“Unlike a Virgin”
September 14th, 2008
Perhaps I’ve been watching too much Mad Men, but part of me can’t help but listen to Ari’s big pep talk to Vince about his future and wonder whether there is some type of meta-commentary about the series itself hidden within. His argument is that Vince is a movie star, not an actor: the reasons he has been successful have nothing to do with his abilities, and as a result he needs to get a big studio picture and return to being someone who cares about the machinations of “the game” that is the movie industry.
Of course, the general argument I hear about Entourage is that it’s just supposed to be escapist fun, that it’s supposed to be about the escapades of this actor and his friends he’s brought with him to the big show and not about complicated storylines; in other words, in this parallel, it’s a movie star and not an actor. I think the problem though is that, like Vince, the show stopped caring about it: yes, it went through the motions in its fourth season, occasionally resulting in some decent comedy, but the show stopped caring about itself.
I don’t know if the writers were pointing ahead to their direction for the season, but the episode itself did a wonderful job of reminding us how Entourage works best: tongue-in-cheek guest appearances, Vincent Chase growing as a character in a way that’s actually interesting to watch, Eric stepping outside of Vince’s shadow in a way that brings Carla Gugino back onto our television screens, and letting Turtle and Drama be Turtle and Drama without overplaying them.
The end result is a show that feels like its been around the block once or twice, has learned from its mistakes, and just might be ready to combat my fervent skepticism about the show’s future
One of the best parts of this episode is perhaps the most simple: at the end of the day, Vince’s conflict in this episode is entirely self-contained. It isn’t Vince against Eric, and it’s only broadly Vince against Ari – instead, it’s Vince fighting his inner laziness, his pattern of behaviour, in a way that could get him what he wants with a discretion that has been sorely lacking. Now, I wouldn’t call it maturity, as he is really just kind of whining that he can’t get what he wants (And we know from Leighton Meester’s busy schedule on Gossip Girl that there’s no chance of that relationship lasting), but the fact that he even cares about two things at the same time is a fairly huge step for him.
Generally speaking, few people would ever list Vince as their favourite character on Entourage. He’s too successful for the average joes to relate to, too sedate for the people looking for broad comedy, and outside of being pretty for female viewers there isn’t much to really make Vince stand out. What this episode offers up, though, is a much more interesting character: he’s capable of self-doubt, of questioning his own skills as an actor, and even if he falls off the wagon he at least entered into a relationship with Justine with smart intentions. In other words, he’s moving away from being this elevated movie star to an actual human being. This is only really possible, though, when he’s dealing with this outside of a movie, outside of Eric and Ari, and just kind of thinking things through – he didn’t do much of that last season.
Elsewhere, the episode continued some strong trends: first and foremost, it got a lot of mileage out of a little Ari. I like Jeremy Piven’s showcase episodes as much as the next guy, but part of the fun of watching Ari as a character is seeing it in small doses, and how it relates to our central storylines. Ari has been well integrated into the main story in these first two episodes, and part of me wishes that Perry Reeves (Who plays Mrs. Ari) could sit out a few more so that we could get more of Ari kicking, throwing, and unplugging projectors in his efforts to keep his former star client happy.
As for Eric, his little trip to Carla Gugino’s office is certainly interesting – that storyline was something where it was like the show hit eject, abandoning anything approaching a resolution in favour of simply viewing her as a victim of Vince’s usual actions. The Entourage universe is sometimes scarily small, but this episode featured the return of two women in Vince’s life that have continued to succeed and expand in the time since we last saw them. Amanda seems just as cold towards the idea of Vince, but Eric is going out on a limb in a way that does have some dramatic potential – I just hope that the show doesn’t just use it for an eventual implosion in Vince’s life, and lets Eric kind of develop this on his own accord.
The episode even did small, if good, things for Turtle and Drama. There is something very satisfying in the central gag that, clearly, Drama is the crazy one in his relationship – there’s nothing complex about it, but his progressively more accusatory phone messages and his drunken state are how to play Drama (as compared to the sometimes completely random “wacky” storylines they pawn off on him). Turtle, meanwhile, actually has success with a woman for a change: Jerry Ferrera is just a really endearing actor, and there’s something about seeing Turtle manage to charm someone in his less than smooth ways that works for the show.
Yet, the thing that felt most like the old Entourage was the non-intrusive celebrity cameos. Mark Wahlberg, a co-creator of the show, makes an appearance to shoot the breeze with Ari, but they mostly talk about Vince and not his career (Although a nice reference to “The Truth About Charlie”). Tony Bennett shows up, and he references Aquaman and plays well in this particular universe. It felt like a show that was gaining context outside of our group, necessary after Medellin: after a season so isolated in a film’s production outside of Cannes, we now have a season where the point is that the outside world has moved on from Vincent Chase. So, we need a reason not to do the same.
I think we have it: personally, I am actively interested to know where his career is heading, something that I can honestly say never entered my mind once they wrapped on Medellin. So, let’s hope for continued progress: from what I’ve heard from critics, the third episode might keep things moving in the right direction.
- There’s a definite Pandora’s Box in talking about the Entourage universe, one where Aquaman is the big superhero franchise. While I’m generally a proponent of taking the show quite seriously, the whole question of how successful that movie was, and its sequel, and then perhaps the fate of other superhero films (The Dark Knight), is one thing that the show does not have time to actually deal with: still, I’d love to hear how much they’ve reasoned out in their minds.
- I enjoy a lot of Johnny Drama’s base emotions, but intense paranoia? Maybe my favourite: Kevin Dillon just plays that extremely fast transition from unstable to shambles so well.