September 7th, 2008
When I was a guest on the /Filmcast After Dark last week, we were previewing the shows to look forward to this fall, and I’ll admit to being somewhat negative about Entourage. Actually, scratch that ‘somewhat’: my exact language was that the fourth season of Entourage was, well “sh*t.” And I’ll stand by that statement: opening and closing with interesting bookends of the Medellin journey, the rest of the season was one long waiting game that never went anywhere new, interesting or funny enough to justify its lack of plot.
Of all of the shows I review here at Cultural Learnings, or elsewhere, Entourage seems to be the most resistant to the very concept of criticism: many have argued with me that it’s just a show about adolescent wish fulfilment, about these characters living the Hollywood dream, and that any attempts to read into its depth or its plot are misguided and, at worst, pointless. I won’t attempt to argue that the show, as a half hour comedy, is not attempting to be equivalent to, say, Mad Men, but the show has demonstrated in the past its ability to bring something more than just juvenile comedy to its characters and its settings.
The thing about “Fantasy Island” is that the show has once again reminded me of how good it can be, seamlessly integrating commentary on the state of the film industry with the type of comedy that’s just guys being guys. Transitioning from Vince’s Mexican sabbatical into his new reality as a Hollywood has-been, the episode touches on E’s transformation into a mini-Ari, deals with the continued fallout of Medellin on Ari, Vince and E’s lives, and includes enough small if insignificant moments for Drama and Turtle to feel like the gang is getting back together in a meaningful fashion.
And unlike last season, where everything was downhill after a strong and witty premiere, I feel like the show is actually moving towards something that feels like a story arc related to its characters. And while there’s every chance that it could fall off in the end, for now I have to admit it: Entourage’s fifth season is not, as of yet, sh*t.
I know that doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement, but the episode was really quite strong. One of my favourite little things was the string of phone calls from Carl through to Vince, demonstrating the very process of selling a project like this one. The “It’s just a working title” line went from one person to the other repeated verbatim as the same complaint kept popping up. A lot of the episode dealt with E’s transformation into something other than the idealist who believed in Medellin, who would have perhaps fought Ari on this film before he got to a point where his best friend is on a beach in Mexico and his current client can’t even book a gig on Cold Case. I’ve always had a soft spot for Eric as a character, primarily because he is the most out of his league here: while Vince is immature, Eric is just not ready for what Hollywood is giving him, and no fancy car is going to change this.
And for those who care less about E’s character shifts and more about the girls and the “good life,” there’s plenty of that too: one wishes that the show’s less verbose moments were always framed against the beautiful Mexican shores, and featuring a bevy of Mexican beauties. There was a lot of fun stuff there, whether it was the casual nature of Turtle’s flame wondering when they could use the bed (with the sex going on right in front of them), or just Vince’s beard. A lot of this was just eye candy, in both location and content, but it was a nice way to reintroduce these elements into the series in a way that was actually explained by the plot (and actually served to make even more tragic Vince’s eventual departure from that world for “no reason”).
The setup for the rest of the season works really well primarily because Vince again has something to prove to people: Vince is at his worst when he either doesn’t care about what’s going on with his life or where his life is so good that he has no reason to even think about it. By episode’s end, he’s shaken off his stupor and realized that he does care what people think, and that he does need to do something to wash the taste of Medellin out of the world’s collective mouth. More important, though, I think the show might feel the same way: from the great tragedy of Medellin’s collapse could come a chance for the show, like Vince, to return to its previous form as a show that actually follows a guy making movies and the guys along for the ride (or, in E’s case, perhaps on a ride of his own).
If I have one major concern, though, it’s Johnny Drama. Yes, his end of episode “Aquaman will be back!” and some of his various one-liners are the type of genius we’ve come to expect from Kevin Dillon, when that storyline actually extended into scenes of his own on the set of Five Towns I can’t say I was entertained. The problem with the sudden success of Dillon and the role with critics and fans alike is that they stretched him too thin: his anxiety over his series’ success, or his anxiety over filming the pilot, were entertaining, but this joke was one-note to a depressing degree. From what I’ve heard from those who screened a few more episodes, he’s largely been relegated to sheer comic relief, but he works best when integrated into the rest of the show’s themes.
There’s no real chance of this episode being a true microcosm of the season to come, indicative of all of its intitiatives – and, considering how strongly last season started, I’d tend to make the argument that it could even be misleading. But, I have a better feeling this time around: something just feels better about this setting; and while it could all be a “fantasy” (Sorry, but the shoe fits) the producers are using to lull us into a false sense of security, something tells me that the show truly does have some strong potential for the year ahead.
- For a while I was fascinated by whether or not that was actually Bow Wow was Eric’s new client, as in that he was playing himself, but he’s actually acting within the context of the show. I remember reading this, actually, but it was a nice surprise that he was actually playing a character (and decently, if I might say so).
- The opening was cute (I had seen it already online), and it does demonstrate the show’s strong ability to intersect the real Hollywood with the false one being created (see also: Ben Silverman’s cameo as the head of NBC). Those types of things work well to give the show some added colour, and hopefully we’ll see more of this as Vince actually goes back to making movies, or more accurately trying to make movies.