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.
Now, given that Wahlberg wants to make a movie, Vince isn’t going to die at the end of the season, and his career probably won’t completely implode unless Wahlberg wants to make the Hollywood version of The Wrestler. However, the show is lightly playing with the notion of how difficult it is to transition into the next stage in your career, a sort of “Hollywood retirement” scenario for the players involved. The suicide of the aging producer (played by Kim Coates, who is now most recognizable as Tig on Sons of Anarchy) reflects the challenges facing both addicts and Hollywood producers in a fickle world, just as Ari struggles with being a semi-single man after nineteen years of marriage and just as Vince deals with his recovery from his drug addiction. Hell, you can even throw Turtle in there with his desire to make something of his life, and how could we forget Andrew Dice Clay searching for his big return and Drama still waiting for that launching pad to stardom?
I’m not pulling this out of thin air as I used to do in earlier seasons when the show wasn’t as focused: in this shortened season, now 3/8 complete, the show wants us to be drawing parallels between the characters, and wants to show sides of them that we haven’t seen before. That doesn’t mean the show doesn’t have its off moments, but there was a subtlety to Ari’s late night booty call to Dana Gordon, and it seemed like most of what we saw actually had a point. The shortened order and the looming conclusion has given each episode a sense of purpose, with clear storylines that are advancing readily without random interludes designed around a party, or a sexual conquest, or something in between. The show is suddenly driven in a way that I wouldn’t have imagined, and that is actually borderline entertaining at points.
What it’s made me realize is that I turned against the show and some of its actors more than I turned against the characters. Jeremy Piven might have won too many Emmys and gotten mercury poisoning, and the show might have let Ari devolve into an unlikeable brute, but the return to his marriage and his vulnerability has been a welcome shift. Similarly, while the show kind of let Drama’s character get away from them in the post-Five Towns period, his attempt to regain his success has me sort of rooting for him, as I’ve always had a soft spot for Kevin Dillon. As unlikeable as the show became, I never felt like it was about unlikeable people (outside of Vince himself), and so to see Turtle trying to make something of himself actually kind of touches on lingering interest in where these characters might end up.
Final seasons have the ability to wake up this kind of stuff, but it seemed like Entourage might not go out this way. It seemed like it might go out with with excess, indulging in the qualities that defined the show culturally and yet ruined it creatively. So far, and I emphasize so far, the show has been purposefully creating story arcs that reflect back on the show as a whole and position the characters for something approaching a meaningful conclusion.
It won’t be as meaningful as it might have been had the show followed a different path, but at least some part of me has surprisingly traveled beyond curious into the realm of “interested.” I know – I’m as surprised as you are.
- Andrew Dice Clay is an intriguing choice for a role of this nature, but I believe that more than I believe CBS picking up a half-hour animated sitcom. Humorously, though, Kevin Dillon is starring in a CBS sitcom this Fall.
- Given that Sloan is moving to New York, the show certainly seems as though it’s gesturing towards a cyclical return to the hometown at series’ end. That or they’re going to merge the show with How to Make it In America – if Turtle gets any skinnier, he could be a jeans model!