Entourage is back, filling out HBO's Sunday night and lightening the mood after The Sopranos. I thought it was a strange pairing, because the shows are so distinct. Entourage is the very essence of a summer show, a guilty pleasure of frivolous fun to enjoy after a lazy day in the sun.
It's not that we can't use some light giggles after an ep of The Sopranos, but Larry David's twisted and outlandish humor seems a much better complement. Whereas Entourage, though it's so clearly the male equivalent of a fairy tale, tries to play it straight and realistic, so the juxtaposition of the two shows is a little jarring.
They're calling this part 2 of season 3, which makes me wonder if the writers and crew were maybe rushed to get these episodes out so that they had a winner to back up The Sopranos. What makes me wonder this even more is the utter lack of plot going on so far.
A key moment of last night's episode was when the guys were sitting poolside, supposedly reading a script. Instead, in their oh-so-smarmy-charming-carefree existence, they chucked the scripts aside and then jumped in the pool. And then took a nap. Yeah. That was the glamorous episode. Napping.
When Entourage started, they were on dangerous, shaky ground, because the show was basically a gender reversal of Sex and the City. But while Sex got away with its antics because there was a titillation factor of watching the women fuck around, that's pretty old news for men. And it's just not so endearing to watch guys -- hanger-on, talentless, fairly obnoxious guys with little charm and even less good looks -- get laid in Hollywood in stunning mansions while we sit at home with our dorky, worn-out, unstylish ottomans under our feet while we're obviously not getting laid because we're passing our precious off-work time by watching this show about jolly jack-offs.
But, Entourage really did break out of that off-putting mode quickly when they actually started having plots. They found the soul of the show in Jeremy Piven's Ari Gold -- a snarling, sell-his-grandmother-to-make-a-deal, self-important, scenery-chewing, succubus of an agent to Adrian Grenier's Vincent Chase. He was comedy gold.
Vince's character has grown and arced quite a bit over the couple of seasons. He was at first the calm eye in the center of chaos, the one who didn't react -- never wanted to have to react to anything -- because he could simply sit back, smirk, and have everyone do everything for him. But Vince has since had his heart broken and had to fight for (and lose) projects that he considered artistically worthy. Time and again, he's turned out to not be a spoiled brat but a guy with principles and it gets more fun to root for him.
His brother Drama and Turtle provided the outlandish buddy-comedy along the way and eat ample amounts of shit to hurtle their presence in Vince's life way over the boundary of acceptable into downright preferable.
Which leaves only Kevin Connolly's Eric, who remains a problem in the otherwise likable cast. Clearly, when this show was imagined, pitched, and initially set up, Eric was supposed to be the main character; the everyman tossed into this glamorous situation afforded to him because of his friendship with Vince. I imagine the producers imagined showing his immersion and rise into the power-plays of the Hollywood scene, centered around Vince. And that is largely what the first season was about, and largely why the first season was flat. Because, frankly, Eric sucks. I have yet to find anything likable or redeemable about this toad. When Vince wanted him to stand up to Ari, it did give us some great Ari rants and Ari frustration -- but the enjoyment in the situations and scenes was due to Ari, not Eric.
Ari learned to tolerate Eric, and as a viewer, I have, too. But I've never warmed to him. And while Turtle and Drama hunt for women, it's their ineptitude and desperation that endear them. Whereas Eric gets the hot chicks thrown his way even though there's nothing remarkable about him, which makes him the ultimate leach. Kevin Connolly plays the role as a straight man -- there are no affectations or over-reaching, which should be refreshing. But that whiny voice and elfin appearance just piss me off after a while, and he disappears next to Piven.
Worse, over the past couple of seasons, as the dynamics have shifted and Vince has grown into a man and started taking care of business for himself, it makes me wonder even more exactly what the fuck Eric is around for. He's become relegated to the role of a yes-man.
Unlike Ari's counterpoint, the delightfully masochistic Lloyd, who pulls Ari back into the atmosphere inhabitable by humans, Eric neither elevates nor deflates Vince. For a show that was supposed to be about a guy who was earning his worth and changing our expectations about shallow clingers, Eric has come to represent the very essence of Hollywood excess run-off.
But he's still not the main problem this season. The main problem is that while Ari's shining brighter than ever with his manic heartbreak over losing Vince, the rest of the guys have nothing to do. And it's obvious that the writers are having trouble filling the time, as the latest episode clocked in at a whopping 21 minutes long. The fuck?
A key component to Entourage's success has been softening the edges of the guys. And while it's hilarious to watch Ari get struck with a wayward flash of conscience and play white knight for Lloyd, it's also twice as rewarding to watch him fume and fester about his pansy-ass feelings after the fact, and to then get his evil back on and go on a good-natured rage rampage.
But Turtle refusing to bang a broad because she talks shit about his dog? We know Vince has principles, and yes, Turtle, we know you do, too. But bang the broad! And worse, Drama being the consummate best-bud and not banging HIS broad because Turtle's turning down the play? The fuck? Who would ever do that? Would you? I wouldn't. Fuck that. If I bother to take my feet off my unstylish and beat-up ottoman and turn off the TV and go out and hunt guys for an entire day, consider the deal closed as arduously as Ari Gold would close it.
Meanwhile, Vince is still holding out hopes for "Medillin" and screwing his new agent and Eric is doing fuck-all who cares what. But there's no tension and no forward momentum for the foursome. Although it may be realistic, being trapped in a state of stasis between projects, there had always been an urgency to get Vince back to work or to work on something particular before. But now, there's no one standing in his way, but they're all just standing around. And, if you take away the hot chicks and expensive ottomans, that makes them pretty much just like us. And who the fuck wants to watch us? We're boring. We don't have shit going on in our lives, either. That's why we're watching YOU assholes on TV.
We tune in to Entourage for a vicarious thrill. That was the initial appeal. We don't want to vicariously live our own static, going-nowhere, clinging to shallow hopes of something better, not-getting-laid, fundamentally useless existence through four fucktards in Beverly Hills. It doesn't matter if the cars are better and the house is nicer, it's still boring.
It's like the producers and writers have decided they've got a winning cast and setting, so they've just chucked the scripts aside and took a long nap and let Grenier mug for the camera for ten minutes. Stop it. Most of these guys have mustered more charm than I thought possible out of their characters, and the tension the past two seasons had been hotter than the valley during a heat wave. But Ari can't carry the show alone now. For fuck's sake -- do something, guys.