Vince is simply too old, too handsome, and too successful to still be coming of age.
Season Five of Entourage was a tough one for former It Boy Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier). His epic film Medillín was a spectacular failure; his next project, Smokejumpers, was scrapped mid-production; and Gus Van Sant refused even to audition him for roles, much less cast him. But perhaps the most brutal blow came from his own agent, Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven), who told Vince that his talent as an actor "remained to be seen."
Ari's candid admission came as a shock to Vince, and the audience too. Throughout the series, Vince's abilities had always been assumed. Last season, Entourage suggested its protagonist had been coasting for years on good looks, good luck, and good timing. And yet, that good fortune seemed to continue in the season finale, when Martin Scorsese swooped in to offer Vince the starring role in Gatsby, of all things.
In the sixth season opener, "Drive," Gatsby is about to premiere, attended by terrific buzz. Vince is poised for a comeback, Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) is again razzing Eric (Kevin Connolly) about his love life, and Drama (Kevin Dillon) is still bragging about his "backdoor" sexual exploits. The tone immediately seems lighter than last season, but the plot is recycled. Though the cast members mug to compensate, there is no denying the dialogue has lost some cleverness and edge. Vince's return to a state of carefree narcissism makes it hard for the audience to care about his comeback: if he hasn't learned from his failures, his successes seem random at best, hollow at worst.
In its defense, "Drive" does look at how the boys' "frat house" mentality arrests their emotional development. Vince finally gets his driver's license, so he no longer has to rely on Turtle or Drama for transportation; Eric sublets a place of his own at the insistence of his ex-girlfriend Sloan (Emmanuelle Chriqui); and Lloyd (Rex Lee) finally pushes Ari for a promotion at the agency. But maturation can be costly. The final shot, which shows Vince alone in his dark and sprawling mansion, strives to achieve the poignancy of the parting scene of Superbad. But Vince is simply too old, too handsome, and too successful to still be coming of age.
Eric's fraught relationship with Sloan bridges "Drive" and the season's second episode, "Among Friends," but it's no more compelling. The female characters on Entourage tend to fall into one of two camps: nubile conquests or nubile ball-busters. As for the latter -- what glorious ball-busters they are! Vince's acerbic publicist, Shauna (Debi Mazar), and Ari's tough-as-nails wife, Mrs. Ari (Perrey Reeves), go toe-to-toe with the boys and always give as good as they get. When Ari brags to Shauna that he's down to six-percent body fat, she replies, "Still 94% bullshit."
But Sloan is the exception. In "Drive" and "Among Friends," she's little more than a nag (though, a nag with great hair and even better style; the woman is a master of the artfully exposed bra cup). The back-and-forth between Sloan and Eric merely adds to the tedium of the first two episodes, and one wishes Entourage would take a cue from Eric and move on from familiar situations that no longer work.
As if to underline that point, the most intriguing relationship of the new season does not involve the boys from Queens at all. Ari's burgeoning partnership with fellow agent Andrew Klein (the perfect Gary Cole) is the primary reason to tune in these days. Last season Ari took a risk and hired his floundering former colleague, and so far, his decision is paying off. The camaraderie between the two men brings out a side to Ari we have never seen before: with Andrew, he is unguarded, sympathetic, even trusting. It's a credit to Piven that he can keep mining different layers of Ari, a character who could have easily been a mere caricature. Ari's good will may not last, but for now, it's the freshest aspect of Season Six.