HBO // 2008 // 360 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // July 13th, 2009
Hey, look. Entourage is back. It may have overstayed its welcome.
If you're still not caught up on Season Four of Entourage, you may want to avoid reading any further as spoilers will follow.
Season Five picks up with Vince (Adrian Grenier, The Devil Wears Prada) and the boys reeling from the disaster of Medellin, hiding out in a Mexican paradise and shutting out Hollywood. Upon reentering the movie business, Vince finds it nearly impossible to get hired -- even on another of his "dream projects," a firefighter film called Smokejumpers. Eric (Kevin Connolly, He's Just Not That Into You) is still trying to make his agency work and may have finally found success in a client who lands a sitcom deal -- assuming it's not ruined by the return of arch-nemesis Seth Green. Turtle (Jerry Ferrara, Eagle Eye) becomes Drama's assistant and finds himself in contact with Jamie-Lynn Sigler (The Sopranos). Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon, Platoon) has another memorable talk show appearance while promoting his TV show and has a long-distance relationship that proves more problematic than he anticipated. Ari (Jeremy Piven, Chasing Liberty) is still Ari, sparring with his assistant and swearing and throwing once-an-episode tantrums. He wheels and deals at a funeral, throws a tantrum and swears, reconnects with an old colleague (Gary Cole, Office Space) and swears and throws tantrums. Vince finds work but clashes with the prickly European director (Stellan Skarsgard, Deep Blue Sea). Everyone drives neat cars and has sex with pretty girls. The movie business!
I'll admit it: I was once a defender of Entourage. Back in its early days, when critics of the show accused it of celebrating Hollywood excess, vapidity and overall douchebaggery, I would feel compelled to chime in "But it's really about friendship!" And I think I was right. As much as those first few seasons of Entourage were about how awesome it is to be a famous movie star (or, at least, to know a famous movie star), at its core was the relationship between fish-out-of-water Eric and superstar Vincent Chase; their friendship, their loyalty to one another, their mutual understanding that could only develop through years of closeness were the series' true engine. The relationship gave the show some gravity, keeping it from floating off into the California air.
Well, now the fifth season of Entourage has hit DVD (Season Six kicks off on HBO at the same time) and most of what I've described is gone. These days, Entourage seems to have become the show its haters have always accused it of being. It's spinning its wheels without much of a clear direction where it should go. As a result, it goes nowhere, which means every show becomes devoted to goofing off and being awesome. Those "Hollywood culture" elements that used to just be a part of the show's fabric have now become All There Is.
Here's the big problem with Entourage: there are no stakes. No one is ever in danger of losing anything. Sure, the show has been effective at ratcheting up tension over the course of a single episode (like in Season Two's "Exodus") or even an entire arc, but we always know it's going to come out OK. Not just OK, actually, but awesome. Things always have a way of working out better than anyone could have expected; it's a conceit that constantly pushes Entourage from being fun escapist fare into the realm of total fantasy. Season Five wants to show us Vince and boys being put through the wringer: Medellin has flopped in a big, bad way, and Vince spends half the season unemployable (at one point making an appearance at a "Sweet 16" party just to score a few bucks). But every time we think he's backed into a corner -- that the show will actually take some time to explore what it means to be a fallen star who has to climb his way back up -- there's some lame Deus Ex Machina that turns it all around. The biggest example -- and the worst, most unforgivable offense of this device in the show's five-year run -- comes at the end of the season. Obviously, I won't say what it is (though it involves a certain a-list director), but it's so bad it's got me going into Season Six already annoyed.
The series has also lost it center. Kevin Connolly's Eric used to be the audience conduit -- a Hollywood outsider unaccustomed to the ways of the movie industry and, as such, the only character we could really relate to. Now, though, "E" is just another Hollywood player, making deals and taking meetings and hedging bets (and careers) to get ahead. He's a little savvier and little more honest than most (because he's from the East Coast, see?), but still just another cog in the machine. If that's what Entourage was slowly becoming about thematically -- the selling of one's soul over time -- I could get on board. But it's not. It's about life being awesome, and now Eric's life can be just as awesome as everyone else's.
Now, this is a whole lot of criticism for a show I essentially like, and there are still things to like about The Complete Fifth Season. Though most of the set-up on the Smokejumpers arc is nearly impossible to buy (like the fact that a studio won't hire the star of Aquaman -- the biggest opener of all time -- but will happily have Jason Patric play the lead), the show finally does get interesting when we get on the set of that film. The push-and-pull between Vince and Stellan Skarsgard's director finally brings something new to a show determined to repeat itself, and even gives a glimpse at one of the many possibilities of big-budget moviemaking: what do you do when your star and the director just can't communicate? I like how the arc humbles and humanizes Vince a little, and even raises the question as to whether or not he really can act.
The late-season addition of Gary Cole also gives Jeremy Piven's fast-talking-bastard Ari something to do other than throw tantrums and insult people. Don't get me wrong, Piven still does these things a lot and does them well, but a little of it goes a long way and Piven's been doing it for five seasons now. Like most of the characters on the show, we need to see Ari grow up a little -- or at least show another side of himself -- and his arc with Cole allows for just enough of that to avoid writing off his character for the entire season. We finally see a little bit of Entourage's original themes: loyalty and spreading your success to family and (sometimes old) friends.
HBO's release of Entourage: The Complete Fifth Season spreads 12 episodes over two discs. The shows are presented in a handsome 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer. I'll say this for Entourage: the photography and location work (which this season includes everything from a beach paradise in Mexico to a wilderness fire) are always terrific, and the DVDs do a stellar job of showing it off. Audio fares well, too, with the 5.1 track delivering the dialogue clearly while leaving plenty of room for the thumping music cues (though they're not all hip-hop this season; Radiohead's "Fake Plastic Trees," an unequivocally great song, shows up in a very awkward cue that becomes unintentionally funny -- just another of the season's missteps).
Though by no means bursting with extras, there are a few bonus features on the set to satisfy the die-hard fans. The first -- and most dismissible -- is a brief featurette on the season's celebrity cameos called "Celebrity Factor." It's yet another promotional piece seemingly designed to prove that working on Entourage is just as awesome as the world of Entourage itself. Better are the three commentary tracks included, featuring series creator Doug Ellin and most of the main cast (though no Dillon or Piven). While not terribly informative, the talks are sometimes engaging and give a sense of fun and camaraderie that PR pieces like "Celebrity Factor" try so hard to manufacture.
I'm not ready to give up on Entourage yet. Maybe it's because I've already invested in five seasons and walking away now would make it all feel for naught. Maybe it's because I have a hard time giving up on a show (seriously, I even made it through half of the third season of Heroes). Probably, though, it's because despite its flaws, Entourage can still be a really enjoyable diversion. I'm hoping that Season Six goes a little heavier on the "enjoyable" and lighter on the "diversion," but that remains to be seen.
The jury's out on Entourage. Let's give it one more season to redeem
Review content copyright © 2009 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 360 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Episode Commentaries
* Official Site