Compared to How To Make It In America’s busting season première, not that much happens during “In Or Out.” But in general, a lot is happening on the series right now. Normally, that’d imply this week is a table-setter, but that’s not entirely fair. It’s still a punchy half hour, with great music, timing, and attention to the detail of its characters’ worlds and repartee. Last year’s episodes introduced us to Ben, Cam, Rachel, Domingo, Renee, and David at a point when their lives collided more often than not. It was orgiastic and fun, but a bit suffocating. But by this point (and remember, the show’s only 10 installments in, where most series are closer to 15 by early second season), Ian Edelman and his writers have managed to establish their lead ensemble and block out scenes for the world within each core player’s world.
Rachel has been the most interesting person to watch grow so far, and become the most relatable figure in many ways, as she searches for a new career and sense of self after disassociating from her previous job and relationship. Last week, she succinctly articulated the quandary of traveling to get peace of mind, but coming home to the chaos you left. Tonight, while stoned with Domingo, who praises her for fast-talking her way into a gig with some awful-seeming culinary magazine named Biscuit, Rachel zones out with the droll epiphany, “Yeah, but I always nail the interview. I love getting the job.”
This was a great, honest, downbeat coda to the interview itself, which played out with hilariously believable contempt for the job-screening process, but stopped computing when Rachel got hired on the spot. Turns out though, her time-tested wooing skills may have outlived their usefulness, but she has absolutely no clue what her alternatives are. It’s a privileged position, to be sure, but Rachel is a sweet, smart, likeable woman, so it’s hard to judge.
Ben and Cam, meanwhile, already managed to foul up the lone connection they made outside their pop-up show at the end of last week. Sure, their prospective sales rep, Andy, is a fledgling, neurotic fashion outsider. But he actually wanted to work with them, as opposed to boutique owner Lulu, who flaked on the guys yet again. After convincing them to retrieve their samples from Andy and join her at a fancy brunch hosted by hot-shit socialite Nancy Frankenburg (Gina Gershon, ageless as always), Lulu failed to make the event and the boys showed up at Nancy’s brownstone with a duffel bag of hoodies and clueless schmoozing to spare. Square one, we believe you’ve met Ben and Cam. Ben and Cam, we know you remember square one.
And there’s nothing more endearing on How To Make It than when handsome, strapping Ben gets into one of his patented flopsweats trying to impress. Unlike Rachel, he knows what he wants, but is absolutely handicapped at getting it. (See why they were such a good pair?) By episode’s end, Ben lucks out after forgetting his duffel at Nancy’s, whose son takes a shining to their designs, provoking her interest in possibly working with Crisp (and, seemingly, schtupping this nervous young gentleman). But the fun, as it always in Ben and Cam’s world, is seeing how they’ll manage to squander this opportunity through poor judgment and amateurish impulse.
Rene, of course, has some insurance to compensate for his own rookie business mistakes. Namely, a group of loyal lifelong cronies who will threaten to break your face or outright clothesline you in the middle of a city street to get you on team Rasta Monsta. In this instance, their target is Kevin (none other than Andre Royo, a.k.a. The Wire’s Bubbles), an ad-agency accountant and delinquent gambler who owes Rene money, which Rene uses as leverage for a shot at working on a national marketing campaign for his disgusting athletic beverage. This leads Rene and the gang to Wilfredo Gomez, the one-time skating prodigy we encountered in season one, who’s bullied into work as Rasta Monsta’s featured jock in their upcoming viral video series.
Guzman is gold in this part, as is standard for the uniquely featured character actor and Paul Thomas Anderson regular. “In Or Out” mostly shows us the menacing ex-con side of Rene, rather than the puppy dog with a heart of fool’s gold that showed up throughout “I’m Good.” How To Make It can afford to go there time and again with Rene, now that we’ve seen what makes him tick and the character’s been elevated beyond a sketch or stereotype.
Eddie Kaye Thomas, as David, remains the primary comic relief, and delivered in his one shining moment while accompanying Cam on an apartment search. On the phone with Domingo about a weed buy, he asks, “You got that message about my cousins? Jewish hippies, in from Newton, Mass. for a Jack Johnson concert. Dude, you stand to make a fortune.” It was a welcome exchange, since “In Or Out” isn’t quite as funny as its predecessor, probably because half its characters are at the extremes of their personality here (Rachel as stoned soul-searcher, Rene as desperate bully), while Ben and Cam are more going through the humdrum hustle than flailing toward a crucial moment in Crisp’s development.
That will no doubt be the tradeoff as the ensuing six episodes air; some will be all bang-bang one-liners and huge leaps backwards or forwards, while others will bring us down in the trenches, witnessing what it takes for these particular individuals to find what they’re looking for. Either way, it’s good TV, and a nice blue-collar comedy pairing with the similarly resurgent Hung.
- Rene, matter-of-factly, to Kevin: “I don’t know why you haven’t been able to get through. I mean, Eddie switched me over to Verizon and everything.” Eddie, smiling gleefully: “More bars, more cities.”
- David, to Cam: “If this works out, I’m gonna buy you this apartment for Hannukah.”
- Andy, after being fired by Ben: “Enjoy your weekend, Shabbat Shalom.”
- Rachel, while stoned: “Would I have even been a banjo prodigy?”
- Domingo, while stoned: “Single glove. Every time I see one alone in the gutter, I just feel so bad for it.”
- Domingo and Rachel, eh? Something tells me the friendly weed dealer’s gonna get his heart broken.
- Isaac Mizrahi is like the Waldo of fashion-world cameos.