Monday, June 19, 2006

Shaggy Dogs

It's hard to explain just what the appeal of HBO's Entourage is. When people ask me why I watch it, I can't quite articulate why. I just. . .like it.

Normally, this would be enough, but it's never enough when you're a critic (wannabe or otherwise). And so, an explanation.

I don't think Entourage is a great show by any means, but it's certainly a lot of fun. There are few shows that are so effortlessly appealing on the air right now. When Entourage is on a roll, entertainment just emanates from it easily, seductively, drawing us into its web.

I think part of it's appeal is that the structure is so shaggy. Roughly every episode's basic plot is "Rising Hollywood star Vincent Chase wants something. He almost doesn't get it. But, at the last minute, he does get it." The only notable thing he HASN'T gotten is the love of Mandy Moore in the latter half of season two. This is the sort of thing that could get tired after, oh, one episode. Attractive, rich, young guy gets everything he wants? Please, sir. I want some more.

Despite all of this, creator Doug Ellin, his writers and directors and his cast make this all work. I think it's because of the sideline scenes that make up most of every episode. Because the writers know the structure and we know the structure (and they know we know the structure), they feel free to throw in scenes of guys hangin' out, just being guys. In the third season premiere, a broken elevator became an excuse to have a race up a staircase, which is a fine dramatization of how those with the XY chromosome like to throw competition in to just about anything to spice it up.

More importantly, these throwaway bits show us that becoming rich and famous hasn't made our heroes completely insufferable. At heart, they're still little boys on the playground. While we may find the exultation of their lifestyle a bit insufferable, we can identify with them on that base level, so we let a lot of other stuff slide.

Another nice thing about the structure of an Entourage episode is that it feels no particular need to have every scene explicate its plot or even its characters. It's not above just throwing in a scene that's likable and easy-going and fun to watch. A scene that's just there for the sake of providing a few mild laughs is preferable in the Entourage worldview to a scene that's there to belabor plot point after plot point. And that wins a lot of goodwill as well.

Plus, it has Jeremy Piven as Ari, turning out one of the top ten or so TV performances on the air right now. Ari was a bit of a raging agent stereotype in season one, but Piven and the writers have fleshed him out, making him a man who's deeply devoted to his work, his clients, his marriage and even his assistant Lloyd (though he'd never SAY any of these things). Ari's tenacity is one of the better object lessons on TV. He's gotten everything he's wanted, and he's going to keep it as long as the fates let him.

I don't know how long Entourage can go on just getting by on its charm (HBO's hype machine is already almost killing it, threatening to try to make it more than the slight trifle it is), but it's a wonderful little confection for now, the perfect end to a long week.

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