will be compared to another Wahlberg-produced HBO drama about old friends from the neighborhood, Entourage. But where Entourage follows a group of New York transplants living it up amid Hollywood glam, America keeps its characters firmly rooted in Manhattan grit. Despite first impressions, they're two very different series.

It takes a while to catch on to each character's motivations, and the no-frills script doesn't do a lot of hand-holding. But by the end of the first episode -- when Ben and Cam reveal their plans to launch a designer jeans line inspired by the 1970s using a rare bolt of Japanese denim they scored off a truck --  you feel certain that America may, in fact, be going somewhere.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the definition of "making it" and what it really means to succeed. Do success, money and notoriety always go hand in hand -- and does having them guarantee happiness? Why do people tend to measure their success against the things other people are doing?

  • Does the diversity of the cast reflect the diversity of New York City? Does the show reinforce any negative stereotypes about people of a particular race, gender or sexual orientation?

  • How does this program compare with other television shows or movies set in the same location? Does it glamorize urban living or show it for what it is, warts and all?

TV details

For kids who love drama

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