Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Genius of Entourage

I wouldn’t call Entourage a great show by any means.

I’m pretty sure you won’t see it on any top 10 lists of the all-time greatest TV shows anytime soon. The writing at its best is solid, but not superb. The acting is mediocre outside of Jeremy Piven, whose portrayal of super agent Ari Gold is downright legendary (a character that can, and should, be put in the discussion for a top 10 list of best TV characters ever). Out of the seven seasons aired so far, only the first three can truly approach greatness.

But, while Entourage isn’t great, it is genius.

This Sunday marks the beginning of the show’s eighth and final season, which ties it with Curb Your Enthusiasm as the longest running show in the golden era of the HBO original series. Yet, while no one would really put Entourage on par with The Wire, The Sopranos, Deadwood, Dexter, Breaking Bad or Mad Men as one of the best shows of the generation.

So how does a show that’s not great qualify as genius? Because despite the sometimes horrible acting and lazy writing, it remains one of the most popular and most watched shows of the past decade or so.

What creator Doug Ellin has done is basically made a reality show that isn’t reality. Entourage is the story of four guys from the streets of New York who chase the American Dream to Hollywood. Nothing more, nothing less. There are no mysteries and plot twists a la Lost, there is no grand social and political commentary like we saw on The Wire. Instead, it’s just the everyday lives of four guys from Queens.

And if America loves to watch anything, it’s someone else's story that could just as easily be their own.

Entourage is a reality show with a bigger budget and better writers. It lets people sit down for 30 minutes, watch the story, and gets them out. Ellin in essence followed around a budding movie star with a camera and recorded his day-to-day life. He made an “alternate-reality” show set in modern day L.A.

At its best it was a supremely witty, gripping drama. At its worst, it was a jumbled cameo-fest with no direction. But even throughout the lows, the show kept you interested in the lives of Vinny Chase and the boys.

Good or bad, the viewer wanted to know what happened next; and that is the true measure of any TV show: can you keep people coming back? For seven seasons, despite the criticisms and flaws, Entourage has done just that.

Now, even without mob bosses, drug wars, a mysterious island (or even critical acclaim), people will flock back yet again for the final eight episodes to see the conclusion of the gang’s story.