Up until about a month ago I was a big Entourage fan. I never considered the show remotely satirical but I found it a breezy, addictive exercise in upscale lifestyle porn. As others have pointed out it's essentially a male version of Sex and The City that gives folks in the flyover states a half hour to experience the vicarious thrills of living the Coastal big-city high life. It was the ultimate hang out show: movie star Vinnie Chase and his gang of Lost Boys were fun, they got into all the right places and they never took anything too seriously. I enjoyed spending time with them. Critics have complained that the show has nothing new to say about the film business but I always felt that its acknowledgment that Hollywood may be an amoral cesspool of depravity but that it can be wicked-cool if you're young, famous, rich and good-looking was at least a semi-new spin on a very tired subject.
Having briefly worked in L.A I felt it captured something ineffable about the place, specifically the way Los Angeles is shallow and superficial and status-obsessed yet kinda awesome all the same. I liked its absence of moralizing and judgment, the way it accepted its shiftless, dim-witted characters for who they were and didn't make them suffer disproportionately for their sins. In Entourage's clubhouse fantasy world you can smoke mountains of pot and have casual sex with hundreds of women without ever paying any kind of cost. Entourage seems to exist in a world without AIDS, without STDs, without hard drugs or unwanted pregnancies.
So when I Netflixed the show's second season my expectations were high. I felt the third season was a disappointment and the fourth season was shaping up to be a full-on disaster but this was the Entourage Golden Age, right? This was the season that made it a low-level pop culture phenomenon.
At first I was merely disappointed that the show wasn't living up to my expectations but after just a few episodes I came to a disconcerting realization: Entourage is kinda awful.
I previously always liked the lightness of Adrien Grenier's lead performance, the way he breezed through scenes so effortlessly. But the more I watched, the more I came to realize that Grenier is a terrible fucking actor. He's perfectly suited to smiling and strutting but any time he's asked to do anything more than that–say, express profound angst over Mandy Moore not being that into him or convey passionate feelings about his craft–he's woefully, almost comically, inadequate. The show clearly envisions Grenier as a surrogate for Executive Producer Mark Wahlberg: a lightweight pretty boy capable of shocking the world by stealing scenes in a loopy David O. Russell oddity or heavyweight Martin Scorsese testosterone fest. Well, Grenier's featherweight dreamboat is no Mark Wahlberg. Hell, he's not even Donnie "The Tough One" Wahlberg.
I initially found Kevin Dillon's performance a very funny bit of self-parody but the more I watched the more sitcommy Dillon and Jerry Ferrara's dumb-and-dumber routine felt. All that's missing is canned laughter and forced applause every time Dillon says something stupid. The show's dearth of moralism came to feel like a stubborn adolescent refusal to acknowledge that life is anything more than, like a totally bitching non-stop party.
And the show's fawning/faux-satirical attitude towards Hollywood started to grate, like the way it performed television fellatio on special guest star Brett Ratner (cause honestly, what's to mock about that guy?) by shamelessly vomiting forth Ratner's well-honed personal mythology. I was increasingly irritated by the show's reliance on glib stereotypes and caricatures, especially the gonzo independent filmmaker Billy Walsh (played by Rhys Coiro) whose obnoxious trademark is calling everyone "Suit". Who needs a silly, ridiculous, insulting caricature of Vincent Gallo when Vincent Gallo himself is such a silly, ridiculous, insulting parody of himself? Billy Walsh, renegade auteur, is Poochie, Cousin Oliver and Scrappy all tied together into a big ball of grating television-hell obnoxiousness.
I hesitate to say that I've outgrown Entourage because that implies emotional growth and/or superiority and I'm not about to make big claims on either count. But I no longer derive much pleasure from watching the show, beyond a trainwreck fascination as it plunges deeper and deeper into self-parody. Seriously, what the fuck's up with the ridiculous make-up Vinnie was wearing to play Pablo Escobar? Am I the only one who thought he was a dead ringer for Andy Kaufman's boorish alter-ego Tony Clifton?
I used to look forward to hanging with Vinnie and pals but, at the risk of sounding pretentious or elitist, I probably wouldn't be friends in real life with people who spend substantially more time partying with supermodels than reading books. Or scripts. Or Marmaduke cartoons. Or anything really. In that respect the show is an accurate reflection of L.A: let's just say that The L.A Times is the only major newspaper whose book review section covers only pop-up and coloring books.
I still watch Entourage, in part because I still like big parts of it–its breezy tone, Jeremy Piven, Adam Goldberg's neurotic financier, funky little guest turns like Martin Landau doing Robert Evans and Rainn Wilson as Harry Knowles–but also because Entourage is so incredibly lightweight that it actually requires far more effort not to watch it than to actively follow it. But the thrill is gone, dear readers. The thrill is gone.