Entourage: Can It Go Out on Top?
Since its debut in 2004, HBO’s “Entourage” has bobbed and weaved in terms of quality, but it’s been able to sustain success based on a few consistent factors.
For one thing, “Entourage” is “Sex and the City” for guys. It’s escapist fantasy for men who get to live vicariously through the characters not just in terms of the women, the wealth and the toys, but more centrally, that deep bond of male friendship that not all guys are fortunate enough to have. A lot of dudes drift from that core group of buddies after high school or college, settling into a more cordial social circle of work acquaintances and the occasional reunions with old friends; on “Entourage,” that childhood crew has stuck together with a fierce loyalty and get to live their dreams alongside compatriots they care about in a state of arrested development the audience envies.
For another thing, at least in the beginning, I think many casual observers got a kick out of seeing the inner-goings-on of the entertainment business; I also believe as the seasons have gone on, the show has lost a bit of credibility in this department, but I’ll get there.
On the critical side, “Entourage” has been able to remain critically relevant on the strength of a very talented core cast. Jeremy Piven may never again find a role he can own the way he has Ari Gold for the past six years, but nobody can say he hasn’t made the most of it like few other actors could. Alongside Piven, Kevin Dillon has been a perennial Emmy contender as Johnny Drama and resuscitated his career to heights it never hit before. Kevin Connolly has the burden of carrying and grounding the bulk of the show’s serious business as E, and as a result his performances don’t tend to be as flashy, but he’s rock solid. I don’t think Adrian Grenier and Jerry Ferrara necessarily stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their castmates in terms of pure talent, but I give them credit for more than keeping up and locking down the chemistry so central to the show’s success. Factor in Perrey Reeves, Rex Lee and the rest of the superlative supporting cast, and that’s a great group of players who you enjoy watching weekly.
Finally, there’s no question Mark Wahlberg has pulled off wonders as the show’s co-executive producer and loose inspiration. His experiences make for a great base, but moreover, his contacts throughout the celebrity community and the wealth of cameos they have provided over the years has been invaluable.
However, even with all these things going for it, I feel that “Entourage” thrived for its first three or four seasons, but has been mostly coasting on its initial success since then.
The problems began to occur in my mind when the show achieved the level of tenure that required it to move beyond merely an introduction a group of characters and exploration of their world into a place where these people evolved and faced true adversity. The first of those requirements ran up against the arrested development appeal I mentioned earlier while the second grew into a problem that has at its worst pushed the show to the point of near parody.
In short, it became quickly evident that no obstacle poses any sort of credible threat to Vince and company, and thus “Entourage” lost any sense of urgency or (no pun intended) drama.
Vince bombs in one movie then gets fired from the next, yet still gets offered a major gig from Martin Scorsese. E neglects Sloan time and again but always wins her back. Any time Ari faces adversity, within a few episodes he’s gotten a promotion, raise or whole new agency.
No member of the central cast ever takes a serious hit and doesn’t almost immediately bounce back. I get that so much of the show’s appeal lies in the idea that these guys live dream lives, but while that can take you so far-and did through the initial seasons-you need to raise the stakes at least a little at some point; “Entourage” has failed to do that, and as a result, it’s become somewhat stale in many aspects of its presentation.
That brings us to the show’s current-and final-season, in my opinion the best it has seen in several years. In part, that can be credited to hard work on the part of the cast and crew, but at the same time, we’re at the point in the season when I always think the show’s at its peak because the characters have just begun to face their trials and I still hold out hope that perhaps these will be the ones that effect lasting change.
However, this time around it truly does feel like there could be jeopardy on a new level. Following a near-death experience, Vince has gone into a full-on movie star downward spiral, complete with drugs and socially inappropriate choice of girlfriend; one thing that has frustrated me with Vince through the years has been how much everybody kisses his ass and hands him the keys to the kingdom no matter how much he screws up, so to see people actually begin to question and come down on him as he behaves like an idiot intrigues and almost delights me.
At the same time, years of treating his employees like dirt during his rise to the top have actually caught up with Ari and it does feel as though even if he gets out of this, there will be consequences he must live with. The other characters’ storylines feel a bit wheel-spinning, but I’m ok so long as they take a backseat.
With this being the final season of “Entourage” and no tomorrow to fret over, I do hope the writers allow the characters to ride off into the sunset not exactly as they came in half a decade ago. I’m not asking for Vince and Ari to crash and burn or for Sloan to leave E, but I want to see the events of the season-and the series-finally take their toll on the characters and how they grow to face that rather than being given more lottery tickets.
“Entourage” started strong and has always remained a favorite of mine even when I knew full well it was underperforming; I’m rooting for them to out on top.
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