Entourage may be used to fictional bad reviews aimed at its protagonist, actor Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier). After all, he's been accused of being a "fly-by-night pretty boy," and his pet project Medellin was deemed "the silliest thing to come out of South America" since Evita. In real life, however, Entourage is not used to taking such a critical beating, especially the recent wave of antagonism aimed at it.
"The critics, all of a sudden, seem to have turned on us and forgotten that we were actually critically acclaimed in the past," series creator and executive producer Doug Ellin tells TVGuide.com of the criticism for last year's dark story lines. "Last season, we had our highest ratings ever, so I kind of ignore the critics."
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After receiving three Emmy nominations, five Golden Globe nominations for best comedy series and praise for its unique portrayal of male friendships before the term "bromance" even entered the vernacular, Entourage has gone from awards bait to a punch line on CollegeHumor.com.
So why the suddenly cold reception from critics? Ellin says that the show's transformation from a simple buddy comedy to a complicated tale that saw Vince begin using cocaine and landing in rehab, has thrown many for a loop. "Honestly, I'm very willing to be criticized. I love the show. I think it's as good as it's ever been," Ellin says. "I don't feel there's been a lot of shows in the history of television that have mixed up tones as much as we have and I think that throws people. I think that shocks them."
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It's a far cry from the early critiques that everything seemed to almost go too well for the boys from Queens— a theory parodied in the most recent episode when Eric (Kevin Connolly) told Vince "things always work out for us" right before Vince nearly failed a drug test. "Would you like to see everyone go, 'It's the greatest thing ever?' Of course, but when we started Season 1, I remember HBO saying, 'This is not our typical type of show, so I'd be prepared for some pretty harsh reviews,'" Ellin says. "And The New York Times said we were the best show on television that year, so I never expected that. I never expected some of the backlash."
That "backlash" comes just as the show is wrapping its eight-year TV run. Although Connelly told the Today show last month that the show had been "canceled," Ellin insists his star was joking and that it was their choice to go. "I think nobody wanted it to end, but we all knew it was time to end. HBO didn't cancel us. We had a long talk with them about when it should end two years ago," Ellin says. "It feels like the right time."
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Although he is moving on, Ellin won't be moving too far from the Entourage model. His new comedy pilot at HBO, 40, follows another group of guys living in New York City and struggling with the economy in a way Vince, E, Turtle and Drama never had to do despite the recent recession. "It's a more mature Entourage. We're losing the wish fulfillment of it. It's real guys who have tried to make the right choices in life and the recession kind of smashed them in the face," Ellin says. "It became difficult to raise stakes on Entourage because, at the end of the day, he's a rich, great-looking movie star."
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Production on 40, however, may be the biggest speed bump standing in the way of an Entourage movie — a possibility that series executive producer Mark Wahlberg first talked about in 2009. The 40 pilot is set to shoot in October, and Ellin says the "tricky part" would be writing an Entourage film script if the pay cable network also orders a full season of 40. The film has already generated interest from HBO, as well as several film studios. "[Agent] Ari [Emanuel] calls me about it every day. He's thinking about it more than me," he says. "I kind of had to take a little break. The interest is still there. I don't know. We'll see."
So what if Entourage: The Movie never hits the big screen? Ellin says he has "no idea" if the series finale will satisfy fans, but at this point, the only critic he seems to care about pleasing is himself. "The bottom line is that fans and critics have expectations and then they create their own scenarios in their heads," he says. "If it lives up to that for some people? Great. If it doesn't? I just watched the final episode, the first cut, but it matches my expectations and that's all I can do."
Entourage airs Sundays at 10:30/9:30c on HBO.