A few days before Christmas, HBO announced that what was the second season finale of their comedy-drama How to Make It in America, would, in fact, be the series finale. By pulling the plug on the New York City fake-it-til-you-make-it story of Ben Epstein, Cam Calderon and their fashion co. dreams, they allowed for an entirely new light on the last episode.
The writers of the show used the finale as a hook into the third season, with every character brought to ‘down and out, nothing to lose’ status, still as bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as they were in the pilot. As a final kick in Ben’s sartorially-gifted pants, a well-connected fashion rep tells Ben his brand has no future, and although he has talent, he doesn’t have enough. In a season finale, this means more fuel to his fire. In a series finale, this means maybe he just doesn’t have enough.
But of course Ben is fiction and our days are never bookends to seasons but just part of one, very long season. Ben is fiction in his unattainably relaxed attitude to women, success and failure, in his good looks and charm, in his crazy cool friends and associates but not in the ambiguity of his talent and the opaque veil that is his ambition.
In New York City, as in any other city where young and creative folk flock to make it, there are perhaps a nearly infinite supply of Ben Epsteins in art, acting, comedy, fashion, writing, acting and dance and a very finite number of positions in these fields that will result in an exhibit, Letterman special, Spring collection, novel, blockbuster or write-up in The New Yorker. And that’s the secret. Well, the entire secret is that contrary to the sturdy solipsism found in many gifted individuals, they are not outside of the equation.
In other words, it’s possible to have talent but not enough.
Every time a movie character gnarls ‘kid’s got talent’, and we imagine him saying that about us, we always fail to ask ourselves ‘how much talent?’. It’s preposterous, that we could have talent, a lot of talent, skill, some genius, a little spunk and a dab of secret sauce but not enough. And beyond the terribleness of this fact of life is that the one thing stopping you from rubbing the clouds from your eyes and seeing if they clear up or rain is that one other ingredient you need for success is the blinding faith that you can get it.
How to Make It in America was never going to be a hit. Critics saw it as Entourage: New York City (who wants two Entourages?), and couldn’t stop themselves from using ‘loose thread’-related puns. But the show was actually pretty cool and, like its protagonist, strove to put itself out there. And unlike the other two series it got canned with — Hung and Bored to Death — it carried a message to the still-inspired: it’s not always up to you whether you make it, but it is up to you to be young while you figure it out.