I watched the first episode of the new season of Entourage (premiering September 7), entitled “Fantasy Island.” This wraps up the two year story arc about Vince (Adrian Grenier) starring in his “dream project,” the Scarface knock-off Medellin. I am not giving anything away by saying that the movie is a disaster, and Vince is ready to just give up, abandon Hollywood, and live on a Mexican island paradise with bikini-clad babes. Oh, and Turtle. But mostly, bikini-clad babes; you can’t have an Entourage episode without them.
The arc of the season is clearly going to be about how Vince and his entourage deal with his career troubles; the first four seasons were about the life of a successful actor, so it makes sense that the fifth season — where shows often shake things up a bit or make characters change jobs or whatever — looks at it from a different perspective and asks what happens when Vince is no longer the hot young star he used to be. By changing the set-up just a bit, you can re-examine the characters’ relationships, and have some new material to work with when the series goes back to status quo, as it usually does. I don’t know when Vince will be back on top again, but he probably will be. Shows, particularly comedies, don’t change things for very long, just long enough to try out some new stories; remember that one season where Frasier lost his job, only to have it back (along with Roz) by the end of the year? This is the same kind of thing.
The fifth season is a frequent Jump The Shark point for television shows, not because they shake things up (the reason they shake things up is to try and avoid the shark-jump that so often happens), not even because Fonzie actually did jump the shark in Happy Days‘ fifth season, but just because the first four seasons eat up most of the obvious stories and character relationship arcs, and they have to scrounge around for new stuff. But I enjoyed the fifth-season premiere of Entourage, and I actually like where they’re going with this new story arc. One knock against the show was that it’s heartless, but I thought Doug Ellin got some emotional juice into his script; Eric (Kevin Connolly) feeling that he’s responsible for destroying Vince’s career (by pushing the Medellin project) isn’t just a Hollywood insider situation, but a recognizable situation that can be related to real, non-Hollywood life: the less-talented friend of a talented person, who tried to use his friend to advance his career and wound up just hurting his friend.
And all the characters are somewhat likable, which I think explains the durability of Entourage. Most Hollywood insider stories make Hollywood out to be too nice (like The Oscar) or so nasty that you can’t imagine why anyone would ever work there. Entourage got the balance more or less right; it has all the “this town can be so cruel” moments you expect, but most of the characters have motivations that we can sympathize with. Even Ari is fairly protective of his client; he’s crazy, but he’s not like the agent in Sunset Blvd. who spent all his time playing golf instead of finding work for his clients. So Entourage is pure escapism, but escapism with enough of an edge to prevent you from feeling guilty for watching it. I think that will still apply to the new season.
And is it wrong that I still think of Kevin Connolly as the idiot brother from Unhappily Ever After? Or that I admit to having watched that show? Yes. Yes, it is wrong.