Quick spoilers for the season finale of Entourage coming up as soon as I get over my amazement that I am actually blogging about a season finale of Entourage.
From the season that Entourage began, its creator, Doug Ellin, was clear on what he did not want the show to be: a black-humored or satirical show about the dark side of fame (a la Action or Larry Sanders). He told USA Today that the show was not even about Hollywood, really, but about “friendship” (or, as costar Kevin Connolly termed it in the same piece, “the fun side” of Hollywood).
We could have an interesting but moot argument over whether Entourage would have been a better show had he thought differently in the first place. Instead, the show he made was basically an unapologetic embodiment of the First Tenet of Bro Philosophy: “It’s All Good.” It was fun, very fun, for a while; and then it got dull, very dull.
Well, it’s not all good on Entourage anymore. But, heading into the final season, it is at least interesting.
It’s interesting on a plot level because, for once, the show is giving all of its characters major challenges that don’t look like they can be easily resolved with a deus ex machina. (See: Scorsese, Martin.) And maybe more interesting, the big problems stem not just from bad luck or outside forces but from the characters’ own choices and flaws.
E, for instance, may be righteously offended that Sloan’s dad wants him to sign a prenup. On the other hand, as hard as he’s worked and as much as he’s learned, the old man at least has some justification: E may not be a scam artist but he’s not entirely self-made, given that he’s gotten to where he is through personal connections. His suspicions may be wrong, but they’re not entirely unfounded. Ari has spent years living on the philosophy that he can be an ass at the office and a hero to his family, but that it’s justified because he’s being an ass for his family. But that way of living has finally proved untenable. Ari may be able to compartmentalize Work Ari from Home Ari, but his wife can’t—nor should she, now that she has to live with the public fallout of his behavior.
And Vince, good old Teflon Vince, has finally met a problem that he can’t shrug off and move on from. The funny thing is, the show has sometimes hinted in the past that he has entitlement issues, that he can be petulant, that he has a dangerous belief in his (pardon the pun) invincibility and that he blames others for his mistakes. (As he does here, when he blames his friends for sending him “officially out of control” after the brawl at Eminem’s party, and just before getting busted with coke.) He even turns on his friends, accusing them of not looking out for his interests—of acting, ironically, not like friends but a mere “entourage.” The irony is that he should be brought low not by failure but in amid a stretch of his greatest success.
There’s also a meta-interesting aspect to Entourage’s turn, which is that the show is now, basically, fighting against what it’s said for roughly six years. All those stories about spoiled actors going off the deep end?, it’s said—that’s not really Hollywood. Those stories of insanely obnoxious agents and executives? Well, OK, maybe kind of true—but these people are also intelligent, highly professional and often decent people when it comes down to it; their behavior is just about the work. For its last season, it looks like it wants to do a 180 not just in its stakes but its philosophy.
I’m still not entirely sure Entourage has what it takes to deliver on this successfully. I don’t think, for instance, that Adrian Grenier has completely sold Vince’s downward spiral; there’s something half-jokey about his manner that makes me think he’s about to break up laughing, as in a blooper reel. And while the show has an excellent supporting and guest cast (here including Ileana Douglas and the returned Malcolm McDowell), Sasha Grey has delivered a Bristol-Palin-level performance, including, in the closing scene, perhaps the least convincing “Oh, my God” in the history of acting.
On the other hand, Jeremy Piven is getting a chance to do something new with the character that gave him a hammerlock on the supporting actor Emmy all those years. And for the first time in a while, I’m really interested to see what happens on Entourage next. Deciding that things are not all good is, it turns out, not half bad.