I’ve wanted to do this series for a very long time. I first had the idea when I watched Homeland, and realized that the biggest competitor HBO has is Showtime. Granted, HBO holds a level of esteem that practically no other network can hope to match, but I wanted to compare all the “best” TV shows of each network with each other and then decide which is more superior. I was really surprised by some of the choices I ended up making, and I really grew to appreciate both networks greatly when I started this. Without further ado – I’ll save some for later – here’s Round One of HBO vs. Showtime.
They’re both about show business, they both have actors that play a fictionalized version of themselves, and they’re both incredibly funny. So, naturally, I matched them against each other.
Entourage is about a rising superstar of an actor, Vincent Chase, as he brings his best friends along for the ride.
Episodes is about two British writers and their disastrous attempt to remake their beloved TV series in Hollywood.
Entourage has received dozens of award nominations over the course of eight seasons, garnering a Golden Globe for Jeremy Piven. Episodes has also garnered plenty of award nominations, and even got Matt LeBlanc a well deserved Golden Globe. I’m going to start by ‘reviewing’ Entourage since it concluded in late 2011, whereas Episodes is still ongoing.
I’ve been hearing about Entourage since I was a kid. It was the show I wasn’t allowed to see, the show that I saw mentioned time and time again on the Simpsons or Family Guy, and the show that seemed to be as popular among men as Sex and the City was for women. So, when I first watched the first episode, I was a bit disappointed.
It was a solid Pilot, but considering all the hype I’d heard about since I was a child, it wasn’t as good as I thought it would be. The Pilot dealt with Vince releasing his newest movie, and his best friend Eric ( “The Pizza Boy”, as he is mocked constantly by the awesome Jeremy Piven who plays Vince’s agent ) trying to decide if he should stay and ride his best friend’s coattails.
I thought that the show faced the biggest problem head on. Reading a summary of Entourage, it sounds pretty sad for Eric, Turtle, and Vince’s older brother, Johnny “Drama” Chase. They’re just a bunch of guys riding on Vince’s coattails. There seemed to be not much room for development beyond that, and honestly, a less mature show wouldn’t attempt to do any of that.
I’ve read a lot of reviews saying that the show is every bit as immature as its characters, and it knows that. It’s why the storyline of the Pilot is so significant because the show itself was straining against the preconceived notions of people, and at the end of the episode, Eric decides to continue riding on his friend’s coattails, and maybe help Vince out along the way. Eric ends up running a managing firm by the end, Johnny discovers that he has a future in acting outside of live action television, and even Turtle achieves something. Ari Gold, the raging agent, ends up happy with the wife that disapproved of his dedication to his clients after eight seasons.
I think we’ve grown to overlook these types of shows with the rise of the antiheroes. The show is not very philosophical, and I don’t think it tries to be. It simply wants to leave its characters having grown as people, and maybe leave you smiling too. I sure smiled at the finale.
The show also has at least one guest star each episode, and more often than not, the guest star plays himself/herself. My favorite has to be the episode where Bono and Matt Damon pressure Vince into donating more to charity. It was one of the high points of Entourage, showing great self awareness and also showing that these celebrities have sense of humors as well.
Now, it did have its problems. For pretty much every fan of Entourage, the huge blemish on its reputation was the seventh season. When I first watched Entourage, I loved the fact that it didn’t immediately show all actors as these coke addicted divas. Only some of them were. And Vince became one of those coke addicted divas in the seventh season when he struck up a relationship with real life pornographic star, Sasha Grey.
The season was admirable in showing the “dark side” of fame, but regardless of dark side or not, it just wasn’t done well. I respect the idea, but I do not love the execution. (I did enjoy Eminem decking Vince, though). It also highlighted the overall problem with the show.
I remember reading somewhere that people watched Entourage to see the glamorous lifestyle these beautiful, talented people lead. (Most likely true.) But, the seventh season simply pissed people off. Vince wasted all the things that people coveted. I certainly wanted to have a big mansion like him, and he threw it all away. There is a certain point when you realize that these people are shallow, but they have redeeming qualities. But there is also a certain point where the superficialness can just make you grimace in disdain.
The show did get back on track with the eighth season, and at the end of the day, I love this show. I can still recall some famous actor pointedly mocking themselves, or an incredible director making a surprising appearance. (Scorsese, man! Bring in Spielberg and Fincher, and I would have been content.)
Now that I’ve finished talking about Entourage, the discussion about Episodes can begin. I already gave a brief summary of the show, but I want to describe the opening scene of the Pilot first. It features Beverly Lincoln (Tamsin Greig from Black Books) leaving her co-writer and husband Sean Lincoln (the great Stephen Mangan) because she’s convinced he slept with some woman we haven’t seen yet. She pulls out of the driveway while Sean is urgently trying to tell her that she’s driving on the wrong side of the road, and she misinterprets it as his way of telling her she’s wrong. (To be fair, it could have been better clarified.)
It cuts to Matt LeBlanc (literally Matt LeBlanc playing himself. He’s from a little show called Friends. Mayhaps you’ve have heard of it?) driving while talking to someone about his new restaurant, and the scene ends with the impact of Matt and Beverly Lincoln. Then it rewinds to when Sean and Beverly were happy and critically acclaimed in England.
The beginning proudly states the sheer ambition of the show, and the hilarity to come. It featured great acting, great comedy ( Stephen Magnan’s frantic movements are a highlight), and just great writing.
The show is primarily written by David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik. David Crane is known for being one of the creators of the incredibly funny and successful sitcom, Friends. (Starring Matt LeBlanc as a clueless actor.) It would’ve been enough if this show were hilarious (which it is), but it knows drama. There’s a scene in season 3 where Sean and Bev are laughing wholeheartedly about something (don’t want to spoil it too much, so I’ll make it ambiguous), and watch as their laughter becomes strained and awkward, the way they – and the viewer – slowly realize the ramifications of the episode’s events.
Episodes knows how to do proper drama, and that’s not something you’d expect from a comedy. I’m not saying they can’t be dramatic, but the difference between Episodes and the other black comedies is that it still puts a smile on my face. I watched an episode of Girls, and while I can appreciate the satire and the drama, it’s neither funny enough nor dramatic enough for me to watch avidly.
Whenever there’s a new episode of Episodes, I can’t wait to watch it. It doesn’t tout famous guest stars like Entourage, but what it lacks in star power, it more than makes up for in witty writing, great dramatic moments, and amazing acting. The fictionalized Matt LeBlanc is selfish, destructive, mysoginistic, and yet charming, generous, and kind.
Like Tony Soprano, it makes the viewer question why they like Matt LeBlanc, and it’s because he’s a lot more human than he first seems.
While Entourage certainly had moments like that, I never felt engrossed in it as much as I am when watching Episodes. (Episodes is my favorite comedy.)
Both shows have flaws, and both shows have high moments. Entourage has proven that it can end a show satisfactorily, but with only three seasons, Episodes has as many comedic moments and as much (if not more) dramatic weight than Entourage. The first round goes to Showtime.