For several seasons, HBO's "Entourage" has felt tired and unnecessary, like an over-the-hill athlete who doesn't know it's time to hang up his cleats. And yet, as "Entourage" begins its eight-episode final season, the show feels surprisingly reinvigorated.
Maybe that's nostalgia or maybe it's the plot turns from last season that actually forced growth and change on the characters. Either way, "Entourage" (11:30 p.m. today) offers reason for fans to be encouraged about the quality of its last episodes.
The new season picks up several months after the most recent season. Movie star Vince (Adrian Grenier) has been in rehab and sober for 90 days. Eric (Kevin Connolly) and Sloan (Emmanuelle Chriqui) broke up over a marriage prenuptial agreement. Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) can't get his girlfriend to answer his phone calls while she's on a publicity tour for the tequila line he's invested in. Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon) is voicing an animated series, "Johnny's Bananas," for CBS, with co-star Andrew Dice Clay.
Drama is nervous about how "baby bro" Vince will handle sobriety and decides to banish all alcohol and drugs from the house, including Advil. Vince calls all of his friends about his plan to leave rehab, except for Eric, which leads to tension between the best friends. And Vince has everyone looking at their shoes when he pitches his idea for his next project: a mine-disaster story co-starring a dog.
"Vince pitches a Lifetime movie that should be starring the dog from 'Marley & Me,' not him," says Vince's agent, Ari (Jeremy Piven), who's distracted with his own problems. He and Mrs. Ari (Perrey Reeves) are separated, much to his chagrin. It's a testament to Piven's performance that for as big a bully as Ari can be, it's still easy to feel for him when his heart is broken.
Guest stars this season include Johnny Galecki ("The Big Bang Theory"), who plays a distracted, horndog version of himself. He considers signing on with the management agency run by Eric and Scott Lavin (Scott Caan, "Hawaii Five-0"). Christian Slater walks through a scene in Sunday night's premiere just to give Drama the finger.
At eight seasons, there's little question that it's time for "Entourage" to come to a close. When telling the story of a movie star, the dramatic possibilities are limited once you get beyond career ascendency and career decline. How many times can a show repeat those two plots before it grows tired? But even if the story trajectory became predictable, "Entourage" often rises above it on the strength of its characters.
On the surface, it's a guy comedy complete with tossed-off misogynistic comments. At its heart, "Entourage" is a male "Sex and the City" ¬-- the story of four friends with big dreams. As the countdown to its end begins, it's clear the show's writers have kept those friendships in mind while scripting its final batch of episodes.