Breaking Up With Entourage

This summer marks the 8th and final season of HBO’s Entourage.  As a bro, I’m sad to the show go.  As a tv enthusiast, I’m sad the show never really arrived.

I got in to Entourage as it was about to enter its second season.  Having heard good things, I watched the entire first season in a day thanks to an HBO marathon.  I was hooked.  Here you had a show about four dudes hanging out, being bros.  No petty who-slept-with-whose-boyfriend drama. (I’m so glad Laguna Beach and The Hills are over.  It taught a nation of girls on the cusp of becoming women how to turn every empty relationship in their lives into a soap opera.) No real conflict driving the season.  Watching Entourage was like having a fantasy football draft every Sunday night.  A bunch of bro-bonding in the form of hanging out, partying, and making fun of each other.  It was a fantasy-fulfillment show for dudes, our Sex and the City.  On top of it all, the show was also taking a satirical look at the chaotic, morally bankrupt, superficial lifestyle of Hollywood players.  I was a 22 year old film student when I started watching Entourage.  It felt like the show was literally made for me.

Season 2 didn’t disappoint.  The boys came back, weak characters were replaced with stronger ones (Most notably Lloyd, Ari’s assistant/whipping boy.)  and they even  peppered in a Mandy Moore love story and the real goal of Vince finally becoming the Will Smith-level movie star by trying to land the title role in James Cameron’s Aquaman. (Even this major plot point is a sarcastic nod to the superhero movie craze Hollywood had just begun to experience.  They turned DC’s lamest superhero into the largest grossing movie of all time.)  In fact, the penultimate episode of the second season, titled Sorry, Ari, may be the series’ best.  The show reached new heights and an immense level of popularity, quickly giving it a premature importance that it promised to pay off by the end of its run, like some sort of pop-culture status payday loan.

But, as with payday loans, the show’s demise was too much interest.  Raising the status of Entourage to the level of even slightly-better-than-average shows like Sex and the City was expecting too much of it.  The show is a glorified cartoon, with characters who don’t grow, are never really in any turmoil, and who have no truly powerful enemies.  Most of these issues stem from the fact that, like their committment-phobic characters, the creative powers in charge of Entourage never made a real commitment to the show.  It became difficult to invest in the characters when the creators and writers weren’t invested themselves.  I’ll elaborate.

Ari had a son in one episode in the first season who was subsequently not mentioned again.  Now, it is perfectly fair game to dismiss the details given by any show in its first couple of episodes.  That’s the time when the show is still finding its footing, and most anything can be changed.  What’s jarring about the disappearance of Ari’s son is that he wasn’t mentioned again…until he  suddenly reappeared in approximately season 6.  We’re given endless scenarios of Ari at home, we see his daughter and even have some subplots with her as the star, but we never see his son for 5 years?  Strange, but ultimately forgivable I suppose.  Less forgivable was the relationship between Johnny and Vince.  Johnny and Vince Chase are established as half-brothers in season one.  In season two, it’s further layered in that Vince and Johnny share a father but have different mothers.  (In the episode where Johnny wants calf implants, he refers to Vince as having his mother’s legs, while he “got dad’s.” They share a father and have separate mothers.) In season 3, to fit the plotline of exactly one episode, the relationship is changed and Johnny and Vince share a mother.  I have two half-brothers.  We share a father.  I understood that dynamic and identified with it.  To turn it on its head such that these two brothers were now raised in the same home by the same mother changes their dynamic, and doing so in season 3 shows a laziness with details that better shows never seem to fall prey to.  There are countless other instances, which, to be fair, get a little nit-picky.  Ari mentions his dead mother in one episode and mentions meeting his mother for dinner in a later episode, stuff like that.  The list goes on.  A tighter show, like L O S T or The Sopranos or Arrested Development wouldn’t have this problem.

Season one established the characters and gave us the beginnings of Eric (The show’s main character.  No, it’s not Vince.) transforming from an ex-Sbarro’s manager to a true Hollywood player.  Season 2 gave us the series’ three best plotlines: Vince’s pursuit of Aquaman, Ari’s all-out war with Terrence, and the Mandy Moore saga.  Everything after that has been the equivalent of running in place.  Feigned character growth just the smokescreen of constantly moving the group from one mansion to another luxurious penthouse to another mansion. (Seriously.  These guys move about twice a season.)  Ari became so ridiculous that he’s now just a caricature of his original self, which was actually just a caricature of real-life super-agent Ari Emmanuel. (Yes, he’s Rahm’s brother.)  Vince and Eric, whose best-bro relationship is supposed to be the emotional center of the show, barely speak to each other.  For a few years, every episode followed the formula of Ari having some news for the guys which forced the guys to break off into pairs. (They always break up in the same pairs: Eric and Vince, and Turtle and Drama.  Eric and Drama have never shared a subplot together alone.)

I wish I could compare Entourage to Shaquille O’Neal, a great player who could have been the best but wasn’t as commited to getting better at basketball as he was making movies wherein he plays a genie.  Unfortunately, even that comparison gives Entourage too much credit.  For that comparison to have been apt, Entourage would have needed more seasons like season two.  Instead, Entourage compares more the NBA player who was great for a span of time much shorter than the rest of his career. (Jalen Rose and Tim Thomas come to mind most immediately)  Fans, writers, teammates and coaches waited desperately for those players to reach the potential they flashed once, only to be disappointed more often than not.  That’s Entourage.

All in all, Entourage was the bro you knew in high school or college who you were sure was going to make it in the world on his charisma alone, but who now works part-time at a car wash.  It’s the guy you know who peaked in his senior year, who was prom king and the star quarterback and never mind that he wasn’t the best student or all that deep.  Entourage is just like every meathead bro you know.  Fun to hang out with, but ultimately empty inside.

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