Although “Whiz Kid” is built around a prosthetic penis filled with clean urine and despite the fact that episode ends with the guys laughing as they throw said prosthetic penis between one another, I’m having trouble finding the humor in this particular episode of Entourage.
Heading into its final season, Entourage has made two interesting decisions. The first is to expand on the seventh season’s heavy issues, including Vince’s drug use, the end of Ari’s marriage, and last week’s episode-ending suicide. This is a decision that I fully endorse, having always argued that the show is better when it establishes real dramatic stakes that give the characters motivation and purpose. However, at the same time, the show still wants to build comic setpieces around prosthetic penises, and it still wants to have those moments of guys being guys, or in this case guys throwing around a prosthetic penis.
Effectively, the show is still built like a comedy, but it’s built like a comedy that isn’t really in a position to be funny. This particular episode is coming in the wake of a man’s sudden decision to take his own life, and you can see the show struggling to move on beyond it: Turtle talks about how he saw brains, Ari makes a crack about how they couldn’t have been Johnny’s, and then the episode just goes on its merry way. And yet at every turn we’re reminded that Vince really could go to jail if he fails that drug test and that his identity crisis over whether he’s truly an addict suggests the potential for further problems down the road. Similarly, we might enjoy Ari’s throwdown with Bobby Flay, but then we realize that Ari’s struggle to accept his separation is far more sad than funny (especially given that he could have really had something with Dana Gordon, if he had really wanted it). These are real people’s lives at stake here, with families and careers hanging in the balance, and so the show’s usual attempts at humor are beginning to feel out of place.
Really, it’s put the show in a position to please absolutely no one. For fans that have always seen Entourage as a light-hearted comedy, a show about bros being bros and livin’ life in Hollywood, the undercurrents of addiction and the disintegration of Ari’s marriage seem as though they’d be a bit of a buzz kill. Meanwhile, for people like me who are pleased to see the show’s narrative maturing as it reaches the halfway point in its final season, the show’s insistence on still treating those stories with a comic touch feels like a missed opportunity. The show has always presented itself as a dramedy, but it is embracing a new sort of liminality, wherein it tries to find the humor in storylines that aren’t inherently funny.
To be fair, I think there could have been ways for the urine storyline to be funny, but the episode never quite found them. It seems to think it can coast on a quick glimpse of the fake penis and the idea of a fake penis, but the episode was handicapped by the fact that Adrian Grenier is not a comic actor (or, frankly, much of an actor at all). If you were to give that storyline to Drama, I think Kevin Dillon could sell the anxiety of the fake penis, but Grenier just kind of acts a bit nervous and talks about how much trouble he could get in. Without an actor able to reconcile the stakes with the silliness, “Whiz Kid” deflates at a certain point, losing any sort of character development but also failing to evolve into the kind of comic scenario that the show has had success with in the past.
However, while the episode never accomplished what it set out to accomplish, I’ve got to admit that I’m far more engaged with the show this year than at any point in the recent past. Some of this has to do with the show’s continued interest in more serious storylines, going back to last season’s addiction arc, and some of it is just general curiosity regarding how Doug Ellin and Co. intend on ending the series (which goes for any show entering its final season). That being said, I would also argue that the show is at least attempting to pose questions larger than “How will Vince and the gang solve this problem?” with each episode, engaging in thematic work that I thought the show had lost forever. Perhaps it’s just the extremely low expectations that the show’s middle seasons created, but Entourage seems to be about something this year, and it’s amazing how much that transforms my opinion of the series.
Of course, that transformation has its limitations. It’s still frustrating to see the suicide swept under the rug, and it’s still frustrating to see the episode end on even Eric shifting to celebration mode after Vince “beat the system” after making a stupid mistake. However, as much as the show’s basic mode of storytelling continues to elide the more dramatic undercurrents, it isn’t erasing them, and their continued presence is a sign that Doug Ellin is aiming for a conclusion that has to do with something more than bros being bros.
And that, really, is all I ask for.
- I love that this episode was co-written by Jerry Ferrara. Yes, it was co-written by Turtle. I want to know what part of the episode he wrote: Did he have some insights into Ari and Mrs. Ari’s marriage, or was he relegated to the prosthetic penis comedy? Similarly, I’m excited to see that he co-wrote ANOTHER episode later in the season.
- As far as “Celebrities playing themselves on Entourage” go, Bobby Flay is no Mark Cuban.
- I always appreciate Debi Mazar’s appearances as Shauna, even if they make me realize how much the show has sort of wasted her character. I understand why they ended up focusing exclusively on Ari in terms of the business side of things, but I think there was room for more publicity stories, and Mazar was always a lot of fun.
- Rob Morrow appears as Vince’s lawyer, which I’m totally viewing as a The Whole Truth crossover.
- I’m so pleased that Scott Caan was able to continue on with the show, despite the success of Hawaii Five-0. His character is mostly superfluous, but it makes sense that the entourage would get a new member, and there’s a nice tension between Caan and the rest of the cast.
- Correct me if I’m wrong, but are we now halfway through the season without a single case of non-prosthetic nudity? How surprising, and kind of refreshing.
- If you’re interested in more thoughts on this season of Entourage and on the show’s trajectory as compared with Showtime’s Weeds (which shows no signs of reaching a conclusion any time soon), I joined fellow TV Club writer Ryan McGee for a special edition of the Talking TV with Ryan and Ryan podcast where we discussed it in a bit more detail.
- While he was indisposed this evening, don’t worry; Steve will be back next week.