How To Make It In America: “What’s In A Name?”
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How To Make It In America: “What’s In A Name?”

B

How To Make It In America

“What’s In A Name?”

Season 2, Episode 8

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What’s been consistently winning about HTMIIA is that its characters’ triumphs are typically hard-earned, bittersweet and cautiously celebrated. Ben and Cam have regained their independence from soulless Yosi and conniving Nancy, and are wiser for the experience, but know they’ve only just begun. Kapo’s had the night of his life, but only because he’s about to spend the next two months of it behind bars at a medium-security prison. Rene finally cleared his name with Vert America and eliminated Everton Thompson as a threat, but at the inevitable cost of Debbie’s remaining patience. As for Rachel, she seems headed for improbable employ with the Neanderthals, despite her old boss Edie’s (in a brief return of Martha Plimpton) astute warnings to “try harder” at finding inspiration.

To some extent, this season went as Rachel did. Over its first half, her stabs at reclaiming purpose and passion in New York without Ben or Darren were funny, empathetic and grounded, as was each episode for the most part. The ensuing four chapters, including tonight’s finale, have re-emphasized Ben and Cam’s pursuit of manufacturing Crisp and kept Rachel riding bench with head Neanderthal Tim, and been a bit less consistent. 

Both ongoing storylines feature role players who are almost written too well as loathsome stereotypes. Tim, Nancy and Yosi aren’t merely the closest HTMIIA has had of late to clear antagonists (apart from the now-squashed Everton). They are actually plain irritating to watch, like a bad casting rash. Their broad awfulness feels personal for series creator/"What’s in a Name?” writer Ian Edelman, like only loosely exaggerated testimony about actual people he’s encountered that we’re supposed to vicariously endure. 

Had Tim’s appearance been limited to his hilariously dickish encounter with Ben (whom he mistakes for Cam, along with referring to their brand as “Crunch”), and Rachel’s quandary been left open-ended, that would have been sufficient. Instead, all signs indicate that Tim—who desperately wants to hire Rachel yet patronizes her with backhanded compliments like, “You’re an OK writer”—will stay on board for Season 3 (assuming and hoping there is one, as HTMIIA still has unfinished business), and in an even bigger capacity. One can only assume that might entail a romantic side to he and Rachel’s relationship as well, which will only further delay Rachel’s once-entertaining aspirations toward self-discovery, and ensure more swooning courtship from Mr. Neanderthal like, “Heather’s into the idea of threesomes. It’s just too bad she didn’t find you attractive.”

With all that eating precious screen time in the episode’s final minutes, a lot needed to happen regarding Crisp, Yosi, Ben, Cam and Nancy in a very short period of time. So we learn rather hastily, rather than see what might have been an entertaining exchange, that would-be manufacturer Andy Sussman has agreed to work with the boys again, thus salvaging their order with Gadzooks (which feels even sillier to write than to say out loud). Although, the actual amends between Ben and Cam in the club for Kapo’s going-away bash are expectedly tender and insightful, and Cam finally gets his own defining moment when he reminds Ben, “I spoke English as a second language, I dropped out of high school, and I never doubted once that we weren’t gonna make it.”

As for Rene, he seemed genuinely repentant and ready to clean up his act for the first time all series, so it stung a bit to discover along with him that Debbie had left, and appeared likely to abort their baby. Still, it’s hard to blame her for ditching Rene, and it’s good for this show to continue giving its women room to be strong and in search of their own destiny. Fortunately, the tradeoff was a very silly and satisfying payoff to the whole Rene-Everton-Cam-Domingo Rasta Monsta nonsense. Or at least outside of Pusha T’s cringe-y 30 seconds of tangential self-promotion (much as it was fun to identify the lyrics to “Chinese New Year”). But Eriq La Salle and Luis Guzman played off each other like old friends and comedy partners at their final showdown, and the surprise of Everton’s sexual orientation managed to avoid exploitation while putting a new twist on the old mistaken-kidnapping-victim-identity routine. 

“What’s in a Name?” was a bit tidy and busy, but it was also good to see Ben man up, Nancy shut up and Kapo live it up before his time in jail. And it’s a really interesting and remarkable thing about HTMIIA that, after two full seasons, no one’s gotten too much closer to their actual dreams (after all, such things do take time), but they’ve all grown in very believable ways and been so much fun to watch. 

Stray Observations

  • Rachel: “I feel like this town is eating me alive.” We’ve all been there, honey. Now stop hanging out with aptly dubbed Neanderthals.
  • I liked that Domingo finally took some responsibility, and he was also very funny in this episode. Although what the hell happened with he and Rachel's fling? Did I have a brain freeze on this?
  • Holy shit, Pusha T is jacked. He must be on the Dr. Dre/Timbaland workout program.
  • Again, as always, great music that’s a real asset and character of its own.
  • Ugh, Tim.
  • So, what did you guys think? Any sense of where things might head next season, assuming there is one?
  • Lastly, thanks for reading and engaging these past two months guys. It’s been a lot of fun. And keep reading my Beavis and Butt-Head recaps over the next several weeks.

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