How To Make It In America: “Mofongo”
C+

How To Make It In America: “Mofongo”

C+

How To Make It In America

“Mofongo”

Season 2, Episode 5

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This episode kind of felt like it arrived from another planet, or at least a different season. Last week’s excellent “It’s Not Even Like That” was grounded and intimate. “Mofongo,” like its namesake dish, is a bit orgiastic, even heady, but kind of a blur. It’s directed by Miguel Arteta, who was behind the camera for notable character-driven films such as Chuck And Buck and Cedar Rapids, in addition to similarly toned episodic TV including Six Feet Under, Freaks And Geeks, The Office, and Enlightened. Yet on his first assignment for How To Make It, Arteta focuses superficially on New York’s flash and whimsy, like he’s trying to distract us from staring directly at the piercing sun. Or in this instance, a lackluster script by Arty Nelson and Donal Lardner Ward, who co-wrote nearly all of season one with executive producer/creator Ian Edelman, but whose lone contribution this year is the disappointing “Mofongo.”

Arteta may have been onto something. Just about everything that transpires among our leads this week is a holding pattern at best, and at times completely uninteresting. Especially regarding Kapo, whose SEC crisis is mostly tabled, aside from a brief credit card snafu that quickly gets smoothed over and goes undiscussed. Key new role players whom Edelman and fellow scribes like Jill Soloway and Seth Zvi Rosenfeld won us over with, or at least successfully integrated into the story—notably, Joe Pantoliano’s Felix and his daughter/Cam’s new girlfriend Lulu—are either absent or totally perfunctory. 

Unexpectedly, the one element that really does click is a return to Ben and Cam pounding pavement on behalf of Crisp. While Nancy continues to withhold good opportunities from the pair until Ben wises up and stops withholding his penis, they go behind her back and charm their way into the graces of two young female buyers from a department store in St. Louis. Before agreeing on their rogue mission, they crack heads and decide that, on a business level, a huge buy from some goofy Midwest chain is smarter business than pleading for scraps from trendy Manhattan retailers. And on personal principle, it’s their bratty middle finger to Nancy or anyone else’s order of protocol. As Ben later confesses, he and Cam are fundamentally stubborn, but anyone who’s spent the recession era trying to define their own success can relate to and appreciate the guys’ blind faith in common sense, good taste, and a bit of chutzpah. What else does one have?

The less said about the aforementioned buyers, Kirsten and Kristen (a recurring joke that only makes you wish one of our smart central characters would point out its self-apparentness), the better. They are superfluous and annoying, although Arteta does employ them to pull off one of the season’s best moments, panning between Kirsten and Kristen as they lean out of briskly moving taxis and scream giddy profanities at one another. It’s absurd and hilarious, but also technically impressive and fun to watch. 

Ditto for the visual accomplishment of a later scene involving Rachel and a roving gang of hipster bicyclists pedaling through Bushwick and across what appears to be the Williamsburg Bridge. The setup to this coup de grâce is borderline unwatchable. The Neanderthal squatter-artistes are back, and they remain a good target for satire in tiny doses. Unfortunately, the sequence at their apartment party—particularly once Rachel started eating forbidden fruit from the outdoor garden—quickly wore out its welcome. Any extra screen time spent trying to round out or humanize these characters (and have them earnestly utter lines like, “Ya gonna go home and live vicariously through a real housewife of who gives a fuck?”) would have been better served on Kapo, Domingo, or Rachel, or better solidifying the sketchy chemistry between Cam and Lulu. It’s also was the first time all season that How To Make It, and especially Rachel, seem tragically unhip.

Rene and his cronies have some funny moments (particularly having to visit the second-best strip club in New Haven because the top one prohibited sneakers) schilling Rasta Monsta in the suburbs, although it will no doubt please many viewers that he opts for honesty and humility in order to win Deb back. The fact that he does so by comforting her newly outed lesbian daughter is bizarre, although also a full circle of sorts from his earlier encounter with her and Wilfredo.

Elsewhere in the show’s love lines, it’s clear Domingo and Rachel have fizzled, and that Do and Ben have made amends. The only question left is whether she and Ben will reconnect, especially now that he finally sealed the deal with Nancy, who is as much against his type as Domingo is Rachel’s. Still, How To Make It has proven in recent weeks that it’s willing to mess with our expectations, and hopefully, with Edelman alone having written the bulk of season two’s outstanding episodes, it gets back to doing so.

Stray Observations

  • The notion of several dozen outdoor-gardening Brooklyn artiste-punks spontaneously canvassing Bushwick on their bicycles is just plausible enough to be true, and could be a conclusive argument against gentrification. And bicycles.
  • Hopefully we’ll get a good quitting scene from Rachel at her job. Again. 
  • I like the resolution between Do and Ben, even if it feels a bit rushed.
  • Those Crisp hoodies aren’t terribly awesome.
  • Lulu’s style is insane and makes me want to shake her, and I still don’t get or see her and Cam as an item.
  • Am I alone in thinking this episode is a pretty poor look for the show, and maybe even like it’s an old script that was touched up at the 11th hour?

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