In anticipation of the June release of its unnecessary big-screen adaptation, I binge-watched the entire Entourage television series. I feel horrible about watching eight seasons — 96 episodes — of HBO’s Ed-Hardy T-shirt of a television show, but I feel even worse about what I discovered toward the end: There was actually something strangely comforting about the entire process.
The lion’s share of my consumption of the series took place while I was on tour with my band in Europe during this past winter. I was burnt out, having spent more than 200 days of 2014 traveling. I would watch Entourage with headphones on in the back of the Sprinter van during eight-hour-long drives; while huddled in the corner of cold, concrete greenrooms, backstage after sound check; and in hotel rooms, while the rest of my band was out dancing and drinking with German strangers. I would sometimes choose Entourage over a sightseeing excursion. In lieu of taking a walk past a 2000-year-old Roman gate on the banks of the Rhine in Switzerland at sunset, I decided to check in with the gang and see if Johnny Drama was going to land a role in that pilot. (He didn’t.)
The formulaic narrative arc of every episode is delightful. Perry Farrell’s enthusiastic “OH YEAH! OH YEAH!”s in the series’ theme are like a torch song: a call to action to bear witness to overpaid, oversexed man-children from “the neighbuhhood” as they are let loose on a wet-dream, fantasy-fulfilled, non-reality-based version of Los Angeles. The episodes are packed with quick jump cuts of anonymous, always beautiful, people on Rodeo Drive, as the boys rub the hangover of last night’s privilege out of their eyes to go spend unfathomable sums of money on watches, custom hoodies, brunch at the Beverly Hill Hotel — or whatever.
The series is loosely based on producer, former pantsless rapper, known hate-crime enthusiast, and Hollywood actor Mark Wahlberg’s younger days of depraved gallivanting. If you can think of a better basis for the plot of an episodic wish-fulfillment comedic series, I’d like to hear it! While watching, it’s hard not to picture Marky Mark as the real-life Vince Chase, walking around Los Angeles with his crew in the aftermath of some extravagant expenditure. Slot in Donny Wahlberg as his wingman/less famous brother (Johnny Drama) and watch as “bro” and “fag” are used in equal frequency, depending on the boys’ mood and motives. That’s good TV (at least according to the HBO exec who greenlighted the project)!
The once-mighty Jeremy Piven (how far he has fallen from his PCU and Larry Sanders Show heyday) portrays power agent Ari Gold, who treats everyone around him like utter dog crap — especially his wife and children). It’s a testament to the poor quality of the series that he is somehow the most likable character (and Piven is easily the standout performer in the bunch). His near-constant sexual harassment is portrayed as, at best, cute and, at worst, forgivable — that’s our Ari: slapping asses, hurling every conceivable homophobic epithet at his sweet and unassuming assistant.
In its eight seasons on the air, Entourage somehow garnered 26 Emmy and 14 Golden Globe nominations. Obviously, some folks believe that there is something redeemable about it. And it is a very… watchable program, partially thanks to its endless list of celebrity cameos (everyone from Peter Dinklage to Eminem to Sasha Grey have played versions of themselves). But it also routinely satisfies our base human desires for wealth, fame, sex, acclaim, and adulation. The vague, never-fully-developed backstory — “coming up from nothing, making something of yourself that’s bigger than anything you could imagine” — of the four main characters is a voyeuristic fantasy ride for the viewer.
Doug Ellin, Entourage‘s creator and showrunner, claims that “the Hollywood setting is entertaining, but it’s really about the relationship between these guys,” implying that the show resonates with its audience through the relatability of its underlying themes of male bonding and camaraderie. A Sex And The City for Dudes, if you will. The rub is that the friendship between these racist, sexist, transphobic, and homophobic individuals (they check off every box on the list of offenses) is painfully un-relatable, despite the writers’ attempts to earn our empathy by giving them somewhat pedestrian relationship dilemmas — which basically add up to, “Women: can’t live with them, can’t drop ‘em off on the side of Sunset when you’re done with ‘em, amiright?!” As a person who debated whether or not to spend $10 on a sandwich at a café while I wrote this article, I find it difficult to empathize with the problems of a fictional celebrity who buys $20,000 sneakers for his blunt-smoking personal chauffeur/childhood friend named Turtle.
The boys of Entourage are wildly ungrounded, egotistical one-percenters. They are not like us. They’re not like any human being on earth — not even famous ones. Can you think of any other 30-year-old, millionaire Hollywood movie star who still has three grown men as roommates? None of this makes any sense!
Still, the show had some kind of magical hold on me. Nearly every 24-minute episode ends with the same Dukes Of Hazzard-esque cliffhanger, asking, “How are the boys going to get outta this one?” Despite your best intentions, this makes it nearly impossible not to reach for the remote and click “play next episode” on HBOGo. Soon, I started humming, and then singing, along to the theme song — alone in my hotel room. I don’t feel good about this, but I couldn’t stop watching it. I was filled with dread as I turned the corner from the seventh to the eighth season with a week still left in my tour. What was I going to do when I ran out of Entourage? It was a security blanket of sorts, a fantasy of self-preservation, a dopamine drip.
I was literally choosing to inundate myself with the fake first-world problems of a fictional friend-group of famous people that I loathed, rather than explore the very real, foreign, and interesting places around me. All I wanted was to get lost in the fiction so that I didn’t have to concern myself with my chaotic and exhausted real world. Sure, that’s what some television is meant to do, but the surprising thing was that the content of this specific series was diametrically opposed to my own personal tastes and values. How does that add up?
The bottom line is that Entourage was diversionary, turn-your-brain-off television at its finest form. It tickles the same pleasure sensor of the brain as, say, going to McDonald’s. It chronicles unlikable, stupid-rich, and entitled assholes that I hate but loved to watch — so much that I couldn’t stop watching it. Being wiped out from constant touring and travel, it was exactly what I wanted. Sometimes you know you should make a salad for dinner, but a Big Mac is what you really need. I can’t wait for the movie.