Eric Liebowitz/HBO
Stephan Lee
October 02, 2011 AT 12:00 PM EDT

After a long wait — even by HBO standards — How to Make It in America and the Crisp boys returned with a literal bang. Ben (Bryan Greenberg) and Cam (Victor Rasuk), fresh from their business/pleasure trip to Japan, try to bring Shinjuku to the Lower East Side with a fetish-themed pop-up store. The guys are trying to reinvent themselves and infuse their brand with the “downtown dirtbag” cred that seems to be working for the doughnut-poking frontmen of their competitor brand Neanderthal.

But the problem — and perhaps the charm of this show — is that while Ben and Cam are willing to throw their morals by the wayside in order to succeed, they’re essentially good guys. When they try to fake badness, it always blows up in their faces. After Ben tries to force up his edge factor by taking a drag of primo with Neanderthal, he has an epic freakout that has him running on New York City subway tracks, which has to be the most dangerous thing imaginable. The freakout felt a lot like an Entourage stunt, but it led to a nice bonding moment between Ben and Cam; and inadvertently, their pop-up store ended with a gunshot and plenty of “downtown dirtbag” credibility.

The great supporting cast is back: Ben’s ex Rachel (Lake Bell) is back to catch pop up unexpectedly in Ben’s life; Cam’s weirdly benevolent loan shark cousin Rene (Luis Guzmán) has a funny storyline involving Rasta-Monsta promotions; and Kid Cudi gets a good amount of screen time as Domingo, although here’s to hoping his appearances are more regular than first season.

How To Make It in America proves that the ladies aren’t the only ones who are constantly compared to one another in comedy — it’s hard to talk about the show without mentioning Entourage. The shows are opposites in many respects: East Coast vs. West Coast, broke vs. rich, grimy New York vs. sterile Hollywood. But the two bro shows are often unsatisfying and lightweight for similar reasons. Like Entourage, How to Make It isn’t consistently funny enough, and it doesn’t commit enough to developing its characters, to make for solid viewer investment. Still, while I imagine few people consider How to Make It their favorite show on HBO, I do think it compares favorably to Entourage. It authentically depicts the hustle of hip, young New Yorkers, and while I often found myself rooting against petulant Vince Chase and his hangers-on, Ben and the Crisp crew are genuinely likeable, and their un-glamorous struggle to break into the apparel industry actually feels higher stakes than Vince’s high-priced Hollywood missteps. Not to mention, Bryan Greenberg has proven to be an infinitely more charismatic lead than Adrian Grenier, who showed a surprising lack of growth over the course of his series.

What did you think of the season opener? Do you see the show going in different, better directions? How does it stack up against Entourage?

Follow Stephan on Twitter.

Read more:

‘How to Make It in America’: series premiere review

‘Entourage’ final episode review: Everything changed, everything stayed the same

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