Monday, July 13, 2009

Has Entourage run its course?

I was introduced to Entourage about three years ago by my then-Wizard colleague and now-Marvel colleague Ryan Penagos, who passed me the DVDs of the first two seasons. I had heard tons about the show, which had a lot of buzz, and flew through those early episodes pretty quickly in time to hop on season three live. It's never been my favorite show on TV, but Entourage is definitely different from just about everything else out there and something I consistently look forward to on Sunday nights.

But after the sixth season premiere last night, I'm wondering if after a solid run it isn't time for Vince and the boys to call it quits.

When it premiered back in 2004, Entourage was an interesting look inside the film industry and the culture of fame based roughly on the real life events of Mark Wahlberg and other members of the production and writing teams. It also was--and remains--very much a male adolescent power fantasy of sorts, as burgeoning movie star Vinnie Chase and his boys get to live it up with beautiful women, ridiculously lavish parties, giant-size mansions and all the cool toys they can get their hands on. However, despite all that, the show succeeded not just with guys, but with ladies as well (my fiancee is a fan, though her interest has waned of late), simply because it's a well-scripted, well-acted piece of television that celebrates and analyzes a world that most of us are fascinated by.

The first two and a half seasons followed Vince's rise from mid-level star to megastar following the success of a fictional Aquaman film, as well as his buddies and brother emerging to various degress in their own endeavors and his agent, Ari, taking increasingly aggressive risks that lead to him being booted from his agency, forced to start his own, and briefly fired by Vince. Romantic subplots are interspersed throughout, but the really intense stuff is the interpersonal relationships between the guys and the trials of business. Vince's own mismanagement of his career, E's success on his own, Ari starting from scratch and even Drama and Turtle branchin out on their own is where the true meat of the show comes from.

I'd say Entourage arguably peaked in the second half of season three and into season four, but also began to show the first signs of cracks in the facade. Vince gets a new female manager (played by the always awesome Carla Gugino) who he naturally falls for. Meanwhile, both E and Ari work to secure the film rights to Medellin, Vince's dream project. Ultimately, Ari is able to get the deal done and returns as Vince's agent, while E hires Billy Walsh, a brilliant but eccentric director he had clashed with in earlier episodes, to head up the project, which he and Vince will produce. This leads to season four, which centers around the production, editing and release of Medellin, during which E has major problems with Walsh and even Vince, leading to some of the most tense and raw episodes of the show.

But honestly, as good as season four was, the tipping point was when Vince parted with Amanda during season three and rehired Ari.

The split between Vince and Ari was a watershed moment on the show because it was the first real sign in nearly three seasons that things could go wrong in the storybook lives of this crew. Obviously they were going to reunite eventually, because Ari is a huge part of the show, but the speed and ease with which it happened reminded you that as much as Entourage seems like a "real" examination of Hollywood life and politics, it is very much a scripted half hour show that relies heavily on formula.

Season four ended on another positive note, not for the characters but for the audience, as Medellin bombed at Cannes and it seemed as if Vince and his career were fucked. Indeed, the fifth season opened with Vince on a beach somewhere ready to abandon working as an actor while E and Ari prepared to focus on their own enterprises. However, the show once again quickly circled back to the status quo as Vince is lured back to L.A. and his buddies drop everything to help him rebuild his career.

Every time the fifth season showed signs of moving in a different sort of direction with Vince facing actual adversity, rather than him having to claw his way back, stuff just fell into place for him, right up through the season finale where he is seemingly down and our back in Queens but E somehow moves heaven and earth to get him cast in a Martin Scorcese movie. I found it more frustrating that throughout the season both Ari and E had chances to really break out on their own, particularly when Ari is offered a job as a studio head, but Vince basically guilts them into not advancing their own careers because (on a metatextual level) that would offset the rhythm of the show's dynamic.

It was in season five that I realized I really didn't like Vince very much. Adrian Grenier is a skilled actor who plays the role of the entitled pretty boy to perfection, but the writers have really made the guy tough to relate to or have a kinship with. We hear constantly about how Vince came from nothing and earned his way to where he was, so that was kinda cool in the early season because you figured "maybe this could be me," but time and again he has slacked off, acted like a child and generally done nothing while E and Ari save his ass time and again and he rewards them by whining when they dare to attempt success outside his sphere of influence. Kevin Connolly, who plays E, is actually given top billing in the credits, I'm guessing in part because he is an infinitely more likable character, but as much as you want the show to be about his journey, it never really gets to be.

And that's really the problem with Entourage at this point: you know what you're going to get and it's nothing groundbreaking anymore. The status quo is never going to be upset to any great degree. Ari is never going to be anything more than an agent. E is never going to leave Vince. Fuck, Drama is never going to be that successful because it would ruin their material.

So the big tension points of the sixth season premiere were that E might get his own house and Ari's assistant, Lloyd, wants a promotion. Even though Lloyd was the B-plot by far, it's the more interesting one, because when all is said and done, E is not going to get his own place and will continue to live with Vince and Turtle until the show wraps.

So here's the question: should Entourage keep going? Because the thing is, even though it is very predictable, it's also reliably entertaining if not exactly the trendsetter it once was. The material is still funny and entertaining, the casting for supporting roles and guest stars alike is fantastic, and Jeremy Piven sure as hell isn't winning those Emmys on his personality and charm. Entourage could run several more seasons and continue to be moderately successful, but it's also going to stray further and further away from being the exciting, unpredictable show it once was.

Do you go out while you can still at least remember being on top or milk the run you've got for all it's worth even when you know your best years are behind you? Given the subject matter of Entourage, it's a pretty ironic question to ponder.


Mike Wilson said...

The continuing endurance of The Simpsons has reached the point that it is retroactively poisoning my love for the Golden Age of the early/mid-90s. I would be better for Entourage to leave its audience wanting more than to overstay its welcome. said...

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