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.
HBO at TCA: Story, Genre and Scheduling
August 8th, 2010
I’ve been following along with the news out of the Television Critics Association Press Tour through Twitter, but to be honest there hasn’t really been anything that’s caught my attention: while I’m incredibly wary of the changes being made to Human Target, I’ll save any judgment until I actually see them in action, and since I haven’t seen the fall pilots I can’t really offer any opinion on how the panels seems to have changed my view on each series.
However, on the final day the HBO executive session ended up being a really interesting one: not only did HBO programming guru Michael Lombardo confirm that Entourage’s next season will be its last, but he also offered up some intriguing quotes about their planned Spring launch of Game of Thrones as well as a curious statement regarding the network’s approach to scheduling. With the networks, there’s this sense that they’re there to sell the critics on their already announced lineups, but with HBO there’s a laid-back confidence which could be read as cockiness, and it makes for a more interesting environment in terms of the kinds of discussion it creates.
So, let’s take a gander at what an Entourage movie and a question of genre vs. storytelling tell us about the channel’s approach as compared with its pay cable counterparts.
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.
“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.
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.
“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.
October 5th, 2008
No show knows how to waste time like Entourage.
“Tree Trippers” is straight out of the Entourage playbook: our group faces an important decision, which leads them on a quest of sorts that really just stretches out one sentence into an entire episode for the sake of being filled with antics, tongue-in-cheek celebrity cameos, and likely some sort of drug-based hallucinations.
Now, admittedly, I like my Entourage episodes to have a bit more plot, and this episode kind of struggled in that regard, but the season remains charming: whereas last year felt like nothing but episodes like this one strung along in a row, this feels like a worthwhile detour in order to recollect on the current situation.
September 28th, 2008
Let’s go through the laundry list of usual complaints labeled at Entourage: episodes are too short, not enough happens in the span of an episode, the show is dangerously cyclical in nature, and its major plot developments can be seen from about a mile away.
Now, as someone who was highly negative about the show’s fourth season for at least some of these reasons, forgive me for not being nearly as negative about the fifth season exhibiting some of the same traits. The difference between “Fire Sale” and some of the episodes I had trouble with last season is that the repetition and cycles were, then, about pointless antics of glorified children prancing around with their petty little lives. Here, meanwhile, the plot is circling around characters without glory, where the feeling of running in place is not just writers’ laziness but an actual reflection of the characters themselves.
Yes, not much happens in the span of the show’s twenty minute run time, but what does happen feels like the show continuing to tread carefully to the series’ grounding in an actor searching for his place in Hollywood. While I might be tiring, as many are, with the writers’ inability to find Drama something interesting to do, watching as E and Vince chart the group’s next path can circle around as long as it wants as long as it keeps Entourage this focused.
“The All Out Fall Out”
September 21st, 2008
From those who had seen screeners of the start of Entourage’s fifth season, it was this episode that in Alan Sepinwall’s words, that “gave [them] some faint hope that “Entourage” might be at least decent again.” A blisteringly paced half hour, it gave us two interesting, funny, and well-balanced storylines that interweaved in numerous recurring characters along with introducing yet more tension into our already complicated situation.
What it represents first and foremost, though, is that Entourage is a show still capable of being complicated without being bogged down by it – seeing as Eric loses sight of the script he’s selling for his new clients, or as Vince plummets further into bankruptcy, doesn’t feel tonally inconsistent with the sheer absurdity of Ari Gold’s feud with Adam Davies which involves human feces and male strippers. The show is at its worst when either of these two elements overpowers the other, but through some shrewd guest casting and some smart touches, “The All Out Fall Out” is, indeed, a harbinger of hope for Entourage.