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.
The Entourage universe is a very strange place. It’s a place where maturing means bedding younger women at a high rate, and where the producer of a canceled NBC series is a huge get for a talent agency, and where Jay Leno is still hosting the Tonight Show. However, what always sustained the universe was the dynamic between these four guys and the biting comedy that defined the series; even if this is a world where Vincent Chase is capable of being cast by Martin Scorsese, it’s also a world where there’s something for the show to hang its hat on.
However, I just wasn’t feeling it here. There was something off about their dynamic almost immediately: Kevin Dillon doesn’t even appear to be trying anymore, Jerry Ferrera got robbed of some solid material (we got a glimpse of Turtle pondering the potential death of his “Driver title), and while Adrian Grenier is good when he needs to be the banter has never really been his thing. Combine with a purposefully secretive and bitchy E, which isn’t that abnormal, and I just didn’t get any fun out of it. Even in my delusions about Entourage presenting a dramatic storyline, I didn’t imagine the show having to become less enjoyable as a result, and I felt like there was something missing in terms of the balance.
As a whole, I thought that E’s storyline was pretty strong, if just a bit too simplistic for its own good. I love Emanuelle Chiriqui to death, and she remains a solid recurring character for the series, but I didn’t particularly find their flirtations to be all that interesting. The show’s been to that well one too many times, and there was something about it that was almost sad. E maturing is being played out as this big deal, but what I found first and foremost was that the storyline was just too pedestrian. It was E looking at real estate, and other than the chance to glance at his company for the showing it really didn’t create much conflict or drama. And yet the episode seemed to linger on those scenes, long phone conversations with Sloan that outside of an excuse to make E out to be more indecisive and Sloan to be more attractive were just wasting time.
But, again, I like the idea behind the storyline far better than the execution. I think E looking for his independence is really intriguing. However, by spending the entire episode not talking about it, they made it out to be extremely passive aggressive, and Vince sitting in a dark house by himself was just a tiny bit too pathetic. I get the idea that Vince’s career is finally in great shape while he simultaneously loses his connection to the foursome, and that this creates a legitimate investigation of independence. However, if you’re going to set the first note in that story, it seems like a really kind of innocuous note to open on. Vince getting his license wasn’t actually funny, pylon in the tire well perhaps withstanding, and while having his first “ride” in the car was in the series’ regular pattern it felt really forced into that pattern.
As for Lloyd’s efforts to get a promotion, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I really like Lloyd, and as far as my opinion on the job performance of fictional characters go I think he deserves a promotion. However, in terms of the show’s dynamics, Ari Gold works best when he has someone to work off of, and Lloyd is almost always that person. Jeremy Piven is, like Kevin Dillon, largely phoning this in, and while he seems to have promised 100 days of Ari/Lloyd bonding I’m not convinced that changing this dynamic is the right choice. “Can you imagine missing a hole that close” was probably the only standout line from the episode, so losing them in any capacity doesn’t seem in the show’s best interest. Still, again, I think it’s good to have storylines that show some room for character development, but it seemed to leave Ari a bit toothless (Gary Cole got the offensive line you normally would have expected from Ari).
Alan Sepinwall said, after seeing the episodes HBO sent out for review, that he was done with the show. What I’m starting to realize is that it wasn’t because the show was going back to its old tricks, but rather that its attempt to prove itself capable of changing has failed. Surprisingly, it’s not that the show has attempted to stay too close to its original formula and thus not changing at all. Instead, it honestly feels as if the writers don’t understand how to make normal things funny, or even clever, or even that enjoyable. If you were to give me a plot summary of this episode, I’d be thrilled – legitimate tension between E and Vince, maturing of both storylines and characters, Turtle discussing future plans and still dating Jamie-Lynn Sigler; all sound like the kinds of things I would hope for.
Except that, somewhere in the transition, the show stopped being enjoyable. If before I saw it as a shiny and brainless piece of comedy, now it’s shockingly pedestrian and not smart enough to make it work. I’m willing, and perhaps even curious, to see if this was a bit of growing pains before the show finds its groove again, but it’s left me wishing it could go back to being a show about bros hanging out if it means it can be funny again.
- I’m all for Gary Cole being added to the cast, but Gary Cole the alcoholic? Really? Also, that was the laziest Mad Men joke I’ve ever heard.
- The cultural references really were all over the place: Drama throws out Twilight Zone when he should be saying something far more cruel, plus the aforementioned Earl/Leno snafus.
- I like Emmanuelle Chriqui, as mentioned, but Sloan was used a bit too much as a talking psychiatrist in this one. She and E have this really strange relationship where all she does is play on his insecurities, and all he can do is fawn over her. It got awkward here when it seemed like the only reason he was so seriously considering moving out is because she was feeding him his exact feelings over the past month like a creepy psychic stalker.
- Seriously, though: can you imagine an early episode of Entourage where Ari is on speaker phone with his kids listening and all he says is that Lloyd is dying? That’s it?