Yeah, the “Entourage” hate is real. But Hollywood is still banking on the fact that the raunchy HBO comedy — about four dudes living it up in Hollywood — still has enough fans to make a big summer weekend at the box office. Along with the hype, however, there’s a widespread disgust that this movie even exists.
So when did the world turn on “Entourage”? Was the show really all that terrible, or has the culture just grown weary of excessive wealth and entitled bros? We investigate how an Emmy-winning show once heralded as HBO’s Hot New Thing became a series that inspires such vitriol.
1) THE BEGINNING: A SLOW BUILD TO SUCCESS
July 2004: Ah, it’s good to be on HBO! Several months after the end of “Sex and the City,” HBO rolls out “Entourage,” which many assume is the male equivalent to the phenom comedy. Expectations are fairly high for a network flush with critical hits, from “The Sopranos” to “The Wire” to “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
As a result, some critics are just cautiously optimistic about “Entourage,” starring Adrian Grenier as Vincent Chase, the cheerfully dim actor who brings his best friends from lower-middle class Queens to L.A. as his star rises. So many archetypes: Eric (Kevin Connolly) as his more-or-less responsible best friend and manager; Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon) as his delusional half-brother and aspiring actor; and Turtle, the lazy pal just along for the ride. Billed as a showbiz satire, it is male wish-fulfillment fantasy at its finest, with every other scene featuring gorgeous Los Angeles scenery; real-life celebrity cameos; insanely expensive cars and homes; and scores of scantily clad women.
Some reviewers unequivocally love it. The New York Times sings its praises; the New York Daily News deems it “the hottest show on television.” Others hedge a bit: “The show seems sophomoric at first, but graduates to an interesting look at Hollywood’s fast-lane ups and downs,” says the Dallas Morning News. “It kind of sneaks up on you quietly, and the next thing you know you’re enjoying it while wondering what’s going to happen next,” the Post and Courier offers.
It also garners criticism for being fairly, well, pointless, as the characters just enjoy their fancy Hollywood toys and womanizing ways without any real consequences or problems. Still, some argue, that’s the point: “‘Entourage’ works precisely because it’s nearly soulless,” Tim Goodman wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle. “These guys are wallowing in excess. Any less of a cannonball into it would seem unbelievable.”
Ratings are fairly low — the premiere attracts less than 2 million people, a small number compared to “Sex and the City’s” 6 million a week. But it steadily starts to grow buzz.
2) THE CRITICAL ACCLAIM: PRAISE, AWARDS AND JEREMY PIVEN
June 2005 to September 2007: Like many shows, the comedy really hits its stride in the second season, as the writing gets sharper, the acting better and the story lines start to gel. Why do critics start to love it? To borrow a word from many, it’s just really fun.
“‘Entourage’ remains titillating and scintillating escapist fun… and will be warmly embraced by fans,” The Washington Post writes at the time. Over at the Star-Ledger, Alan Sepinwall says the show’s ability to tackle occasional unpleasant topics “while staying silly, sexy and light says a lot about its intelligence and potential staying power. It’s serious fun.” Critics pile on the raves, many putting it at the lists of the best shows at the end of the year.
Plus, Jeremy Piven — as Vince’s sociopath super-agent, Ari Gold — gets raves for his apoplectic performance. This is years before he becomes a punchline for dropping out of “Speed the Plow” on Broadway because of “mercury poisoning” in late 2008.
The show gets attention for all its inside-showbiz jokes, such as a brash powerful producer character named “Harvey,” and its variety of high-end Hollywood cameos, such as heavyweight director James Cameron playing himself as the director of Vince’s movie “Aquaman.”
It also starts to rack up award buzz, with multiple Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for best comedy. Piven wins the Emmy for best supporting actor in a comedy three consecutive times starting in 2006.
There is, of course, an undercurrent of criticism that this is a vulgar series with a terrible portrayal of women, who are either subjugated to story lines that are woefully abbreviated or just plain objectified.
The common defense: It’s all just satire; no one should take it too seriously. “The guys are pretty harmless, I think. They come off pretty harmless,” Kevin Connolly tells critics at the 2006 Summer TV Press Tour. “I don’t think people are really offended by them as much as the things that they say at times maybe you would think might put some people off.”
3) THE DOWNFALL
September 2008 to September 2011: Just as quickly as the show took off, fans start to sour on it. Thanks to the writer’s strike, there’s a year-long gap between the fourth and fifth seasons: When it returns in Fall 2008, the series continues to get award nominations for a couple more years, but mainstream buzz and acclaim takes a dive.
The most frequent complaint: Nothing ever actually happens. The plot begins to cycle inanely: Vince wants to star in a movie. There are problems with the movie. The problems get resolved in some absurd way. Rinse, repeat. Viewers grow bored of the consequence-free life and predictable plot lines — even when Vince genuinely struggles after the biggest bomb of his life (that Pablo Escobar biopic), Martin Scorsese swoops in and offers him a leading role. It inspires a College Humor parody called “Every Week on ‘Entourage'”:
The decline comes along with a new awareness and mockery of “bro” culture. According to the ever-reliable Know Your Meme, the idea really takes off in 2008, with sites like “BroBible” and phrases “Don’t tase me, bro” going viral. The public starts to tire of the entitled bro archetype, which is what the “Entourage” guys had been before there was such a label, and now they were caught in the backlash. And as a recession hits, it was maybe not as fun to watch dudes bask in excessive wealth.
The breaking point comes in 2009 at the beginning of Season 6: Even though the show introduces more serious conflicts via Vince’s attempted career comebacks, many decide they can’t get invested — obviously, everything will turn out okay in the end, as always. New York Magazine’s Vulture announces it will stop recapping the show with the headline “We renounce ‘Entourage.'” Alan Sepinwall also throws in the towel.
Some still defend it: “It’s easy to slag off HBO’s ‘Entourage’ at this stage in the game,” the Tampa Bay Times writes, “Now critics are carping because this year’s season kicks off with Chase and his buddies … actually growing up a bit.” Still, the snark prevails. “‘Entourage’ expired two years ago, only they never told the cast,” one columnist writes in assessing the show’s Emmy chances.
After Season 6, the awards dry up while the series quietly continues. By Season 7, critics are truly over it. The Post’s Hank Stuever suggests the only way to save the show — or make people care again — is to kill off Vincent Chase.
By the time the eighth and final season airs in September 2011, the show has lost almost all of its goodwill. Showrunner Doug Ellin blames the backlash on the fact they went with darker plots, like Vince going to rehab for a drug problem.
“The critics, all of a sudden, seem to have turned on us and forgotten that we were actually critically acclaimed in the past,” he tells TV Guide. “I don’t feel there’s been a lot of shows in the history of television that have mixed up tones as much as we have and I think that throws people. I think that shocks them.”
Just after the series finale, there’s one very public dig, as Jane Lynch introduces the guys on stage to present at the Emmy Awards: “A lot people are very curious as to why I’m a lesbian: Ladies and gentleman, the cast of ‘Entourage,'” she cracks.
“It was funny, but I think it’s not fair at the same time,” Kevin Dillon later complains to E! News. “We all have good senses of humor but I think the men of ‘Entourage’ treat women well for the most part. … Maybe she was going on season one when everyone one in the world was like, ‘That show is so male chauvinistic.'”
Either way: Has enough time passed that people forget their problems with the show and head to the theater for nostalgia’s sake? While critics have given a resounding “no,” looks like fans may not feel the same way — already on Wednesday, ticket sales appear fairly solid. In true “Entourage” fashion, things may just work out.
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