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Made in America: HBO show finds success in own how-to

Courtesy of HBO

For those dreaming of making it big in New York, one show is offering a how-to for the real Big Apple.

“I think this is the most real depiction and the voice of what’s happening now in New York,” said actor Victor Rasuk of HBO’s comedy/drama series “How to Make It in America.”

The show follows two young men on their quest to become successful fashion designers in New York City. The show stars Rasuk as Cam Calderon and Bryan Greenberg as his friend and business partner Ben Epstein.

“How to Make It in America” premiered in February 2010 and wrapped up its second season on Sunday.

Rasuk told The Lantern that connecting with his character on the show was not much of a stretch.

Rasuk and Calderon are both Dominicans from Harlem. The show is filmed in Rasuk’s old neighborhood and often features places in which he used to spend time.

“(The show) takes place in the neighborhood that I spent most of my life in,” Rasuk said. “So that was already innately relatable.”

For this reason, Rasuk feels particularly comfortable in his role.

“I think it’s the first time I got to do something and not feel so restricted as an actor,” Rasuk said. “I feel like I get to do that and be free and also have fun with it.”

The first season of the show follows Calderon and Epstein as they try to turn a profit through their clothing company, CRISP.

“When it comes to the New York hustler, I grew up with guys like that,” Rasuk said.

Though Calderon was extremely interested in fashion, Rasuk consciously decided to remain unknowledgeable on the subject.

“I purposely didn’t want to know anything about (the fashion industry),” Rasuk said. “I think that was what made (Cam) so funny, was that he acted like he knew what he was talking about, but he didn’t.”

Calderon and Epstein originally try to sell denim jeans, but are unsuccessful. Their first big break does not come until the end of the first season.

In season two, Calderon and Epstein decide that CRISP will no longer make jeans. Instead, they began making shirts and hoodies.

“I think the show depicted the grind so well, that I think that we needed to succeed a little bit, otherwise people were not going to want to watch it,” Rasuk said. “I think that this season is a lot better just because we finally started seeing a little bit of success with the boys.”

Though the show is fictional, many of the situations are based on actual events.

“So much of the show depicts what going on in real life, but indirectly,” Rasuk said, giving examples such as Plaxico Burress shooting himself in the leg in a New York club or the Securities and Exchange Commission’s investigation of Bernie Madoff.

The show also features Luis Guzmán, Eddie Kaye Thomas and Cleveland-born rapper Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi.

When the show began filming, Mescudi was not yet famous. Ian Edelman, the creator and writer of the show, saw him performing at a club in New York and asked if he would like to work on the show. Though he had no prior acting experience, Mescudi agreed.

“As the show was progressing, Kid Cudi was becoming who Kid Cudi is now,” Rasuk said. “To have an artist like Kid Cudi who is also a rapper but yet, who wants to be an actor, I have a lot of respect for people like that.”

Rasuk said that the cast members are as close off-screen as they are in the show.

“We hang out on camera and also off camera, so the camaraderie is always there,” Rasuk said. “We like to crack jokes on each other, and I think that’s what keeps us having fun when the cameras are rolling.”

The status of the show’s future is not yet known, and there may or may not be a third season.

Graham McClurg, a third-year in international studies, enjoys the show and hopes there will be another season in the future.

“It’s interesting to watch them working to become something you never would have expected,” McClurg said. “Originally, I just watched it because Kid Cudi was in it, but after watching it and seeing Luis Guzman in it and realizing how funny it actually was, I just continued to watch it, and it kept getting better.”

Critics have given mixed reviews of the show. Some, such as Ken Tucker of “Entertainment Weekly,” praise its style.

“A lot of movies and TV shows have tried to depict the post-slacker generation with energy; How to Make It in America may be one that succeeds,” Tucker said.

However, others fail to see excitement in the plot.

“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,” said Brian Lowry of Variety.

The show is available on HBO on Demand as well as on HBO GO.

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