Watching Vinnie Chase’s Dark Slide

Up until now, you would have probably gotten the impression that all my wife and I do is watch reality TV together. We watch scripted shows too especially those on HBO.

Watching Entourage has always been a bit of a distraction for my wife and I. Seemingly the least substantial of the HBO shows (well, until Bored to Death, but don’t get me started on that one), Entourage has almost always offered the fantasy life of Hollywood without any of the bad stuff that comes with success.

That is, until this season, which has taken a very dark, yet rewarding, turn.

Until now, every season followed a typical story arc.

Hollywood slacker Vinnie Chase turns down a blockbuster franchise and gets to work with an auteur director. Along the way, he has sex with dozens of women and smokes as much pot as he can.

Vince’s manager, E rises through the corporate ladder with the help of his rich, dutiful and beautiful fiance Sloan.

With a little struggle, Johnny Drama and Turtle get whatever they want in the end, whether this is a tv series, girlfriend or a record label.

As for Ari, no matter how horrible he is to people and no matter what abusive slur comes out of his filthy mouth, his empire, agency and power have grown every season.

Oh, and along the way, famous people drop by to talk to Ari, (like the recurring appearances of Jeffrey Tambor and Bob Saget) and real-life celebrities stop by to uncomfortably say hello to Vince and his crew.

“Once you have everything…what next?”

One thing that’s always bugged us about the show is that there have never really been any consequences for anyone’s actions. They get away with everything but murder and the role of dumb luck plays an important role in how Vince’s career functions.

(Just like the time in Season 6 when Vince turned down everything he was offered, only to get a part in Martin Scorsese’s “Gatsby”)

No one else has to make any choices either. Money, power and success just seems to keep falling in everybody’s lap in the enchanted world of Hollywood.

Vince even has a friendly relationship with the paparazzi and the media, who somehow let him eat unhindered at coffee shops, and are never judgmental about his lifestyle.

(This is Tobey Maguire just trying to get out of  a parking lot…)

There’s never anything terribly offensive about Hollywood, where even the most cutthroat agent is a sweetheart who loves his family.

The tagline for this season preview poses an interesting question, once you have everything, what next?

The  addition of porn star Sasha Grey as Vince’s new girlfriend has also added some much-needed weight to the show, by actually referring to Hollywood’s “sister” industry (pornography) as well as dishing out some moral complexity.

More to the point, her character has provided the series an excuse to revel in Vince’s dark side and to question whether he’ll get out of this dark territory.

As opposed to previous seasons, where the characters can behave in whatever way they want –  doing as many drugs, having as much sex, insulting as many people as they can – Season 7 finally presents its characters with consequences.

The result of all this is they payoff for the invested spectator. Even though my wife and I would consider ourselves casual viewers at best, this season has led us to reinvest in the cast of characters, who are actually making complex choices rather than shallow ones.

More to the point, they’re finally following through on what their characters represent. Vince’s casual attitude towards everything – blowing off appointments with agents and generally doing whatever he feels like – has actually led him into the dark worlds of jealousy, addiction and the ugly side of Hollywood success.

For Ari, his obnoxiousness, workaholism and mean-spiritedness has resulted in his loss (or potential loss) of what was once most important to him.

In other words, people are finally paying for their bad decisions.

To me (and Aristotle) this is the basis of conflict, and ultimately, Drama. Up until now, the show has really had nothing at stake. We have long known that the gang will always be okay, and that their world is one of fantasy and pleasure.

Without giving anything away, I will say that the last episode of this season showed, that world of guilt-free pleasure is no longer the one that the gang inhabits. In a stunning reversal of formula, this season does not end as happily as every other previous one…

In other words, even if you jumped off the Entourage wagon long ago, this season might be the one to reinvest in. The show’s acting, story and direction are much better than it has been in years and seeing other sides of the characters has revived our long flagging interest in the series.

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