By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 27, 2010; E01
Vincent Chase must die.
Harsh, perhaps, but there it is, the only thing that could rouse "Entourage" from its comfortable, poolside loll and onto the necessary task of bringing its story in for an eventual landing.
Kill Vince! Car crash, drugs, something. James Dean, Heath Ledger -- Hollywood will show you how.
Even the makers of "Entourage" seem to sense this on some level, and present it as a tantalizing notion in the seventh season's opening episode Sunday night on HBO. Vince (played vacuously as ever by Adrian Grenier) is pressured by an action-film director (Nick Cassavetes, as himself, of course) to perform a dangerous driving stunt on camera.
But Vince's protective, codependent entourage -- including fretful manager Eric Murphy (Kevin Connolly) and flammable uber-agent Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven) -- works to prevent it.
"What's the worst that could happen?" Vince asks, suiting up.
"Vic Morrow got his head chopped off by a helicopter," offers Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon).
"Brandon Lee got shot with squibs," chimes in Turtle (Jerry Ferrara, easily "Entourage's" most-improved character over the years).
"Wow, you all think I'm such a [bros-only word for wimp]," Vince observes.
Actually, I think "Entourage" is conceived, written and performed by whole bunch of [bros-only word for wimps], who are too afraid to make a real television show (yeah, I said it), and instead will always settle for making the world's longest documentary adaptation of "Entertainment Tonight." For years, "Entourage" has lazily kept its characters on a leash, favoring atmosphere over story progression. Tune in now and it still feels like 2005.
Which is why loyal viewers should double-dog dare creator Doug Ellin to remove Vince from the picture entirely -- tragically -- so that we can see what happens to the entourage then. Take us on an uncharted journey into Hollywood grief rituals, with the Forest Lawn funeral and estate squabbles and everything. Show us how each of these men face life After Vince.
This, of course, will never happen. What sort of spoiler is it if I tell you that Vince performs the car stunt, staggers away from an inferno, and will become so jazzed by his feat that he will give himself a short haircut and go sky diving?
For all its egocentricities, ill will and backstabbing trash talk, "Entourage" set out to be about only two things: sunshiney Los Angeles optimism and brotherly love.
The show triumphs by demythologizing the other side of the velvet rope. Rooted in the real-life experiences of executive producer and movie star Mark Wahlberg and his relatives, agent and close friends, "Entourage" has been a sarcastic release valve for the ways in which the texty-tawdry celebresphere -- one of America's last remaining exports -- has suffocated popular culture. It smartly co-opts a parade of actual boldface names to play themselves in humanizing and sometimes humiliating glimpses of Hollywood verité.
It has also achieved something that feels laudably true -- anthropological even -- about a kind of monied, famous West L.A. lifestyle that everyone knows exists but that has eluded even the best movies and TV shows that aimed to portray the Industry.
But "Entourage" is not a documentary. Nor is it a smartphone or vodka commercial -- even though the past couple of seasons have been so timid plotwise that the show started to feel like hip advertisements for things that do exist (gadgets, clothes, cars, real estate, style) and movies that don't (a Pablo Escobar biopic, a James Cameron "Aquaman," a Martin Scorsese update of "The Great Gatsby").
For all its manic frivolity and pitch-perfect Tinseltown verisimilitude, "Entourage" has squandered almost all of its narrative opportunities, season in and season out. Last season was a chore to watch, and the first four episodes of this season don't promise much that's new.
It bears noting, though, that "Entourage" is also a Sunday night, summertime HBO television series, which means that it must be held to a higher standard than so much else on the tube this time of year. Unlike its Sunday-night kinfolk -- "True Blood" and "Big Love" for example -- "Entourage" is chronically allergic to momentum. It is change-phobic. Every setback endured by Vince and his entourage (box-office bombs; girl trouble) is smoothed over by the arrival of six-figure paychecks and the bromantic ideal. It's pretty to look at, but stagnant all the same.
So, bring on some hairpin Mulholland curves. Or a sudden loss of cabin pressure on some studio's Gulfstream IV jet. Or the inescapable undertow of the Malibu surf.
There are so many ways to let Vince go.
* * *
"Hung," HBO's dramedy about a down-on-his-luck suburban Detroit gym teacher (Thomas Jane as Ray Drecker), also returns Sunday night -- and it seems much more ready than "Entourage" to go wherever its characters lead. What started out as a show about a man's sense of self-worth has allowed itself (or perhaps wisely intended) to become a rumination on feminine nature instead.
This season, the show zeroes in on a power struggle between Tanya Skagle (the terrifically drippy Jane Adams) and minx-y Lenore Bernard (Rebecca Creskoff) -- their issue being that each woman considers herself to be Ray's pimp.
Oh, right. As everyone in TV land knows by now, "Hung's" main offering is that Ray is very well-endowed and has solved some of his financial worries by hiring himself out as a prostitute to lonely affluent women. First he worked with Tanya; now Lenore calls the shots and arranges for higher-paying clients.
Even a real Detroit pimp, from whom Tanya seeks managerial advice, finds this concept laughable, but there you go. Thanks to Adams and Kreskoff's delightfully wicked power struggle, "Hung" feels fresher now than it felt last summer and more textured. It's no longer a show about a penis. The less the show behaves like a comedy, the more it feels like a long riff on loss.
Although "Hung" doesn't get Detroit nearly as well as "Entourage" depicts L.A. (does it ever snow in Ray's Detroit?), it intelligently uses the Great Recession as a backdrop instead of a cliche; everyone seen here is in one way or another afflicted by the fact that there's no real money left to be made. To borrow a "West Side Story" lyric, all of "Hung's" characters are depraved on account'a they're deprived.
Hung (30 minutes) returns at 10 p.m. Sunday and Entourage (30 minutes) follows at 10:30 p.m., both on HBO