Entourage: TV Review

Jeremy Piven as Ari Gold - TV Still: Entourage season 8, episode 1 - P - 2011
Claudette Barius/HBO
Live hard, play hard, die young and leave a pretty corpse.

THR’s chief television critic Tim Goodman wonders if anyone really cares what happens to lead character Vince when the HBO comedy returns on Sunday.

In the early days of Entourage -- you might even call them the glory days -- a good deal of time was spent wondering what the show was trying to achieve and whether the slick, calorie-free 30-minute episodes that seemed to fly by got the message across.

It turns out there really wasn't a message -- at least not a profound one. And somewhere in the first half of the second season, wondering whether the show accurately portrayed stardom and Hollywood -- the excesses and painfulness of fame, etc. -- was no longer interesting to ponder.

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If the first season had an insider's smart and caustic insight into how the entertainment business worked -- how being good-looking, talented and lucky opened doors, which in turn made people fawn over your stardom, which in turn created power that could be used for good and eventually not-so-good means -- then the rest of the seasons just sort of copied that idea until documenting excess became, well, excessive.

At its best, Entourage was one of the breeziest 30 minutes on television, opening credits to ending credits. When Entourage was still fresh, it was like creator Doug Ellin was putting a mirror up to real-life Hollywood and the entertainment industry and spoofing how outrageous (and thus easily spoofable) it all could be. The concoction: fame, money, sex, drugs, parties, more parties, more sex, more fame, more money and then a bunch of detours for everyone else in the entourage to have either a lower-level semblance of the same happen to them or, to prove a point, not happen to them at all.

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But then Entourage became its own unbelievable fairy tale, as the travails of Vince (Adrian Grenier) and his posse (OK, entourage) of best friends Eric (Kevin Connolly), Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) and brother Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon) seemed to exist in pretty much the same episode week to week, season to season.

Somewhere in the middle of that second season, all that needed to be said about Hollywood was said -- though not as searingly or thoughtfully as one could have hoped. It became clear that Entourage was having too much fun playing the this-is-how-we-roll fantasy that outsiders must think happens all the time in Hollywood and could, were they to have a good-looking friend who could act, happen to them as well.

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Unfortunately, that's where Entourage lost its relevancy as anything other than a comedy that wasn't really funny unless Jeremy Piven, as Ari the agent, was screaming at people or ranting at them with an endless, hilarious riff. Going beyond that -- to make us really care about Vince, Ari's marriage or the successes or failures of Drama and Turtle -- was a stretch too far. You can't sell vapid to get back honest emotion.

Only Eric -- or E's -- story was strong enough to merit the twists and turns the writers put him on. E was the one who grounded Vince, and he was the East Coast outsider who tried to hold on to his morals and sanity the longest when tested by the siren call of hedonism that is Hollywood success. It didn't hurt that Connolly stood out in that group as an actor. But even his stories grew wearisome through the years, and combined, it made Entourage less and less relevant.

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But here it is, back for an eighth season of eight episodes, and the only reason to return to it is the culmination of storylines. Meaning, to come back to find out what happens to Vince and the boys (and their various girls). And that's really the problem. Once Entourage continued to exist merely to show Vince doing something stupid but coming out of it smelling like roses -- and getting laid multiple times in the process -- it kind of forfeited the right to have depth as well. And you can only really care about characters if you get depth.

As the new season kicks off, Vince is getting out of rehab, and everyone -- particularly Drama -- is worried he'll fall off the wagon. In typical Hollywood-denial style, Vince ultimately says he only went to rehab to stay out of jail. He'll be fine. Less fine is Eric, who is dealing with the fallout of his wedding-breaking blowout with Sloan (Emmanuelle Chriqui), and Ari, who realizes he'd like to get back together with Mrs. Ari (Perrey Reeves). Drama is also about to hit a bumpy road with his new animated series, and even Turtle, who was on top of the world the last time we saw him, comes to a crossroads. If you're thinking that the last eight episodes are probably going to teach these boys that no matter what happens, they've still go each other, odds are you're probably right. Entourage came in as a buddy series and is likely to go out as a buddies-survive- Hollywood's-ultimate-test-of-temptation story.

Eight seasons into Entourage and does anyone really care what happens to Vince? He's going to be fine. He's going to have money and the chance to make more money. He's going to get laid again and again. Even though he's coming out of recovery in the first episode, if he should ever want some champagne, we can all rest assured it will be the very best champagne.

Isn't emotional closure the antithesis of what you want in a show like Entourage? Live hard, play hard, die young and leave a pretty corpse. Hasn't that been the not-so-subtle message all these years? Look, you've had your fun, Entourage. Those viewers who thought the party got old? They don't need to hug it out.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com
Twitter: @BastardMachine