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do it for johnny drama

Tracing the Epiphany That Entourage Is Not a Very Good Show

Entourage, which kicks off its seventh season this weekend, is now (almost) the granddaddy of HBO shows: Having premiered in 2004, it’s run longer than any other current HBO drama or comedy, save for Curb Your Enthusiasm. Which is weird, given that Entourage is the show that famously refuses to grow up. If anything, it’s regressing (and has been since, oh, about season five or so): getting less sophisticated, less surprising, and less compelling every year.

So while a new season was once cause to pop the bubbly, the fizz has long since gone flat. We hear they are thinking of making Entourage into a movie, which is about as exciting a prospect as yet another year of Vince sort-of, not really worrying about his career, while E sort of dithers about being a suit, and Drama whines about something, and Turtle wears baseball hats, and then everything is magically solved by a random phone call from Martin Scorsese. So what happened to Entourage? Here are the steps in which we came to the realization that the show wasn’t what we wanted it to be:

1. When you first arrived, you had such promise!
Back in 2004, you tantalized us with the prospect of giving an insider's look at the high jinks of Hollywood. You were executive produced by Mark Wahlberg, a real-life movie star with an actual entourage. Prepare to be cut down to size, Hollywood phonies!

2. The main characters aren't phonies.
They were four dudes from Queens who defiantly pledged to hold onto their buddy-buddy value system even as they became immersed in the Good Life. And they hooked up with a hilariously profane agent. Well, all that could be enjoyable, too, right? Just wait until they catch a peek at the seedy side of celebrity!

3. There is, apparently, no seedy side to celebrity.
The whole plucky-dudes-from-Queens-adrift-in-Tinseltown story line lasted roughly one season. Then Vince was cast in Aquaman by James Cameron, thus vaulting him from indie curiosity to bona fide move star. (It also provided, in the person of Cameron, the first in a series of shamelessly aggrandizing cameos, which eventually led to whole story arcs about the genius of Frank Darabont.)

So the show seemed to be less about deciding between indie cred and Hollywood riches and more of an inside look at dealing with life as a super-megastar. Okay, we can dig that. Vince would now assumably be plagued by paparazzi, hounded by hangers-on, and his relationships with his less successful friends (and doofus brother) would deteriorate in a shrapnel cloud of jealousy. Here comes the conflict that will really spice things up!

4. There is no conflict to spice things up.
Apparently being a superstar is simply an endless stream of golf tournaments, Lamborghini Countachs, and hot women taking a number to be Vince's next thoughtless conquest.

We’re not sure if anyone at Entourage has ever attended a Robert McKee story seminar, but conflict is integral to drama. Yet the show has managed to skirt by for six seasons with no conflicts more conflictual than whether Turtle will score weed (he will), E will get back together with his hot and implausibly patient girlfriend (he will), or Vince will choose the well-paying blockbuster over the artful indie film (he'll do both). Meanwhile, Vince and the gang get to run into a bunch of real-life stars who are always portrayed as either super-successful, go-getting geniuses (like Brett Ratner) or rat-fink a-holes (like Seth Green), which makes the latter even more likable for being willing to play a rat-fink a-hole on Entourage.

Sure, we’ve occasionally been introduced to prickly characters like hirsute indie nutcake Billy Walsh or Dom, the no-good leech from Vince's old hood in Queens. But then, just as quickly, they're swept off to the wings to allow Vince and the boresome foursome to return to center stage. Entourage can't even do a proper cliffhanger. It's not really a cliffhanger to end a season with Martin Scorsese calling Vince to offer him a career-resuscitating part. That scene is the equivalent of finding the stairs that take you safely down the side of the cliff.

There's a name for shows in which every character has only one character trait (i.e. the dumb one, the pretty one, the responsible one, the lazy one), people basically lounge around doing nothing, and every spark of conflict is snuffed out at the first sign of smoke. It's called a sitcom. So maybe Entourage is a sitcom? Except …

5. Entourage is not funny.
We don't mean this as an insult. We don't think it's trying to be funny. Sure, Ari is great when he curses and sputters. But it's been a very long time since anything like a joke has been heard on this show. Turtle used to be amusing, but now he is industrious. Drama used to be amusing, but how he is grating. E has never been anything close to amusing. And Vince — suffice to say, you have an intrinsic problem when the defining trait of your main character is "easygoing." Imagine if Larry David, Tony Soprano, or Al Swearingen were best described as "happy-go-lucky."

Nonetheless, Entourage has been nominated for Oustanding Comedy Series at the Emmys the past three years, putting it up against such shows as 30 Rock that actually make you laugh. This is very mysterious. Also mysterious …

6. We find it hard to quit Entourage.
It's true! For awhile, we could convince ourselves it was because the show offered a reliable weekly dose of guilty escapism, with Ari's rants and cool cars and pretty scenery (much of it extraneously strolling by the camera in a G-string). Plus, we kept hoping that maybe, just maybe, Vince would get hooked on heroin, or Drama would die in a flaming crash, or E would get wise and write a tell-all, or Turtle would finally come out and run away with Lloyd.

But now, on the eve of season seven, and with a full-length movie being threatened, we figured it's time to stop wishing for what Entourage isn't, and take a frank look at what it is: a not particularly funny, conflict-allergic show about a bunch of adolescent dudes with endless money and no problems and a foul-mouthed agent who, of late, has been improbably nice to his wife.

We don't think this would make for a great movie. It's not making for a particularly great show. There is, however, a simple two-word solution: Ari spinoff. Inject it with a shot of Sweet Smell of Success sleaziness, send Drama careening off a cliff in the pilot, and maybe, just maybe, Ari Gold will be the show Entourage promised to be, but never was.

Photo: HBO