This weekend, HBO’s “Entourage” concluded its eight season run. At eight seasons long, it’s tied with “Curb Your Enthusiasm” for the longest run in HBO’s history.
Does that mean it’s one of the best things HBO has ever produced?
“Entourage” was a series which fluctuated wildly in quality over the length of its run, much like its protagonist’s (Vinny Chase’s) career, although the two aren’t directly correlated. Entourage was a show that could never quite figure out why people were watching it, unlike say, “True Blood”, which knows exactly why people are tuning in and dishes out what they come to see in healthy portions each week. “Entourage” began as the Hollywood Fantasy – the dream of making it big, realized. It was always a “Dramedy”. But it was supposedly a comedy with dramatic elements (it’s in the Emmys as a comedy). Over the course of its run, however, it often diverged from the Hollywood fantasy and became somewhat of a soap opera revolving around the four leads, and instead of being a comedy with dramatic elements, it became a drama with comedic elements.
They weren’t changes I welcomed.
“Entourage” began with the premise that Queens native Vinny Chase hits it big in Hollywood, and he brings his friends along with him. His half-brother, Johnny “Drama” Chase, is a c-list celeb on his own, having starred in “Viking Quest” for several years, and having a handful of guest appearances on his resume. His buddy Turtle does nothing but drive for them and smoke weed. His buddy Eric Murphy is his de facto manager, as Vinny insists on bouncing important decisions off of him. That’s the central conflict of season one – Eric trying to become Vinny’s REAL manager. And then of course, there’s Ari, Vinny’s agent.
Ari Gold is a character for which Jeremy Piven has won three Emmy awards and a Golden Globe. Although he’s a “supporting” character, it could be argued that he was the center of the show. He certainly seemed to get as much screen time as any of the leads. Ari is foul-mouthed, obnoxious, short-tempered, driven, and highly successful. He’s abusive of his staff, and neglectful of his wife and children. He runs one of the most powerful agencies in Hollywood. When he was on his game, he was one of the best parts of the show.
In fact, the show as a whole was at its best when it focused on the business of Hollywood. Getting Vinny (or Drama) a project, making movies, and watching the results come in for better or worse. It was also excellent watching them live the Hollywood lifestyle. Watching Vince buying lavish mansions and ridiculous cars, bedding gorgeous women with ease, jetting around the world… And in the early seasons, when the focus was on the behind the scenes aspects of show business, the Hollywood lifestyle, and the ups and downs of Vince’s career, it was a very good show. When the show strayed too far off of that path, however, it almost completely went off of the rails. Usually this happened when the show delved too far into the personal relationships of its characters.
Part of the reason that it never could pull that off is that with the exception of Piven and Kevin Dillon (Drama), the cast is comprised of acting lightweights. They don’t have the chops to make mundane issues compelling. It’s also not why the audience is tuning in.
This often didn’t know how to use the gifts it had. In the final season(s), the show almost completely neglected outstanding ancillary characters Lloyd and Billy Walsh (but to its credit it did cast Andrew Dice Clay as himself). Over the past few seasons, Vince developed a sudden drug habit that was equaled by his equally sudden sobriety, and they threw in him witnessing a suicide this season for good measure. Turtle, whose main charm early on was that he did nothing, started dating Jamie Lynn Sigler and became an entrepreneur with a questionable track record. Eric Murphy added a much-needed romantic component to the show with the romance between him and Sloane (<–sarcasm) and then went into business with Scott Caan.
I think the point that Entourage never knew what it wanted to be is best summed up by the mind-numbingly bad Series Finale, which aired this weekend. Instead of showing us anything regarding Vince’s career (The guy hasn’t worked all season), they focus instead on the resolution of the three romantic relationships currently going on.
Ari reconciled with his wife by quitting his agency, which we had watched him build for seven seasons.
Eric reconciled with Sloane (after having sex with her ex-stepmother this season) after finding out she’s pregnant.
Vince suddenly decided to marry a journalist who wrote a scathing piece on him. I think it was because she was the first woman not to instantly fall for his charms.
I felt like I was watching an inverted Disney movie. Instead of the Princesses find their Princes, the Princes found their Princesses. Not that it’s not trite and stereotypical when Disney does it, too. But I mean, this was NOT what people were watching Entourage for. Who did they think their audience was? What did they think their show was? A romance? Instead of focusing on Vince’s career, ostensibly the central narrative of (again, he didn’t star in a movie all season), they literally tack on a “New and Improved Instant Love of his Life! Just Add Water!” romance, and THAT’S the resolution to his character. Unfathomable. Eric Murphy’s character was resolved by a shotgun – wedding? We don’t really know, they don’t actually say they will get married. But to call his character arc this season catastrophic – an affair with his ex’s stepmother, an unplanned pregnancy, and hints that like Ari, he too will abandon Hollywood for love – is a massive understatement.
Ari’s resolution is the only one I’m ok with, even though his sudden decision to quit his job is the antithesis of what he’s been about for the entire rest of the series. But at least his marriage and family difficulties were woven throughout the length of the show. And his divorce WAS his central story this season. So wrapping it up between he and his wife wasn’t as tacked on as Vince’s “I’m suddenly in love!!” or as who cares as Eric finally flying off with Sloane.
But still. The emphasis on romantic relationships in the finale only served to prove how disjointed the show was, and how out of touch the creative staff was with their audience.
The only thing I liked about the finale was hearing Mike Ditka drop an F Bomb.
I think the MVP of the show without a doubt has been Kevin Dillon (with Piven a close second) Drama was the most consistently funny character on the show, and yet he also had a better range of emotional tools than anyone else on the show. Ironically, he’s the one character that the creative staff didn’t have “Grow”. Normally I’m supportive of character growth, but when it’s as botched as Entourage’s, I’m glad they kept Drama Drama. As burnt out as I am on the show in general (and there’s talk of a movie, over which I am nonplussed), if they spun off Drama into his own show, or if they ever actually MADE “Johnny Bananas”? I am there in a heartbeat.
I can’t say I wont miss Entourage, I have watched it its entire run. But the last season was UNDENIABLY its worst – FAR AND AWAY its worst, and that finale made me want to puke. So here’s my recommendation to anyone reading who hasn’t watched the show but wants to… Watch until the end of Season Four, when they take “Medellin” to Cannes. After that? It’s spotty at best, so don’t say you weren’t warned.