It’s not you, Entourage. It’s us.
By the measures of most, this weekend’s box office could be marked as a victory for the righteous, as Melissa McCarthy and Paul Feig’s comedy Spy upstaged Entourage, out-earning HBO’s once flagship ($10.2 million) nearly three times over ($29 million) in what was, in truth, a relatively thin field. But though Spy more than earns its female empowerment credentials, reports of Entourage’s sexism might have been overstated. After all, there’s more active misogyny on display among the airheaded men of Spy than the airheaded men of Entourage. But while Spy uses misogyny as a realistic, but not insurmountable barrier for its unstoppable heroine to knock down, short of a brief shout-out courtesy of one of E’s conquests, Entourage largely pretends misogyny doesn’t exist.
“By the time it reached the end of its HBO run in 2011, Entourage had grown staler than last night’s Axe body spray,” wrote New York Times critic A.O. Scott in his scathing review of the film. “The passing of a few more years has not improved the aroma. Watching the movie is like finding an ancient issue of a second-tier lad mag—not even Maxim, but Loaded or Nuts—in a friend’s guest bathroom. You wonder how it got there. You wonder how you got there.”
Still, fans of the series wouldn’t be off-base to point out that by the standards of HBO’s current lineup—with Game Of Thrones looming large and True Detective on the horizon—Vince and crew are practically teddy bears. The guys on Entourage aren’t predators, they’re not rapists, they’re not even johns. They’re just empty vessels, relics of a post-9/11 era when the ability to ignore the world’s larger problems was a comfort, not an offense. Critics of Entourage’s vapid female characters aren’t wrong to call out the lack of substance on display, but frankly there’s little more substance to be found among the show’s ostensible protagonists. Vince, E, Turtle, Drama, and Ari don’t have much more by way of character depth than Emily Ratajkowski, they’ve just got more screen time.
When Entourage exited the airwaves, the show had been in a ratings decline for several seasons. Attempts at syndication were aborted, not because of protest, but lack of interest. Partying with fabulously wealthy celebrities on yachts might have seemed sexy and fun when it premiered in 2004, but in the time since the recession America’s relationship to the dollar has changed and watching doofish millionaires conspicuously spending doesn’t inspire fantasy so much as frustration.
And it’s not just our relationship to wealth that’s changed, but our relationship to Entourage’s subject itself. Entourage made its mark selling celebrity, and celebrity is no longer an exclusive club.
While early seasons of Entourage might have been able to cash in on the cachet of its connection with Mark Wahlberg, in the post-reality TV, post-social media age, the boundary between what is and what is not a celebrity is porous enough to no longer generate excitement. By the time Kim Kardashian was making her rise, the template for her tenuous path to stardom had already been set. Entourage itself premiered just one month after the Paris Hilton sex tape was released, before the explosion of reality TV stars, before social media, before Kardashian Inc. In those halcyon days, it took a complex web of Hollywood wheeling and dealing in order to ascend to the A-list. Post-1 Night in Paris, all it took was a little bump ’n’ grind.
The cameo-laden formula of Entourage’s success was in some ways prescient of the instant-fame era to come, but at the same time, it was dependent on a world where celebrity cameos were rare enough to have value. A star cashing in on their fame is less exciting now than it is off-putting, a reminder of Hollywood’s limitless self-absorption. Stars who are hungry for the spotlight are a dime a dozen; rare is the celebrity who doesn’t want to be found.
Our biggest movie stars at the moment are Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt—down-to-earth next-door types with a healthy sense of humor and a more than healthy sense of humility—and even they struggle to open movies that aren’t driven by a larger corporate franchise. And frankly, the stars of Entourage have done themselves no favors in that department since the show’s premiere, with walkouts and embarrassments aplenty, and nary a box office hit in sight. In the wake of too many TMZ-and-cocaine-fueled celebrity breakdowns—featuring both the tragic and the absurd, the Heath Ledgers and the Lindsay Lohans—the Hollywood party scene at the heart of so much of Entourage’s drama seems less glamorous than it does empty and soul-sucking, survivable only by those who never had much to offer to begin with.
Likewise, the “boys will be boys” attitude displayed by Entourage might not have been out of place a decade ago, as the show kicked off an era of bro comedies typified by early Judd Apatow hits like The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Superbad, but in the last few years protests of misogynistic practices and policies have left Women’s Studies classrooms, going not just public, but corporate. In 2004, feminist media was limited to Ms., Bitch, and if you were lucky, a confused column in Cosmo. In 2015, feminism is its own market.
This weekend, Entourage made the mistake of being the frat boy at the reunion who still wants to throw keggers and screw strangers while everyone else has moved on to more meaningful pursuits. Like it or not, awareness is in. It’s not that bros have disappeared, but it’s no longer possible to swagger your way to widespread success fueled on testosterone alone. The successful bros—the Chris Pratts, the Channing Tatums, the Zac Efrons—are successful because of their sensitivities, not in spite of them. Even Marky Mark himself has a wife and family.
At a certain point, you have to grow up.