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Tuesday, July 11, 2006  

If I Was In Charge…

…Things would be better. I’m actually thinking about making this a feature. We’ll see if I follow through on it though. The first (only?) installment will be about saving the beloved HBO show “Entourage.” Entourage is an excellent show, and the first two seasons featured some of the best TV writing in recent memory. For those unfamiliar with the show, it centers on a young actors rise to fame and fortune while he is surrounded by his best-friends from back home. The early episodes had a very distinct fairy-tale feel where everything would go sideways during the 30-minute episodes, but by the end the boys would come out on-top. The later 2nd season episodes carried more strife and drama but were still very encapsulated while still allowing the characters to have satisfying arcs. However, we are now 5 episodes into the 3rd seasons, and the show is on shaky ground. A 2-episode arc the featured a thug from back home crashing with the boys just ended (and none-too-soon) and those episodes really fell flat with a lot of people I’ve talked to. It feels like the writers are “fishing” for a new direction to take the show now that Vinnie has conquered everything that has been thrown at him. If I were in charge these are the things I would do to save the show:

1) Don’t be afraid of writing for Drama. Johnny Drama. Vinnie’s brother is hands down the funniest thing about the show, and the episodes that feature him are fan favorites. However, in recent episodes, the writers seem to only be throwing Johnny the occasional one-liner and he is beginning to stagnate. Never did anyone say Vinnie Chase had to be the #1 star of the show. Shine that spotlight on Johnny Drama! Give him another star-turn episode (like season 2’s Comicon ep.) and follow that up with an increased focus on Drama in the B-plots. Let Johnny grow as a character, and let him taste some success.

2) Put the breaks on the roller coaster. Recent episodes have had a very pronounced build-them-up then knock-them-down formula, and while this is ok in small doses it is starting to get old. Decide on where the hell this season is going and keep building towards it. Remember, the scariest part of the roller coaster is going up that hill.

3) Show-off your Gold. Ari Gold is the other side of the Johnny Drama coin. Together they get the lions share of the show’s laughs, and the writers need to be careful how the mine those laughs. Ari is funny because he is the best at what he does and so he can be a tremendous asshole while doing it (while Drama is so cluelessly terrible.) Keep showing us Ari working his magic, and don’t go too crazy with Ari at home and Ari mowing the lawn etc. This weeks episode where Ari bumps into Penny Marshal and exploits the opportunity to rid himself of a problem in his personal life is a perfect example of what the writers need to do MORE of.

4) Play with classic sitcom formula. This one is tough because it can really backfire, much like it just did when they tried the “introduce a new character into the cast” gimmick with Dom. But I maintain that the #1 reason this attempt failed was because the arc was spread over 2 episodes (and 60 minutes of runtime, almost 3 typical network sitcom episodes.) When you reach into you bag-of-sitcom-tricks you’ve got to remember to keep it simple and keep it moving. Try the classic “take two mismatched characters and lock them in a room” (Llyod and Drama stuck together for brunch at Toast or Eric and Ari’s wife waiting for Ari at LAX’s Encounter or Turtle and Shauna stuck in traffic on the 405.) There are dozens of episodes b-plots just waiting to be hashed out of these classic sitcom formulas.

5) Find tension in new places. This one is tough, but something as good as Entourage is worth fighting for. The show shouldn’t always be about Vinnie becoming successful. That should just be the FRAME for the stories being told about what happens when you become so successful. Season 2’s “money troubles” arc was brilliant. It showed our super-star heroes in a very universally relatable situation and allowed for a wonderfully over-the-top solution (Vinnie’s Japanese commercial.) Find “problems” for our heroes in other places besides the career. We saw the writers try this with the Mandy More love interest in Season 2, but that didn’t go over well with many of the fans I’ve talked to. It went against Vinnie’s persona too much and viewers had a hard time buying him that head-over-heels in love. (Mandy More’s flat-as-a-pancake acting certainly didn’t help things.) Keep things light and always have the boys come out on top. On top of the world. Keep letting our heroes win, and find the drama of the show in the little speed-bumps that they have to get over. The important thing to remember is there have been a 100 different movies and shows about Hollywood chewing people up and spitting them out. Entourage should be about the fairytale of becoming the biggest movie star in the world and how that trickles down to all your friends. This isn’t a True Hollywood Story.

posted by JMV | 7/11/2006 10:23:00 AM
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