Through seven seasons of HBO’s Entourage, there has always been a group of fans — a certain stripe of purists, if you will — who love the series for its debauchery-driven parties, the supreme Hollywood bashes teeming with flowing drinks, strong weed and loose women. How far Doug Ellin’s creation has come when the premiere episode of Entourage’s final season includes a completely dry party. No booze, no drugs. Okay, there is still a tour bus full of women (literally), but things have changed in the House that Vince Built.
One can wonder what those party-hearty fans will think. Maybe they’ve matured as much as Entourage has attempted to: The normally frivolous, risk-free storylines took a Maserati-fired u-turn to end Season 7, with the cops questioning a bloodied Vince about a small bag of contraband. Whoops. The Season 8 opener picks up three months later, as a clear-headed Vince (Adrian Grenier) leaves rehab, with a new lease on his career and a goofy idea for a movie in his noggin.
The action is by-the-books comedy for the most part, lacking the macho energy that has made the series so popular and often great. The entire gang tiptoes around Vince’s every move, afraid that a discouraging word will send him back to the bottle. When the cast is all in one place — including regulars Kevin Dillon, Jerry Ferrara and Kevin Connolly — the vibe plays like the actors just got back from hiatus. It’s as if they’re going through the motions.
The saviors are Jeremy Piven, once again fiery and fiendish as uber-agent Ari, and Scott Caan, a guy who can deliver every line with punch and style. Dillon has some goofy moments early as he frantically tries to rid the guys’ house from every vice right down to Advil, but even that gets old as the show winds down.
The good news is that even a flat episode of Entourage is a good one. Ellin and his staff (he directed this one) always keep things moving, satisfying one of the primary rules of comedy. If the scene tanks, no problem, we’re on the move. If the scene kills, the audience is left wanting more. It always works.
And Vince’s newfound clarity doesn’t mean the recently introduced dramatic edge is gone. Piven continues to shine as Ari, in a plotline that follows up the separation between him and his wife, the long-suffering Mrs. Ari (yes, that’s her official character name according to the show), played by Perrey Reeves. We learn that Ari has been out of the house for a relatively long time, and that Mrs. Ari has made a few devastating decisions of her own.
So much of the Entourage fun is in the celebrity sightings and this episode includes Johnny Galecki, considering joining E and Scott’s new agency, and the voice of Andrew Dice Clay, in his first appearance as Johnny’s “second banana” in the loopy animated show “Johnny’s Bananas”. If you follow the series, you know this is all a fiction so strange, it may as well be truth.
Ellin and writers make a good move marginalizing the Turtle / tequila plotline for the season’s first episode; it felt like the most contrived and most detached story arc of last season. Here, it’s nothing but a quick mention, and we’re back to the party. With a mention of a potential threesome, of course. Entourage wouldn’t want to let the hardcore fans down.
The first episode of the eighth and final season of Entourage premieres on HBO Sunday, July 24 at 10:30pm.