So, how to end a long-running TV show? By belatedly winding up the Korean War, sending everyone on their way and spelling out GOODBYE in white stones, like M*A*S*H? By kicking the already-damaged fourth wall to pieces and making the final episode about the show being cancelled, like Moonlighting? By playing Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey, cutting to a black screen, and never explaining anything, like The Sopranos? Or …
Entourage, made by HBO, but aired here on Sky Atlantic (before that, ITV2), ended last week, after eight seasons since 2004 (or nine, if you count the bisected third as two). Its final episode was not, like M*A*S*H, two-and-a-bit hours long, or, like Cheers, one-and-a-half hours, nor was it a two-parter, like Seinfeld, The X-Files or Friends, or a three-parter, like Battlestar Galactica. It was pretty much a regular episode, except that everything was tied up and it wasn’t very funny.
Entourage is a comedy-drama, I guess, although it’s 30 mins long (22 with ads), which makes it a sitcom, essentially. It’s certainly been uproariously funny along the way, while maintaining a strong dramatic imperative. It’s had its ups and down, as any long-running series does, and through it all, the central four-way friendship between movie star Vince and his less successful brother Johnny, his driver Turtle and his manager E, has been its engine. Based, as you probably know, on the real-life New York entourage of Mark Wahlberg (who produces), and their adventures beyond the velvet rope in Los Angeles, it worked best when it offered a semi-fictionalised insight into the movie business, with cameos from real stars and real directors. There’s a lot of “as himself” and “as herself” in Entourage, which might make it a bit “in” and a bit pleased with itself, but at its best, it never felt that way. It poked fun at the vacuous business of show, but with great affection, and its guest stars were people like Nick Cassavetes and Randall Wallace.
Of the four, Vince (Adrian Grenier) was always the weakest character, and even when he got into drugs and went out with a porn star in Season Seven, his stories were usually enablers for much more interesting ones for Johnny (Kevin Dillon – a real life less talented brother to the more successful Matt), Turtle (Jerry Ferarra, who lost a ton of weight towards the end of the run and with it some of his outsider charm) and E (Kevin Connolly). The trump card was always Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven), Vince’s barrel-chested, alpha-bastard agent, who existed outside of the central entourage, but whose Tasmanian-Devil presence always whipped things up and who will always be remembered for the line, “Hug it out, bitch.”
So what went wrong with the final episode? Even though we’re constantly being teased with the possibility of a spin-off movie, creator Doug Ellin clearly felt the need to tie everything up neatly with ribbons. This need drove much of the final season, with Vince rehabilitated and ready to fall in love after years of one-night stands, Ari desperate to mend his marriage, E desperate to mend his tiresome relationship with Sloan, Turtle desperate to mend his entrepreneurial business ambitions, and Johnny desperate to mend his fragile, post-Johnny’s Bananas career. SPOILER ALERT: they did all of these things. And flew off in a plane to Paris. I never bought Alice Eve’s Vanity Fair journalist falling for Vince, or for Vince falling for her. I never bought E sleeping with Sloan’s stepmother. I bought Johnny’s Bananas, but not the strike led by Andrew Dice-Clay (“as himself”, gosh, what a nightmare he seemed). The only strand I bought was Ari’s.
The lives of these characters were always at their most entertaining when things were going awry (Turtle’s luxury car business; Johnny’s part on Five Towns; Vince leaving Ari; the Medellin disaster at Cannes). At the end of the day, things went, like, so totally right. And things got boring. I allow them this closure, of course, as they’ve given me a lot of pleasure over the years, but how much more fun if Vince had gone on a coke binge, Turtle had got trapped beneath the landing gear of the plane, Johnny set fire to the studio, E came out as gay and had sex with Lloyd, and Mrs Ari took Ari for every cent he had. And Scott Caan’s neck finally grew thicker than his head.