(CNN) — While other TV shows are focused on reminding us what the American dream looked like in the ’60s, there’s one show that’s trying to show audiences what it looks like today.
And as a single (it’s complicated) 20-something, I’m pretty sure HBO’s “How to Make It In America,” debuting its second season on Sunday, is on to something.
The show centers on two friends trying to succeed in New York City’s fashion scene, and the concept of hustling — doing what one has to do to “make it” — is the underlying theme. From the first episode of season one, that manifests itself in the stories of our leads and underdogs, Ben Epstein (Bryan Greenberg) and Cam Calderon (Victor Rasuk).
Whether you’re a New Yorker, a 20-something, or none of the above, chances are you’ve run into a Ben or a Cam. Ben’s the creative type who dropped out of fashion school and now works at Barney’s, sulking over the memory of his beautiful, successful interior designer ex-girlfriend, Rachel (Lake Bell).
Cam’s the loud pick-up artist who never seems to sleep in the same place every night and doesn’t have health insurance, but is always ready to hatch the next get-rich-quick scam. Both of these characters are incredibly flawed, but it’s also what makes them endearing.
The two dream of starting a denim line called Crisp, and with Ben’s design talent and Cam’s marketing prowess, they figure the whole city will be rocking their pants in no time. Of course, this is America, and aside from a state lottery win or “American Idol,” success doesn’t come that easy.
In nearly every episode, we watch Ben and Cam take a step forward only to watch them fail again. And therein lies the heart of this show. As anyone who’s ever dreamed of bigger things can tell you, moving onward and upward doesn’t come without steps back. Even the folks who look the part will tell you they don’t have it all figured out.
Throughout varying degrees of success, we’re all working towards an end to our story that we can be happy with, and “How To Make It” uses its characters to convey that persistence.
Take the character of David “Kappo” Kaplan (Eddie Kaye Thomas) for example.
Kappo went to high school with Ben and now manages a hedge fund. He’s got the financial accouterments, but he doesn’t have the social life and still finds himself paying for entertainment, women and friends even when he doesn’t have to. But for him, finding success means acceptance from his less-affluent, hipper counterparts.
Or Luis Guzman, who may not be one of the series main protagonists, but nonetheless is a highlight thanks to his character Rene Calderon. In the first season, the two-time convicted felon who loves his grandmother is back in his Lower East Side neighborhood looking to put his life of crime and history of violence behind him.
His answer comes in the form of the soft drink Rasta Monsta. Rene — fresh out the joint on good behavior — has dreams of his beverage sitting on every middle shelf in every bodega in town. He tells the heads of his Dominican community in the third episode, “There’s a new thing happening now…A black man has been elected president. There’s a Puerto Rican chick in the Supreme Court and I, like them, want to make a huge change for our people. It’s called Rasta Monsta.”
You can’t knock Rene’s hustle, even if at times it appears to tread on lunacy.
Like its characters, “How to Make It In America” certainly has its flaws. It’s not quite a great show, but it could be. Season two looks to be faster, bolder and occupied by more characters. Word is even Kid Cudi’s party-all-the-time Domingo Brown is going to play a bigger role this season.
So as the rest of TV land goes retro, what is the motto for the new American Dream? Take Kappo’s credo: “To our sons, may they have rich fathers and hot mothers.”
While not everyone if on the path to capturing Kappo’s vision of the American Dream that’s beside the point. “How to Make It In America” isn’t interested in the end goal, but rather the struggles we all go through to reach our individual “American Tales.”
As Ben would say, “I’m just a hardworking American trying to get mine.”