Maybe the writers behind “Entourage” sensed change was necessary, because at the very end of this past week’s episode, something new happened: Ari and E find Vince naked and unconscious after a night of drinking and cavorting with the porn star Sasha Grey (playing herself, and badly). Ingeniously, the episode ends right there (a few beats after a haunting song begins to play). It seems that the show may have for the first time taken a step in a different direction; a step towards drama. Will Vince become one of those true Hollywood stories, a promising star laid low by drugs, alcohol, temptation? More important, will “Entourage” reach for seriousness, maybe even darkness, or will it revert back to its customary weightlessness, which in the past was so fresh and invigorating?
“Entourage” is an unusual show. It’s primarily about movement; the characters are always going somewhere. The actors read their lines while walking, running, gesturing. The show’s signature shot is of Vince and the boys strutting around LA, shooting the shit as passing women gawk, all of it filmed by a retreating steadicam. That the characters are in constant motion has a lot to do with the show being perhaps the most accurate fictional representation of Hollywood ever dreamed up. Most movies and books about Hollywood are governed by big themes—madness, greed, vanity, vapidity, desperation, exploitation, and so on—and are less concerned with nailing down the particular reality of the people who work in the movies. “Sunset Boulevard” is good entertainment but is unconvincing satire (it’s too preposterous, or maybe just too self-conscious); the same applies to “The Player,” which relies on the rather dull-witted notion that Hollywood is peopled by greedy sociopaths. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Last Tycoon” gets many things right (Fitzgerald’s last act was as a screenwriter), but it’s suffused with the romance and gloom present in all of his work, which in turn might say more about Fitzgerald than the movie business. By contrast, “Entourage” zeroes in on the daily activity that is Hollywood, and what comes through is that it’s all about The Deal. Once a deal—for a movie, with a director, with an agent—is struck, it’s on to the next. The characters are always moving because they have meetings and lunches with directors, writers, producers, agents, and publicists. It’s instructive that the movies Vince makes are of so little consequence to the show (in the show’s chronology, they are often “filmed” between seasons). “Entourage” is about the movie business, but it’s not really about movies.
In 1973 Joan Didion wrote that Hollywood “makes everyone a gambler. Its spirit is speedy, obsessive, immaterial. The action itself is an art form.” At the end of the third season, Vince sells his house to buy the script for “Medellin.” Vince is somewhat of a cipher, but what often appears to be nonchalance can alternatively be viewed as a gambler’s self-confidence, a willingness to risk it all (in contrast to the conservative E). Ari shares this quality: in season two he butts heads with Terrance, his boss, and, instead of acquiescing to the older man’s unfair encroachments, he sets in motion an audacious plan to form a new agency with a trusted number of Terrance’s employees. He’s found out and fired, but his confidence survives; he starts his own agency, an agency of one, in effect betting on himself. That bet and many others like it pay off, and in the current season, he’s one the most powerful men in Hollywood. Didion, like Fitzgerald, worked as a screenwriter in Hollywood, but the eye she brought to bear on the place was more a reporter’s than a novelist’s. When she wrote that “the action is everything [and is] the true point of the exercise,” she was communicating an axiom about Hollywood, one that “Entourage” demonstrates weekly.
Certainly, the show owes much of its accuracy to the fact that it’s based on the careers and experiences of Mark Wahlberg and Ari Emmanuel. But that only explains so much; after all, “Sunset Boulevard’s” Norma Desmond was based on a silent film star named Norma Talmadge, the writer of “The Player” is the son of a studio executive and a director of movies himself, and Fitzgerald’s Monroe Star is a thinly-fictionalized portrait of Irving Thalberg. Or to be blunter: Billy Wilder and Robert Altman were Hollywood insiders to a far greater degree than “Entourage” creators Wahlberg and Doug Ellin (who has, unusually, written or co-written the vast majority of episodes) could ever dream of becoming. But Wilder and Altman and Fitzgerald could not escape the traditional Hollywood themes, or were entranced by them. Wahlberg and Ellin, in creating a show free of heavy themes, have, probably by design, created the most faithful Hollywood story yet. Vince may or may not be entirely healthy in the next episode, but the show will undoubtedly forgo any thematic darkness, and remain weightless. Vince will not end up a lonely addict, and he won’t hurt himself or anyone else in a fit of drunkenness and self-loathing. The worst he has to fear is a short stint in rehab. And if on the whole “Entourage” feels well past its sell-by date, maybe that’s because Hollywood becomes boring to those who tire of the meetings and lunches and deal-making, the action that never ends.