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Cultural Checkup: Entourage – Season Eight

Cultural Checkup: Season Eight

August 8th, 2011

[This week, I’m going to be checking in on a number of shows that I’ve been watching but not writing about this summer. Tomorrow, I’ll be looking back at an uneven season of USA’s White Collar.]

I didn’t hate the seventh season of Entourage.

After six years of wishing the show would stop trying to be a bawdy comedy and start embracing its dramatic potential, the show finally listened to me at the point where it had run out of goodwill. The show had driven itself into the ground, to the point where there was no hope of it truly evolving into a more interesting series, and yet it was finally telling the kind of stories it should have been telling from the beginning. It took Vince down a self-destructive path, it explored his relationship with Eric (to the point of almost ending it), and it seemed to find a more comfortable balance between Vince’s career and his entourage’s own lives.

Now, the show stopped being funny along the way, but I never found it all that funny to begin with, so to see the show trying something new excited me. And so I’m equally excited to see that the show isn’t screwing around in its eighth season, taking some “risks” based on its own precedent and exploring the challenges of new beginnings instead of exploring the thrills of excess.

It’s still not funny, but I’m surprisingly invested in where they intend to take the show in its final season.

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Season Premiere: Entourage – “Stunted”

“Stunted”

June 27th, 2010

There is a half-finished draft of a post wherein I vowed to give up on Entourage this season sitting on WordPress’ server, written late last week as I wrestled with this decision. I thought that this was going to be the season when I would finally break down and stop watching a show that I’ve unfairly subjected to indepth critical analysis despite the series’ complete lack of interest in any of the qualities which would warrant such indepth critical analysis. There’s a point where I would have to accept that the show I want Entourage to be is never going to exist, and that for better (or, far more likely, for worse), the show will remain as airy as it has ever been without any sense of consequence or real dramatic stakes.

And yet I think the necessary intervention is less about the twenty-two minutes a week I spend watching something so trifling and more about the half hour I sometimes spent analyzing it. While I would never defend the series’ quality, and certainly feel that it has devolved considerably since its initial potential, the show’s seventh season has started off without any pretensions as it relates to what kind of show this is. The show’s problem in the past is that it has contained elements which could be a more interesting series if they were only allowed to play out until their logical (and complicated) conclusions, but “Stunted” has no such elements: it’s quick, it’s simple, and its entire plot can fit comfortably into a cable listings logline.

And so, both because I won’t be alone and because Autumn Reeser personally told me I should continue watching on Twitter, I’m going to keep watching, albeit without taking out my critical frustrations on a show completely disinterested in changing.

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Entourage – “Runnin’ on E”

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“Runnin’ on E”

August 2nd, 2009

When I sat down to watch the latest episode of Entourage, I took some notes. Half of them were less than four words long. The other half were about Autumn Reeser. Such is Season Six of Entourage.

To be honest with you, I think it’s a welcome change of pace: the fifth season had me wanting to rant about the show every week, but right now the show is so consistent in its absolute mediocrity that I really don’t have much to add. Any chance of the show really breaking from formula has been put on hold, with Vince’s movie delayed, Eric’s independence floundering, Turtle’s trip to college pretty tame and Drama’s career in the exact same place you’d normally expect it to be.

And I’m happy with all of it, really – sure, I’m still convinced the show is capable of being more than it is, but in its current mode I find it breezy and light, an ideal summer show instead of a frustrating summer disappointment.

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Season Premiere: Entourage – “Drive”

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“Drive”

July 12th, 2009

This review is going to be hugely hypocritical for anyone who’s followed my…less than friendly relationship with Entourage.

See, I’ve always been of the mind that the show is at its best when it engages with its dramatic elements, and taps into something beyond “four bros hanging out.” It’s not a particularly popular opinion, as nearly everyone seems to disagree with me and lists their main reason for watching the show as “four bros hanging out,” but it’s the way the show works for me. And last season, I just kept getting more and more frustrated: the show had numerous opportunities to really engage with some real disruptions to Vince and E’s relationship, and to shake things up a little bit, and yet they refused to take them, leaving the dynamic intact as Vince’s career skyrockets.

So, on that criteria, I should have been really happy with “Drive,” which returns to the narrative with Vince riding a wave of Gatsby-related success but drifting apart from E, who is becoming successful in his own right and beginning to see the benefit of being more independent. The result is actually a really subtle statement about maturity, coupled with a couple of periphery storylines and a distinct lack of highly manufactured drama. Really, the episode should have been everything I should like in a half hour of Entourage: a little sex, a little drama, and more pathos than 99% of the show’s normal viewers like to see.

But, for a variety of reasons, I found this episode to be shockingly pedestrian in a way that baffles me. There was no zing to the one-liners, no bite to Ari Gold, and a distinct lack of any sort of dynamic between the signature foursome. While I’m actually kind of intrigued to see where they go from here, this half hour is the exact opposite of any of my past experiences: while before I found the plot lacking but enjoyed the show’s broad comedy for what it was, here I found absolutely nothing funny or clever to the point where even a storyline I should have liked did nothing for me.

Call me a hypocrite all you want, but this “Drive” never got out of first gear.

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Season Finale: Entourage – “Return to Queens Boulevard”

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“Return to Queens Boulevard”

November 24th, 2008

In the interest of full disclosure, I despised the fourth season of Entourage. It was, to my mind, a show with the absolute worst sense of direction: nowhere. They finished the movie, an admittedly really intriguing little exercise for the show, and then just sat around while it slowly (and mostly in the background in the hands of the incompetent Billy Walsh) imploded to the point of them getting booed out of Cannes. While one could argue the season had a plot, it certainly never properly developed it into character development.

By comparison, the fifth season started with Vince lounging in a secluded beach in Mexico, struggling with Medellin’s failure and not looking to get back in the game. What we saw over the season was a slow build, allowing us to see Eric’s career begin to expand (to the writers of Vince’s movie and to young comic Charlie) while Vince bounces into a picture that was doomed to failure from the beginning. Where we found them in the finale was on a different kind of holiday: no longer simply an escape from a depressive reality, Queens was the equivalent of giving up and going home to regroup. This was not, in other words, a vacation.

So, why did it end like one? One of the most frustration things about Entourage is how much Vince’s life feels inconsequential, that it seems as if this is one enormous vacation where everything will work out in the end based on wish fulfillment and purely illogical events, and that was never more clear than here. We entered the episode with one crisis, Vince’s lack of a job and his tainted name in Hollywood, and midway through there was even (in a stark comparison with the fourth season) a personal, character driven event. And yet, by the end, we’re wholly crisis free.

And that’s the last place Entourage needs to be.

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Entourage – “Play’n with Fire”

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“Play’n with Fire”

November 16th, 2008

It has been a good many episodes since I last discussed Entourage, a period explained by a variety of reasons. Perhaps first and foremost, I don’t quite have time: while Mad Men left a gap in my Sunday nights, other commitments have meant that The Amazing Race is all the time I’ve got (I’m two weeks behind on Dexter and barely catching up with Brothers & Sisters as it is).

But if Entourage had been anything but a mixed bag over these past few weeks, I may have been more likely to discuss it in earnest. Whether it had been horrible (like much of the fourth season) or fantastic (like the early days of the series), I would have found time to make note of the various developments; instead, the season just took its initial setup (Vince is in tough shape career wise, needs a new opportunity) and played that chord over and over again.

It was a good chord, in the begnning, and I’d tend to argue that it’s a good chord in the end; the entire on-set experience of “Smoke Jumpers” has been a return to the show’s proper perspective, and the explosion that takes place within this episode is a far more natural and logical wrinkle in the development process than anything we saw from the caricature of Billy Walsh. “Play’n with Fire” features a lot of things which feel natural: by abandoning the member of the group who has most resembled a walking punchline (Drama, that’d be you) for the one who is perhaps the most emotionally interesting and undefined (Turtle), and by frontlining Vince as someone facing a crisis of his own, the show just feels likes it’s on a more logical path heading into next week’s finale.

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