Day Forty-Seven: In Defense of Entourage

by Tom Noonan

Two days ago, a greenlight was given to the much-rumored Entourage movie.  After the announcement, there was a substantial amount of backlash against the decision to continue Vinny’s story.  This is in defense of the show.

It would’ve been hard to imagine, back when Vinny Chase was the biggest movie star in the world, that I, or anyone, would ever have to defend Entourage.  The show settled easily amongst the prestige of its HBO contemporaries as the network’s “cool”, excitedly complimenting all the grit.  By the time Mr. Chase made his first appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, each episode had become a regular event every Sunday, much like the other Golden Age shows sprouting up around it.

It feels weird to christen the present state of television a “Golden Age”, but it’s also hard to imagine a better time for the medium.  In a surprisingly alarmist post on GigaOM, Jeremy Toeman wrote on the dangers of “the infinite channel line-up” as it effects the way we watch TV.  Arguing that the overall “work” to find something to watch takes away from the definitive escapist medium, Mr. Toeman unintentionally makes a good point.  While his “choices detract from enjoyment” argument doesn’t reflect a realistic viewing experience, his demarcation of escapism as television’s primary function splits television into two major eras.

These eras, as I will discuss them here, are best assigned as pre- and post-Sopranos.  While David Chase’s New Jersey mob drama should not be given complete credit for the series paradigm, it can, and should, certainly serve as the cultural landmark for the fall of the episodic form.  We’re currently living in the post-Sopranos era, where series play the long game, telling epic, novel-scope stories.  The new default story-telling technique consists of episodes that are rough-edged fractures, only coming together completely when laid out as a whole.  The Golden Age of TV, above all, calls for active viewing.  These series are challenging their audiences rather than providing them environments to escape in to pass the time.  Television’s primary function was forcibly altered in the post-Sopranos era, and Entourage was simply a paradoxical offspring caught between the two eras.

In order for Entourage to exist, it needed the Golden Age, but it was also the Golden Age that crushed its legacy.  For a show like Entourage to exist, the highly profane and sex-obsessed Sopranos had to break the decency seal.  Giving a greenlight to a heavily artistic series with these themes needed to happen before a show about four friends smoking weed and making it in Hollywood could even be considered.  More than that, the all-consuming cultural success of these types of shows made the Entourage pitch more than worth considering; it made it genuinely exciting.

This Golden Age greenlight would eventually become the show’s major unintentional, then, eventually, intentional, flaw.  As a series, Entourage was the last vestige of truly escapist TV in the evolving landscape.  Vincent Chase’s Hollywood was in many ways the same as Ross Geller’s New York City: built on familiarity while stripped of all realism.  Marked mostly by famous, recognizable faces, the show’s setting was always less important, if not less realistic, than the steadfast loyalty between the four friends from Queens walking its streets.  These relationships, between four crude yet ultimately likable friends, were all that mattered to the show.  The first four seasons were content in this particular version of LA, allowing the show to remain definitively “fun” above all else, a word not readily associated with shows of the era, so the Golden Age called for more.

Because it wore the uniform of post-Sopranos television (foul language, nudity, drug use), Entourage consistently took hits for its carefree approach to plot resolution.  Every time Vinny succeeded, you could feel the collective cultural eye-roll as if this wasn’t what Entourage was supposed to be (as if we had a say).  This criticism ended up destroying the show, inspiring the Sasha Grey, suicide, and cocaine fiasco.  The final seasons limped along, completely losing the escapist form that made it appealing, even unknowingly, in the first place, and it was all our fault.  Entourage was a show we didn’t deserve, an escapist moment amongst the considerable and overwhelming mass of active-viewing immensity we could never hope to fully parse.  We didn’t need any more cocaine, just some good weed.

Entourage didn’t die too young, but it certainly went out in the wrong way.  With a recently greenlit movie, series creator Doug Ellin will have a second chance to go out in style.  This is an important project because the movie could also be the last piece of pre-Soprano storytelling that isn’t on CBS and isn’t consistently degrading the meaning of that era.  So there are two legacies at stake here.  Do it right, Vinny.  After all, you were once the biggest movie star in the world.