‘Entourage’ Season Eight Premiere

Entourage premiered in 2004, a few months after Sex and the City ended. At the time, it seemed merely a male knockoff of HBO’s long-running hit: both shows followed four young, single friends in a big city. In each, the main character had achieved a degree of fame in a highly competitive field. And in each, the friends had an inordinate amount of free time to sit around and talk about sex and dating, and their relationships with each other would trump any connections to outsiders.

After a couple of seasons, however, Entourage started to look more like Power and the City. More than anything else, this is a show about the Hollywood entertainment machine and the byzantine machinations that sustain it. Sex is just another variable in an equation where the goal is influence.

As the eighth and final season begins, Vince (Adrian Grenier) Vince is emerging from rehab with his sunny disposition and seemingly bulletproof reputation intact. He doesn’t seem the least bit tempted by drugs. In fact, he doesn’t seem to have changed much at all following the dark place where Season Seven ended. His very public meltdown seemed to be Entourage‘s effort to confront, at last, the seamier side of the business, and maybe even to comment on the celebrity-obsessed culture that leads so many young stars to implode.

For much of the series’ run, we’ve watched every slight and challenge roll off Vince’s back. He has appeared remarkably un-bothered by events we imagine would bother real-life celebrities, like whether or not his superhero movie was a box office hit. And as his nonchalance has seemed unrealistic, it has also not been the show’s focus. If Vince is the center of the universe for his friends, he has rarely been the anchor for the show.

That honor has gone to his agent, Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven). The very definition of type-A, Ari has consistently cared about gaining influence. Ari’s interesting combination of insecurity and arrogance has been one of the major reasons to watch the show over the years. And so it was a shift when, last season, Vince appeared to be buckling under the weight of multi-million dollar investments and the scrutiny that comes with these. When he was busted with drugs, his future looked murky at best.

That the new season begins with Vince having left that murk behind reinforces a consistent criticism of Entourage, that it’s a lark and nobody every changes. Here again, Vince and the entourage seem unaffected: Eric (Kevin Connolly) runs his own agency now, but still seems like Vince’s second fiddle. Drama (Kevin Dillon) has a new show, but remains less successful than his brother. And Turtle (Jerry Ferrara), who at the end of last season was on the verge of becoming an effective businessman, again sees his flirtation with real work pulled out from under him.

Again, as most of the guys have circled back around to where they have always been, it’s Ari who is exploring new territory is Ari. At the end of Season Seven, he and his wife (Perrey Reeves) separated after the release of audiotapes that put his sexist and misanthropic rants on full display. While Ari’s excoriations of people at work have often made for compelling viewing, we believed was completely devoted to Mrs. Ari and their kids. Against all expectations, he has never cheated on her, even as he is metaphorically screwing over everyone else in Hollywood. The best reason to stick with Season Eight is to see how he deals with the fact that being faithful may not have been enough to keep his family intact amid all his other sins.

Ari’s misfortunes and an event at the end of this season’s third episode hint that Entourage may yet drift back to Season Seven’s darker and potentially more cathartic territory, a conclusion for the series that tells us something new about the industry, perhaps. Another possibility is that the show’s makers are preparing for a future movie. They should pay close attention to the Sex and the City model. The first Sex movie was highly anticipated and eagerly received by a rabid fan base who wanted closure on some key loose ends. The movie delivered exactly that, only to be undermined by the completely unnecessary and truly awful sequel.

Entourage has never inspired the kind of fan fervor or speculation that Carrie’s spastic relationship with Mr. Big did. An Entourage movie sounds less like a way to fulfill fans’ desires than make money. Given the business the show is about, this sounds not only crass and cynical, but also foolish: what have we been watching all these years? Let’s hope instead for a great finale on TV.

RATING 6 / 10