I want to make one thing clear: This article has nothing to do with the artistic validity of “Entourage.”
Created in 2004 by Doug Ellin (“Phat Beach”), the show follows the lavish lifestyles of actor Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier, “Clickbait”) and his three best friends. I enjoyed certain aspects of the show such as the hilarious relationship between Vincent and his D-List actor older brother, Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon, “The Buddy Games”). Still, I can’t help but feel guilty whenever I watch an episode.
“Entourage” is a relic of the past. As a product of the early 2000s, the show, in the context of today’s climate, seems like an ancient cultural artifact. Let’s start with the show’s most flagrant feature: its cast. As Bill Maher put it, “If you even suggested a show today about six people, all of whom were straight and white, the network would laugh you out of the room and then cancel you on Twitter.”
Beyond all-white casts, today’s audiences have an extensive list of things they find distasteful — misogynistic behavior, homophobic remarks, use of the r-word. However, one theme stands out among the rest: sexual harassment.
Hostile working environments have been and continue to be a serious issue in Hollywood, most recently demonstrated in the #MeToo movement. This is a reality that “Entourage” portrays consistently. Vincent’s agent, Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven, “Wisdom of the Crowd”) serves as the primary representative of this toxic aspect of the entertainment industry.
He says to a female colleague that “(she)’d look good with a ball gag in (her) mouth.” He laments that he has to fire his assistant because Vincent’s manager, Eric (Kevin Connolly, “Chick Fight”) had sex with her, and when Eric protests this, Ari compromises that he will just sexually harass her until she quits. In an earlier episode, he tells this same assistant, “You fire a guy, and you create a rival; you fire a woman, and you create a housewife.”
Taken out of context, these moments might seem like overt, satirical criticisms of Hollywood sexual harassment, ahead of their time, properly depicting abusive executives as sleazy and perverse. However, when you consider the tone, the weak satirical intention becomes evident.
Besides Ari’s domineering wife, Melissa (Perrey Reeves, “Cosmic Sin”), whose name we don’t learn until season eight, and Vincent’s hard-nosed publicist, Shauna (Debi Mazar, “The Only Living Boy in New York”), women in “Entourage” serve as romantic interests, without much personality or character beyond that.
Clearly, women, or any issues regarding them, are not a focus of “Entourage.” More importantly, all of the disparaging remarks are delivered as one-off jokes. They all fit into the quick and off-color dialogue that makes up a considerable portion of the show’s comedy.
No character thinks twice after Ari blatantly flaunts his power over women. Therefore, “Entourage” should not be viewed as a commentary on sexual harassment in the entertainment industry, but rather as a meta portrayal of it.
Comparing “Entourage” with another HBO comedy — which had its debut 14 years later — reveals how American society has evolved in its treatment of sexual harassment. “Barry,” created by Bill Hader and Alec Berg, is also set in Los Angeles and about life in show business.
In season one’s “Chapter Four: Commit… to YOU,” aspiring actress Sally Reed (Sarah Goldberg, “The Night House”) meets with a prospective agent to prepare for an audition. He tells her, “I get to this point with a lot of my prospective clients where I have a decision to make. Do I wanna sign them, or do I wanna fuck them?”
Unlike “Entourage,” this scene is not played for laughs. The line sits in the air as Sally’s demeanor transforms from positive to frightened instantaneously. After Sally musters up a reply about wanting to keep the relationship professional, the agent claims that he was just joking, and Sally apologizes for making things awkward. “Barry” depicts sexual harassment from Sally’s perspective, and makes the audience feel sympathy for her and disgust with the agent.
At best, “Entourage” asks us to roll our eyes at Ari’s behavior and move on. At worst, it attempts to make fun of a serious and traumatic power imbalance.
Obviously, television is here for entertainment, but it can also be a useful tool in reflecting culture. We can track the growth of sexual harassment awareness by comparing “Entourage” and “Barry,” and I’m certain that we will be able to observe similar trends when comparing the television of today with that of the future.
Daily Arts Writer Aidan Harris can be reached at email@example.com.