I had never seen an episode of Entourage until last week, when an editor suggested that it may be of renewed interest given the spotlight being shone on the way women are treated in Hollywood in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. The adventures of movie star Vincent Chase and his pussy posse of Queens-born acolytes were not of particular interest to me. It existed in the peripheries of my brain as that show about bros that my own brother worshipped around 2006. When I was online dating, any guy who listed it among his favorites on a profile would be treated with extreme caution. Now, after sitting through roughly two seasons of the series, I feel justified for spending the past decade avoiding a group of fictional guys who really are just a bunch of co-dependent assholes.
Over the past couple of weeks, Hollywood has been airing out its dirty laundry to devastating results. The multiple allegations of sexual assault and harassment against Harvey Weinstein have prompted women and men across the industry to share their own experiences with a system that still largely turns a blind eye to predatory behavior. As the evidence pointing to Weinstein's alleged behavior as an open secret just keeps piling up, it behooves us to ask ourselves how he, and the many others now accused alongside him, were able to get away with it for so long.
That question, it turns out, can partially be answered by watching approximately 11 hours of Entourage. From what I saw, every episode of the HBO show has roughly the same formula: Vince (Adrian Grenier) — who we're meant to believe is a great actor — is facing some kind of movie star setback, and E (Kevin Connolly) and Ari (Jeremy Piven) try to fix it while Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) and Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon) cook up some half-baked plan for sex or fame. By the end, they're celebrating the day's success by staring out into the sunset with a freshly popped bottle of Dom. But underlying the riveting drama is the unspoken agreement that everything can and will be dropped the second a hot piece of ass comes along.
Let's make one thing clear: I understand that this is a fictional show, albeit one that is a very realistic satire of the film business. It is not responsible for the very real culture of toxic masculinity that exists in Hollywood (and by extension, America) today. But it is most definitely a reflection of that culture, which makes it worth examining over a decade later. The fact that there's a Harvey Weinstein-based bully producer character named Harvey Weingard that cameos in a handful of episodes is really just an added bonus.
The similarities don't stop there, of course. Just take Season 2's arc about the quest to cast the right "fuckable" Aquagirl to star alongside Vince in Aquaman. The guys literally go down a list of actresses and nix them based on availability (Do they have a boyfriend?) and fuckability (How likely are they to sleep with Vince on set?). Cameron Diaz gets the boot, as does Kirsten Dunst. In the end, Mandy Moore gets cast, not because of her talent, but because Vince has hopes of winning her back after their failed romance on the set of A Walk To Remember. Need I remind anyone that Harvey Weinstein once had a lead role recast because the actress wasn't "fuckable enough"?
Most women on this show are objectified to the point of absurdity. They are ogled, demeaned, talked down to, and generally reduced to the status of sex dolls that happen to walk and talk. Turtle perhaps best sums up the show's attitude towards women when, in one Season 2 episode, he expresses the desire for a hot cleaning lady who would have sex with him. "Well, then she'd be a hooker," E says. "Yeah. A hooker who cleans!" Turtle responds. But really, what else can you expect from a show that also features the verbatim line: “Friends are girls you just haven’t fucked yet.”
My eyes glazed over around the nine zillionth "How you doin' honey?" in Season 2, Episode 3, while the guys are casually walking through the makeup section of a department store, on the prowl even on the eve of their big night at the Playboy mansion. In Episode 7 of that same season, when Johnny Drama and Turtle take it for granted that either or both of them will get to sleep with their beautiful blonde driver at Sundance, and relentlessly pursue her, I actually felt physically ill. (It ends up being both, and I screamed at my TV in frustration.) Coincidentally — or not — that's also the first episode we get to meet the Harvey Weinstein analog.
In fact, the assumption that any one of these women is ready and willing at all times, just waiting for these guys to deign to notice them, is perhaps the most grueling aspect of this show. It suggests a total lack of agency on behalf of the female characters — they are objects idling in the margins until they're picked up, used, and tossed away. Let's not forget that it took until Season 8, Episode 6 for Ari Gold's long-suffering wife to actually get a first name. (It's Melissa.)
Predictably, that same misogyny purportedly played out offscreen as well. In June, Alison Brie revealed that while auditioning for a part on the show, she was asked to take her top off. (She was wearing a bikini top underneath, but still.) And this week, reality star Ariane Bellamar took to Twitter to accuse Jeremy Piven, who won a Golden Globe and three Emmy Awards for his portrayal of Ari Gold on the show, of groping her on set. “Hey [Jeremy Piven]!” she wrote. “‘Member when you cornered me in your trailer on the #Entourage set? ‘Member grabbing my boobies on the [couch] without asking??” Piven denied the allegations in a statement to Deadline.
You could argue that none of what happens on the show is a crime — sadly, being a bro-y isn't against the law. Misogyny and objectification, while shitty behavior that should be curbed and corrected, doesn't rise to the level of alleged sexual assault, as in the case of Weinstein. But what could have been a relatively innocuous 11 hours of TV about a group of immature dudes who fail to evolve one iota becomes basically unwatchable when you put in the context of the world we live in today. We have seen that bro culture is not "harmless" — especially in Hollywood. A comedy built almost entirely on the objectification and deriding of women doesn't land quite the way it once did — and thank god for that.
And there's proof this cultural shift was happening, long before the scandal broke, even before we were living in Trump's America. In a 2004 New York Times review, Alessandra Stanley raved (before the show had even premiered) that "nothing on network television is as smart, original and amusing as Entourage, starting Sunday night on HBO." By the show's final season, however, critics caught on to the fact that what may have started out as a cutting satire of Hollywood culture had bought into the narrative, to its own detriment. The last couple of seasons were panned, and though the show remained popular with a particular (male) audience, ratings started to fall. Only 3.1 million people tuned in to the Season 8 finale of Entourage in 2011. Four years later, when the boys hit the big screen, the film flopped at the box office. As Eric Thurm pointed out at Slate, " the golden age of bros is too far gone."
But just like Johnny Drama, that golden age is a has-been that keeps vying for a comeback. It's a culture that under the guise of so-called "harmless" behavior, has enabled the Harvey Weinsteins and James Tobacks of Hollywood to go unprosecuted for decades. When it becomes okay to treat women as sexual objects where do we draw the line? At unsolicited massages? Banging on a woman's door in the middle of the night? Forceful entry into someone's apartment? It's horrifying, but all of these Harvey Weinstein stories could have been side-plots in any given episode of Entourage. Vince and the gang may have been concocted for cheap laughs, but they ultimately contributed to the normalization of a culture that demeaned women to the point where sexual assault was considered an unfortunate downside of an otherwise glamorous job.
If we really want to prevent the "second chance," Harvey Weinstein is reportedly expecting once this all blows over, we can start by thinking about this problem not as one individual, but as a far more insidious systemic issue. Too often, "Oh no," is perceived as "Oh, yeah."
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