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The Monitor

Even 'Entourage' understands its limits

The season started out as the usual commentary on Hollywood, but now it's become a commentary about the show. Go figure.

October 04, 2009|Jon Caramanica

Another tough season on "Entourage," right? More Vince meaninglessness. More stilted chemistry among the key foursome. A lack of purpose that borders on the existential.

Actually, wrong. For the last three months, the show has been involved in an elaborate game of deception, a bait and switch that never bothered to reveal itself and most likely won't, even during tonight's season finale.

Sure, "Entourage" has in Vince (Adrian Grenier) a protagonist who's dull even when he's impactful, and downright hollow when not. Good cheer is not, it turns out, a feeling. It's just a pose, obscuring a blankness that seems to be at Grenier's core, or at least has kept him away from any other roles of note. (The recent "leaked" footage of an alleged showdown between Grenier and Matt Damon on the set of a charity commercial works only because of Grenier's reputation.)

But with all the show's eyes on Vince, anticipating the moment he'll snap out of his playboy stupor, surprising things are unfolding around him, far from his leaden touch. Every season of "Entourage" is really just a showcase for Vince's agent Ari, played by Jeremy Piven, who has barked his way to three Emmys for the role. This season, Ari was still at gale force, doing more acting with the meaty hand wrapped around his BlackBerry as he jabbed it in the direction of someone he was talking down to than most actors accomplish with their face.

Often, though, it was only Ari's arm that was insistent, while the rest of him was softening. This was the season when Ari became a father figure, a nurturer, a friend. Even his walk was easier, less pneumatic. Admittedly, he erupted at his assistant Lloyd (Rex Lee) when he quit to become an agent at a rival firm. But last week, Ari began a negotiation to buy that company, and it's hard not to think that it's all an elaborate ploy not to get back at Lloyd, but to get back with him.

With everyone else, he was a mensch. He helped Vince's brother Johnny (Kevin Dillon) out of an onerous contract. He counseled his longtime colleague Andrew (Gary Cole) on his collapsing marriage. ("Think about your kids," he said, with shocking tenderness. "Think about how you want them to think about their dad.") And in maybe this season's most potent moment, he gave Andrew a jailhouse high-five, palm against glass against palm, after Andrew signed Aaron Sorkin after pleading with him.

And he pleaded with his wife, Mrs. Ari (Perrey Reeves), for forgiveness for lying to her about Andrew's affair. When she gave in, he burst with joy: "I love you so much right now I may even let you play golf with me!"

No safe haven for female strength, or even sentience -- Debi Mazar, why have you abandoned us? -- "Entourage" found ways to realign the power balance in the gender war this season. Lizzie (Autumn Reeser), the agent with whom Andrew had his affair, turned out to be not a bathmat and punch line but a younger version of Ari, able to take a punch and keep moving with head held high.

The season's biggest surprise, though, has been Jamie-Lynn Sigler, playing a version of herself, dating Turtle (Jerry Ferrara, who's dating Sigler in real life). Oddly, in not condescending to Turtle, the low man in Vince's crew, she achieved something like dignity. And in allowing herself to be threatened by the attention Turtle receives from an eager coed at UCLA, where he's not taking classes, she displayed credible vulnerability and jealousy. On "The Sopranos," it took Sigler several seasons to find a rhythm; here, she verged on taking over.

Vince is still on "Entourage," though it might not have been clear for much of the season. Mostly, he was captured in in-between moments: killing time waiting for his new project to begin filming, having sex with whomever was in his line of vision. Sex became a sight gag this season. At least twice, Vince answered the phone during the act -- he can't even focus on his libido.

Even "Entourage," it turns out, understands the limits of "Entourage. At the beginning of the season, the show was a commentary on Hollywood, as it was intended to be years ago. Now, it's become a commentary on "Entourage": less important, maybe, but so much smarter.


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