Some pundits jumped to conclusions about this week’s Season 7 premiere of Entourage – or jumped up and down on its head, hoping to pop it like a ripe watermelon.
“Embarassing,” huffed The Huffington Post, “a downward spiral of a ridiculous plot.”
“Emotionally inert,” seethed embittered former fan Hitfix.
But beware all first episodes on HBO: they’re just like a volleyball setup for the spike to come. Treme’s debut episode was all disconnected snippets that only made sense as the vast cast gradually came into focus. True Blood’s season opener was an overstuffed, hectic mess, but the next two shows righted the foundering ship. Entourage had the opposite problem: it was too understated, underplotted. Its initial emotional impact reminds me of the nickname Truman Capote’s dad gave him as a child: Little Miss Mouse Fart.
This impression is deceiving, though. Get hip to HBO’s sneaker-punch dramaturgy: the season is still promising, and could turn out a winner. HBO’s strategy was not to even try to top Season 6’s concatenating, headline-happy climaxes: Johnny Drama’s career upsurge, Ari’s ascent as Hollywood’s top agent, Lloyd’s becoming a “real Asian” (Ari wisecracked that the sign was supposed to read “real agent”), E’s conquest of Sloan (all I can say is, it was about time).
Instead, they went for a casual stroll of an opening, not splashy but quietly in medias res – like this was just another day in your Hollywood life. E and Ari, once rock’em-sock’em robots, now squabble fondly, like the Bickersons in their golden years. Turtle’s mile-high romance with Jamie-Lynn Sigler went offscreen, and now he’s pining for shiny, whiny Alex (Dania Ramirez), his incompetent employee in his implausible new “Lim-Ho” babe-chauffeur biz. Turtle’s poignant plumpness has vanished along with Sigler, and he’s not a yearning failure amid conspicuous success – he’s not hungry anymore. I’ll admit, the babe-limo concept seems like it might be a dramatic dry hole. But his thwarted pass at Alex bodes ill (that is, well). Much of the season opener is setups for future, potentially more in-your-face drama.
But it’s not like we ain’t seen nothing yet. Johnny Drama’s optimism melts down when he realizes his career-reviving deal has eight weeks to live, and his slick new svengali (William Fichtner) seems to be hiding bad news from him. I never did trust those jutting Fichtner cheekbones – Johnny was wise to decline his proffered spliff. (When Johnny turns down weed, you know things are dire.)
The best news is the bad news for Vince. The show’s ostensible star really has been inert for a good 60 out of 80 episodes, a grinning sex toy and tourist in his own life. At last, he faces a fiery crisis. In his big action movie (which we gratifyingly get to see way more of than we did in the low-budget Aquaman era), withering-prick director Nick Cassavetes shames Vince into doing his own car-crash stunt by invoking Tom Cruise, Will Smith, De Niro and Sean Penn, who he says did his own stunts in She’s So Lovely. (If Sean and Nick had comparable daring, they would’ve called the movie She’s Delovely and unplugged their phones when the lawyers called demanding money.) Cassavetes is spikier than a tattoo needle, and twice as sinisterly colorful. Entourage is precisely the right career move – it burns off the estrogenesque uncoolness of directing The Notebook and My Sister’s Keeper and exposes the illustriously ballsy family heritage beneath. “He comes from a family of Method actors,” somebody explains (John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands). “They’ll eat glass if it’s in the script.”
Will Cassavetes make Vince find his spine? He walks out of the first episode in post-crash shock – anything may happen. Can Drama field a dream team and get big like Brad Pitt? Why not? “Lookit Kiefer,” he persuasively points out. Will Ari and E quit making nice and get back to behaving like Oliver Reed and Alan Bates in Women in Love? What’s to become of Lloyd now that he’s got what he wants, Ari isn’t humiliating him anymore, and he’s not being a devious showbiz spy?
Stick around. HBO shows are like the ganja the entourage smokes: the first hit seems mellow, but it creeps up on you and knocks you on your ass.