What is “Entourage”? For the first six seasons, it was a comforting blend of fluff. For those with Hollywood dreams, it was a voyeuristic fantasy about a few New Yorkers who broke through and made it. For those with delicate sensibilities, it was a misogynistic nightmare. And then, season seven happened. The writers added a cliché (drug addiction) and a pinch of drama, and it all went to hell. Somehow renewed for an eighth and final season, the show is wisely returning to its roots, and in the premier, we see some of what we remember. But throughout the episode, we’re faced with unwelcoming reminders that the show we love isn’t quite back.
Season 8 Premier
Sundays at 10:30 p.m.
Vince (Adrian Grenier, “The Devil Wears Prada”), the show’s fantasy A-lister, starts the season leaving rehab, drawing the “movie star on coke” storyline to a welcome close. Meanwhile, his TV “star” older brother, Drama (Kevin Dillon, “Hotel for Dogs”) and his ex-weed carrier Turtle (an almost creepily thin Jerry Ferrara, “Brooklyn Rules”), comb Vince’s frat house of a mansion for liquor and drugs. The people who actually contribute to his career are busy with their girl problems: His manager, Eric (Kevin Connolly, “Secretariat”) just canceled his wedding. His agent, Ari (the always-enjoyable Jeremy Piven, “The Kingdom”) is dealing with an unwanted separation.
Almost immediately, the show brings us the kind of witty, borderline-offensive edge that once made it so fun. We see the Turtle-Drama bromance reasserting itself, as Drama assaults Turtle with a spray bottle of drain cleaner and Turtle “gets rid of the weed” by lighting one up. Ari is still doing his superagent thing — flinging abuse if he can afford it and passive-aggressive sarcasm if he can’t. And Eric? He’s still the same whipped midget who Ari calls pale as a “crack rock,” taking himself too seriously.
Everything’s (almost) back to normal, but the show can’t shake off its problems, especially in the acting department. Last season was a lengthy reminder of why Grenier doesn’t have Vince’s career (spoiler alert: It’s because he’s a talentless actor whose career ends at the season finale). Suddenly forced into mounds of additional screentime, he chewed through the scenery like a beaver on cocaine. Everyone knew that Grenier was a weak actor, but it never really hit home until he was thrust into the spotlight. Now, our eyes are wide open and we can’t “un-see.” As he stumbles his way through some truly atrocious lines — “sober is sexy,” he murmurs, as he steps out of his last Narcotics Anonymous meeting — we cringe.
In a larger sense, last season did more damage than that. It showed us, as Vince descended into powder-induced dementia, that actions do have consequences, turning the show’s everything-will-be-OK formula on its head. At its best, “Entourage” depended upon this formula, and the show departs at its peril. Growth, character development, dramatic tension — who needs that when some big-shot can swoop in and save the day?
And what saves they were! Vince needs a job? Martin Scorsese gives him the lead in his new movie. The gang’s flight to Cannes gets canceled? No problem, Kanye’s on call with the G6! Vince needs a reality check? It’s cool, Eminem can come hit him in the face. But Hollywood has a sixth sense for shows past their prime. Cameos, once a badge of honor for “Entourage,” are now few and far between. Instead of the Matt Damons of the past, or the Charlie Sheens they wanted for the new season, all they can get is Johnny Galecki, that guy from “The Big Bang Theory” who isn’t Jim Parsons and doesn’t (usually) get Emmy nominations. And when the cameras document Vince’s ride away from rehab, it’s painfully obvious that there aren’t any real graphics from TMZ.
Everyone seems to know that the show is a few episodes away from sailing off into the sunset. But hey, they still might make a movie. Everything is going to be just fine.