"Entourage": Risen From the Ashes, or Going up in Flames?
When "Entourage" first premiered, I became a full-fledged fan pretty quickly. It had a good premise, with the kind of cast that seemed so ingrained in their characters that you simply assumed they were like that in real life. Casting Kevin "Brother of Matt" Dillon as a washed-up, former B-list celebrity living in his bro's shadow was brilliantly ironic, as was the casting of consistently underrated Jeremy Piven as uber-agent Ari Gold, a guy always a hair away from going nuclear on some poor junior agent. The plots had minimal conflict but were always fun, and offered enough authentic-sounding Hollywood dope that you felt cool watching it. It featured tons of cool celebrity cameos (James Cameron, Jessica Alba, Martin Landau, Jimmy Kimmel, Scarlett Johanssen, the hilariously spacy Gary Busey), and even though the show was as deep as Lloyd's computer screen, it was always an enjoyable half hour.
This season, everything changed. Ari Gold, fired at the end of last season after costing Vince the Ramones biopic, was brought back into the fold after just three tension-free episodes in which Vince hired, slept with, then fired his new agent who didn't "respect" his love for Medellin. Fine. Ari was better with Vince anyway. Then after a promising start to the second part of the season--a neat documentary-style episode revolving around the near catastrophic filming of Medellin--everything fell apart. "Entourage" began to commit the cardinal sin of serial television shows. It would introduce a plot, spend an entire episode setting up a conflict, only to have that conflict forgotten about the next week. "The Sopranos" fell victim to that several times, but thankfully pulled its act together when it mattered. For a show to work, the episodes must be completely self-contained (Seinfeld, Law & Order), or have consistent long-term story arcs (Sopranos, Friends). Entourage wants both. It wants the freedom of beginning every epsiode fresh, but also wants to create conflict and familiarity over long stretches. Doesn't work that way. Viewers feel jerked around. The second we start to care about a story, it ends with no explanation. When we get emotionally invested in a character, they're dropped for no reason.
This season on Entourage we've seen 20 minutes of Turtle pursuing Rufus's daughter (apparently the only two black people in Hollywood, BTW). Then it's never mentioned again. Sloan--the only female on the show who isn't either a foul-mouthed bitch (Mrs. Ari, Shauna, Dana Gordon) or a complete nymphomaniac (everyone else)--is dumped by Eric simply because the producers didn't seem to want to bother with her. Of course not before having her participate in a gratuitous threesome in an arc that went nowhere. Johnny's successful t.v. show? We hear it's a success, get a few episodes with Edwards Burns, and of course, it's barely mentioned again. They begin a Medellin arc in which lunatic director Billy Walsh (a bright spot, in that his character actually has more than one dimension), after a falling out with Eric, is hired to direct Vince in another movie, an adaptation of a bestselling book. Once that arc is presented, it's promptly forgotten about.
Every episode had the exact same structure. Eric and Vince split up to do "business things," Turtle and Drama pair up and get into "wacky" adventures, usually ending with Drama being humiliated or, worse, being rectally "examined" by a fat woman. Ari, at his best when dealing with pompous movie execs and vapid stars, is resigned to literally begging a headmaster to allow his kid into grade school. And we're sitting there wondering: what happened to Medellin after the trailer buzz? Does Drama still actually work? Do we really need another episode where Eric has meaningless sex with a model just to spite an ex-girlfriend? I used to be able to justify the show's vapidity and mysogeny because it was genuinely entertaining. Recently, though, I've been sitting there embarrased while Drama screws a random bimbo while wearing a bunny outfit.
Yet the last few episodes reminded me why I enjoyed the show in the first place. They eschewed the stupid Turtle/Drama "comedic" duo and concentrated on the good stuff. I.e. Vince trying to make it big while showing the acting range of a kumquat, Eric getting in over his head in dealing with Ari, and Ari working himself into a frenzy to save Vince's career, deal with the loose cannon Walsh, and greenlight a completely different movie after the mountain climbing one falls apart (ok, so no studio in the world would presumably greenlight a movie that quickly, but what the hell, it was entertaining). That's what we need. More Ari. More Billy Walsh. More Eric aspiring to be more than Vince's manager. Less Turtle and Drama scheming to get free weed and trucker hats.
Two weeks ago I was about to write this show off. Now, I'm giving it a stay of execution. Let's see if the boys have really turned over a new leaf, or if we're in store for more episodes where the mayor chases transvestites.