The Husband:

No matter what your thoughts are on most of Entourage‘s sixth season, and oh man do I know a lot of people who were threatening to give up on the show this year, I think it ended on a very clear, concise note of an overarching theme that just took too long to get started. No matter what the flaws, the constant deviation away from the life of central character Vinnie Chase and his movie star woes, one remarkably poor casting decision, it wrapped up nicely, and season six came to be about the pros and cons of being impulsive. Everybody except Vince — who pretty much had no arc thanks to him already having a job to go to at the end of the season, shooting Frank Darabont’s Ferrari biopic — completely redefined their lives over the course of what seemed like a very short season, and while it couldn’t get to the heights of some of Entourage‘s best arcs, a lackluster season of this show is still an effortlessly watchable endeavor.

This was the year that we really got into the lives of “the guys,” and for better or worse, I’m glad it was able to dive so deeply. Eric, failing to get his management company off of the ground, takes a job at a bigger firm run by George Segal, gets a sweet-ass receptionist played by Brokeback Mountain‘s Kate Mara (who will definitely present some major opposition to E’s happiness next season) and already establishes himself as a dominate force against douchey Scott Caan. But his love life has become lazy, and his multi-episode back-and-forth with Alexis Dziena didn’t seem to amount to anything other than obnoxious scenes that went nowhere. And yes, Dziena sucked the life out of any scene in which she appeared, even though I can’t remember having a problem with her acting in the past in work such as Invasion and Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. But she was terribly miscast here, and her presence was only validated when E finished off the season declaring his love for Emmanuelle Chriqui’s Sloan and finally getting engaged. It took a long time to get going, but I’m fine with E’s story overall. His impulsiveness threatened to destroy two of his relationships, but it ended up working in his favor.

Turtle, meanwhile, got the best arc of the season, or at least the most sincere, in exploring his relationship with Jamie-Lynn Sigler after their canoodling last season. For the first time in a while, their relationship seemed to be built with a major dose of reality, and their problems — her jealousy, his wandering eye while studying business at UCLA, the long-distance dating problem that is part of the world of a wanted film and television actor — didn’t feel like the frat raunch fest mode that this show has a tendency to slip into. And upon their final break-up, Turtle’s impulsive decision to hop aboard a plane headed for New Zealand turned into humiliation, and here’s hoping that between this and his education, he can mature further into adulthood.

Drama’s story was the one I dreaded the most this season, because honestly I tend to roll my eyes at nearly everything he does nowadays. I’ve been sick of his shitty decision-making for seasons now, and his comic relief persona hasn’t rubbed me the right way the entire time. It’s one thing for the world to work against you, but it’s another to be the sole cause of all of your problems, whether you were an asshole in the past or an asshole in the present. His impulsive decision, based entirely around the word of somebody who could have easily fucked up his career just for kicks, to drop out of Five Towns (after his physical confrontation with that douche from Eli Stone, of course) only to see his Melrose Place audition nearly cause him a heart attack (no thanks to you, Dean Cain), was going to be the latest straw of self-destructive behavior. But for the most part, this show doesn’t like to keep its characters in hell, and while Drama suffered so much this season that he nearly quit acting, his MP audition got “the network” interested in creating a star vehicle just for him. The soul-searching came too late to really save the arc, but it’s appreciated nonetheless.

And, of course, we have the saga of Ari versus Lloyd, whose pairing finally implodes when Ari so terribly tortures his assistant that Lloyd has no choice but to up and quit, moving on over to Malcolm McDowell’s company (and Ari’s former employer). It had been a long time coming, and the only way to break what was starting to become a tedious plot device (Lloyd does something good, Ari berates him, repeat) blossomed into something bigger and better. This led to Ari making some majorly ill-advised impulsive decisions when offered the chance to buy out McDowell and merge their companies, but his final decision to give in to a few ego-bruising demands made it all worthwhile. It’s still a bitch that Ari would even consider using his wife’s television money to make the deal, and that it was originally all for spite, and maybe you shouldn’t go around shooting paintballs at your new employees to indicate that the merger equals them losing their jobs, it was an emotional change for Ari nevertheless. It was also a considerably better story than last year’s moral quandary over whether or not he should have become a studio head.

No one likes you right now.

No one likes you right now.

Yes, some of the episodes didn’t add up, and the stalker mini-story fit into what Ebert would call the Idiot Plot where everything could have easily been solved had everybody not been a complete idiot. I don’t think I hate the golf episode as much as, say, my sister does, but the fact that I barely remember it doesn’t speak volumes for its quality either. It’s a pain in the ass to have Vinnie become a non-character on his own goddamn show, though, and Entourage always works better when he’s struggling for work, but it’s not like I hated anything he was doing.

But admit it, you really liked the episode where Zac Efron and Frank Darabont make some surprising (fake) revelations about themselves, the Aaron-Sorkin-visiting-Gary-Cole-in-jail episode was a better episode than it had any right to be, and Matt Damon outright stole the season finale.

With the show’s evolution comes the fact that we can’t simply see the same stories over and over again, and while showrunner Doug Ellin (who I didn’t realize played the asshole TV director until about an hour ago) doesn’t always know how to structure an episode as well as, say, James L. Brooks could, and he still has a bit of an emotional disconnect from his characters at the oddest times, he’s realized this fact. The stories may not be working at a 100% success fate, but in this day and age, I’ll settle for 75%. Besides, do you remember the first season, where nothing happened? That’s how you should weigh all seasons of Entourage, because it’s not the plot that matters, but the characters. Disagree if you wish, but I always look forward to another summer and another season.

But goddamn it, I wish they would have showed us at least one scene from Martin Scorsese’s Gatsby. We can all agree on that.

The Husband:

First, a little history:

I watched the first series of Life on Mars (i.e. the British term for “season”), which amounts to eight episodes. When the second series rolled around on BBC America just over a year ago, I DVRed the entire thing, but ran into a problem – when I hit play on the first episode, all I got was a blank screen. Believing that somehow my subscription to BBC America was accidentally canceled which would result in me recording the channel but getting no actual image or sound, I deleted all the episodes. But when I hit play on an entirely different show (let’s say a G4 rerun of Cops), that was blank too, and I realized, all too late, that something was wrong with my box’s playback, and that I had deleted something that would probably never air again in this country.

Point is, my knowledge of the UK Life on Mars is limited to its first series. And let me tell you, it was brilliant. Sam Tyler, a modern-day Manchester police detective, is hit by a car and wakes up in 1973, in his same home town, just around the time he was a young boy. Taking a job at his own police precinct, he has to both figure out a way to exist in the 1970s while also trying as hard as he can to find a way back to the present.

When Life on Mars finally came to the U.S. – after David E. Kelley took an ill-advised shot at a pilot, then set in Los Angeles, then gave it over to showrunners who set it in the more-applicable Lower East Side of Manhattan – I was all set for a great show. It’s a terrific concept, and the possibilities were endless. The UK version played extremely well with old-fashioned detective work and its relation to modern-day police procedures, and came out somewhere in the middle, both parodying and paying homage to the television procedurals of yore. Sometimes a cop just had to rough up a suspect, but this barbarism was often nothing compared to some good profiling and psychological warfare.

The U.S. version, however, took a somewhat different route. While the U.S. pilot is almost beat-for-beat the UK one, it merely took that as a jumping-off point in the later episodes and became, for all intents and purposes, basically just another cop show with the time-travel twist. Unique to the American show were countless 70s jokes, ranging from Nixon humor to cracks about Soylent Green to Sam’s many aliases (Luke Skywalker, Tom Cruise, etc.), which were often met, by me, with a raised eyebrow. Humor is fine, but eliminating some of the original’s best elements in favor of some homegrown winks may not have been the best idea.

Yes, let's all question that fucking ending, shall we?

Yes, let's all question that fucking ending, shall we?

I think, if anything, I would describe the American LoM as a low-rent Scorsese knockoff (thanks, especially, to the presence of Harvey Keitel and Michael Imperioli) with the occasional moment of sheer greatness, but not enough to have made me want a second season. It took the easy way out far too often, leaving us viewers with completely average weekly detective mysteries that weren’t original 30 years ago. Other than the more serialized stories, I can only think of case off the top of my head that I found truly compelling, involving the race war that erupted after an African-American girl fell to her death off a building. That, specifically, was a damn good way of bringing modern politically correct sensibilities and common sense into a more heated, confusing time. Less effective was the early episode revolving around gay-bashing in the slums. There’s clever, and then there’s preachy.

Luckily, LoM dropped the preachy after it ended its fall season, but unfortunately some of its spirit went out the window as well. When the spring season rolled around, they had an extended episode order past the original 13, but were also warned, pretty early, that this first season would also be its last. So Sam, having finally figured out the deal with his douchebag father (which was, by the way, the final episode of the UK’s first series, and what the original Sam considered his entire purpose in “traveling through time”), Sam Tyler, and the show, moved away from the show’s sci-fi angle and focused more on policework, resulting in an enjoyable but choppy affair. This, thankfully, led to some great ensemble work, not just from the guys but from the ever-on-the-verge-of-fame Gretchen Mol, whom I’ve loved since Rounders and the vastly underrated sci-fi VR tale The Thirteenth Floor. While I love Rachelle Lefevre, I’m not sure if the role was right for her and I’m glad Gretchen replaced her in the role of No-Nuts Norris. (In fact, everybody but star Jason O’Mara was replaced after Kelley’s version.)

Other minor misgivings: I’m just going off of my knowledge of the UK’s first series, but I don’t recall Sam relying so heavily on his flash visions to solve crimes, such as in the US LoM when he realized that a man they were investigating would go on, years down the line, to murder more people, and thus Sam used this knowledge to get him before he committed the majority of his crimes. On the UK one, it was more that Sam was just a better detective with more training than his coworkers, and his skills, still unheard of in 1973, were unorthodox but extremely effective, and if you matched those skills up with Gene Hunt’s unstoppable brute force, they were a dynamite team. No Dead Zone flashes to be found, at least not to the extent of the new version.

And, of course, we have to address the completely out-of-left-field ending. While having no viewing experience with the second series of the UK LoM (or the lost-in-the-80s spin-off Ashes to Ashes, which I hear is compulsively watchable), I know that the entire show ended with Sam waking up from his coma in modern-day Manchester, but realizing he had no life there anymore, decided to kill himself, which in turn transported him back to the 1970s where he could have a great life as a renowned detective.

And why couldn’t the U.S. one have done that? Too grisly? I don’t think so. It’s a great idea, and a perfect denouement, respectful to the show’s thrust and its concept of trying to figure out where we belong and why. But nope. The U.S. version decided to lose its mind for the final five minutes, and for a great deal of people (including my wife), it dragged down the entire show, all 17 episodes of it. Turns out that it’s the year 2035, and Sam, along with all of his precinct buddies, were astronauts on a journey to Mars, and they were all in a very long cryogenic sleep. Sam had requested that his sleep program be him as a cop in 2008, except there was a glitch in the program, which would explain the time travel. In this future, in addition, Gretchen Mol is his girlfriend and Harvey Keitel is his father.

What?!

Oy. Way to shoot yourself in the foot. When I caught wind of this new ending, completely by accident as I hate spoilers, I thought somebody was fucking with me. But nope. As my wife and I finished the final episode Monday night after putting off the spring season until only two weeks ago, I knew what was coming, and it still sucked. It’s a letdown, both logically and thematically, and I wag my fingers at whoever lobbed that idea into the writers room in the first place.

But I’m also willing to let it go and recognize the quality that was the rest of the first and only season of Life on Mars: American Style. It was fun, it ended, and I had a good time watching it. I’m glad such a quirky show (at least, quirky for a while) was allowed to live its life in relative peace and not dropped after four episodes, and perhaps it could serve as a model that some American television should be designed to be a one-season affair. Then again, that’s what the awesome Taye Diggs show Day Break was supposed to be, and that was canceled before it could finish its run.

Oh well.

The Wife:

Whomever came up with that ending should identify themselves so that I may punch them in the face.

Plenty of single episodes of television shows have ended in an “it was all a dream” scenario — famously, the final episode of one of Dallas‘ later seasons features one of these revelations (which kind of undoes the entire final season of the show), as does a later episode of Rosanne — and I believe that can be used effectively for a single episode to show us an alternate version of events involving dreams, hallucinations, visions, coma-universes, parallel universes, etc. (Although, as I mentioned, I am still up in the air about its use on Bones in the season finale.) But for an entire series to be a programming glitch in an astronaut’s neurostimulation program when it could have been, oh, I don’t know, ANY OF THE MYRIAD THINGS SAM TYLER HYPOTHESIZED HE WAS EXPERIENCING is complete and total bee ess.

I’ve read that St. Elsewhere allegedly reveals itself in the series finale to have taken place entirely in the mind of an autistic child, but haven’t seen the series so I don’t really know if it would bother me as much as the ending of Life on Mars: American Style did. For one, I really don’t like knowing that the world I’ve been entertained and amused by and the conceit that brought me to the show in the first place was a mistake that’s very easily shrugged off by all of the characters after its revelation. Even the writers know that this ending is stupid because they give Michael Imperioli the following line: “Why would you choose to be a cop in 2008 for your neurostim?” Indeed. Why the fuck would someone do that? It doesn’t make sense. Being zapped back to 1973 within a computer program was nothing more than a confusing, 17-episode mistake. Way to have faith in yourself, series, because this ending completely nullifies anything interesting about the previous 16 episodes for me. The characters in the show believe it was a mistake, which seems to indicate to me some belief on the part of the writers and creators that the show’s existence at all was a mistake.

Secondly, ending the show on Mars is pretty much the most literal thing that could have happened to this series, and that’s just dumping a mound of salt and red dirt into the gaping hole left in the series’ purpose and credibility after the revelation.

That ending really did ruin the whole show for me. But if I had to pick one thing I actually liked about the ending, it would be that Sam’s clearly imaginary hippie-chick neighbor Windy who calls him “2B” (because it’s his apartment number) is the voice of the spaceship, and that the pod Sam’s been having his stupid-ass neurostim trip in is also numbered 2B.

The Husband:

All things considered, this was definitely a weak season of Entourage. There’s no way around saying it – the first half of the season was meandering, depressing, unfunny and (worst of all) uninteresting. As I mentioned in my last “checking in on Entourage” post, unemployed Vincent is not really must see TV by any means, as Vinnie has always really just been a catalyst for all the other characters, a straight arrow main character with nary a personality. This is not to see Adrian Grenier is not good as Vinnie Chase. In fact, I think he’s great at playing this kind of aw shucks movie star who can fill movie theatres and draw the attention of many women around Los Angeles and yet proceeds to just…exist…and not much else. It’s a hard role to play and I think people mistake his ability to play nonchalant as an inability to act.

But yes, an unemployed Vinnie is an uninteresting Vinnie, so it was great to see him finally get a job near the end as one of the firefighters in Smokejumpers (a.k.a. Nine Brave Souls). Unfortunately, that production went up in flames when Vinnie clashed with costar Jason Patric and director Werner (Stellan Skarsgard), leading to a fallout between the crazy German director (with his overblown budget) and the studio (who decided to cut their losses and halt production indefinitely).

(No thanks to Entertainment Weekly’s Jessica Shaw for ruining that plot by revealing too much in her TV Watch two issues ago.)

Apply directly to the forehead.

Vinnie Chase: Apply directly to the forehead.

Distraught at an entire television season of failure, Vinnie and the gang return to their native turf of Queens to really take a look at themselves to see where they are at, in their lives, in their careers, as themselves. Vinnie and Eric almost ruin their friendship over trying to get Vinnie an audition for a Gus Van Sant movie currently filming in New York, but make up when they realize that their camaraderie is more important than any Hollywood bullshit. (i.e. the driving force of Entourage, which is its heart and not its excess.)

Since the season comes in at a C+/B-, it would have been a shame to see the show go out on anything other than an extremely high note, so I’m glad that HBO will continue to produce episodes. At the same time, however, this final episode of s5 would have thematically been a great place to wrap up this dramedy. Turtle finally has a steady and loyal girlfriend (Jamie-Lynn Sigler as herself), Drama is now co-owner of a New York City bar, Eric finally lands a mega-deal establishing himself as an agent/manager worth noticing and Vinnie, in the final moments of the episode, is offered the lead in a Scorsese movie (based entirely on the scrapped Smokejumpers dailies). By returning to where it all began and finally giving the characters what they need – in some form or another – is a happy ending for all and not a bad way to go out, storywise.

About that Scorsese movie – it’s apparently a retelling of The Great Gatsby but modernized and set in the Upper West Side, and Vinnie has been tapped to play Nick Carraway. Upon first hearing about the project, a few things put me off until I got over myself and just accepted them. First, the real Great Gatsby is set mere miles from Manhattan and wondered about why the switch, but then I supposed that Long Island really isn’t, for all intents and purposes, as hot socially as it was back in the Roaring ‘20s (save for the Hamptons, which wouldn’t have really fit the story anyway). Then I thought…Vinnie isn’t good enough of an actor to play Carraway, especially in a Scorsese movie, but then realized that, hey, DiCaprio hasn’t been great under Scorsese’s care either (coughgangsofnewyorkcough) and so I just kind of accepted it. Vinnie is a bit of a cipher, and so is Nick Carraway. Vinnie has spent most of his life pretending to be rich and popular as opposed to actually being rich and popular – seriously, how many times has Vinnie been hard up for cash in the entirety of this series? – and was raised in a nonglamorous society, much like Carraway. (Queens isn’t the Midwest, but still, you get my drift.)

So, I decided that he was actually perfect for the role. Gatsby, no, but Carraway, yes. We’ll see how it turns out.

(Yes, I’m weighing the merits of a fake movie. If the show is going to attempt verisimilitude, I have a right to do so, dammit.)

So I simply hope the writers can take a step back and rethink their show for next season. Make us care more. Make it fresh again. Make us actually give a shit about Johnny Drama. But please…no more cousin Dom. He’s a terrible character.