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Television Review

A long overdue farewell for the guys of ‘Entourage’

From left: Eric (Kevin Connolly), Drama (Kevin Dillon), and Vince (Adrian Grenier) in HBO’s “Entourage.’’ From left: Eric (Kevin Connolly), Drama (Kevin Dillon), and Vince (Adrian Grenier) in HBO’s “Entourage.’’ (Claudette Barius)
By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / September 9, 2011

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A few weeks ago, “Entourage’’ creator Doug Ellin told TV Guide that he was surprised by the “backlash’’ against his show. Critics were getting down on the boys - Vince, E, Turtle, Drama, and Ari - after having celebrated their large living for so many years. “The critics, all of a sudden, seem to have turned on us and forgotten that we were actually critically acclaimed in the past,’’ he said.

It is sad to see a once-beloved show fall from grace. But there are a few good reasons for this “Entourage’’ backlash, not least of all that the series finale, on Sunday at 10:30 p.m., is about four years too late. Like too many TV series, “Entourage’’ became self-parodic after a few seasons, with the characters turning into “Saturday Night Live’’ impressions of themselves - E’s relentless monotone, Drama’s uh-duh-ness, Vince’s oh-so-mellow hedonism. Ari’s endless picking at Lloyd for being gay, Asian, and nice? Funny twice, maybe; on a loop for eight seasons, about as entertaining as a case of mercury poisoning.

Yes, Ellin and Co. have nobly tried to move the character of Vince forward, through drug abuse, rehab, and, now, an unrequited crush. But little of his transformation - perhaps due to Adrian Grenier’s limited range - has rung true. The saga of Eric (Kevin Connolly) and Sloan (Emmanuelle Chriqui), whose back-and-forthing rivals Ross and Rachel from “Friends,’’ has been terribly static. The best and most honest plot development of late may have been Kevin Dillon’s Drama voicing an animated TV series, since Drama, with his puffed-out chest, has been the most cartoonish of the gang.

It hasn’t helped the show’s freshness issues that “bromance’’ had a hugely self-conscious moment in the 2000s. Along with “Entourage,’’ TV shows such as “Scrubs,’’ “Boston Legal,’’ and “Rescue Me’’ as well as Judd Apatow’s movies called attention to the amusingly awkward bonds among men - the way guys pick on one another out of affection, how fart jokes are a gateway to lifelong loyalty, the fact that male ties often outlast marriages. It was an over-promoted cultural trend that pushed the “Entourage’’ guys more quickly into the realm of cliche; the many rip-offs of “Sex and the City’’ such as “Lipstick Jungle’’ did the same thing to urban chick cliques. Once charming, these friendship setups were rendered passe.

But the most insidious problem with “Entourage’’ may have been its overly warm perspective on fame and fortune. Early on, the show had glimmers of sharp Hollywood satire - the piggy and creatively deaf executives, the obsessive lure of notoriety, the fickleness of American movie audiences. It was a more character-driven version of the short-lived studio sendup “Action,’’ with nice similarities to Robert Altman’s “The Player’’ and “The Larry Sanders Show.’’ Our four Peter Pans from Brooklyn were diving into a vicious shark tank.

Ultimately, though, the writers gave way too much to the boyish fantasies - beautiful women throwing themselves at you, wealthy Hollywood investors and fans fighting over you, chunky paychecks enabling you and your friends to party all night. They pandered too much to the Hollywood sensibility they should have been mocking more consistently. And Jeremy Piven’s Ari started to become almost lovable. The definition of a craven agent, he evolved into a loyal, tough-loving bud.

After a while, watching Vince and his guys roll from mansion to penthouse, or listening to Ari rant histrionically about how many millions of dollars, became an unironically hollow story. “Entourage’’ began to come dangerously close to those vanity reality series that overdramatize the lives of famous people and their friend-assistants - the Bravo shows, or the Kardashian shows. It lost too much of its cynical edge.

Ellin and his fellow executive producer Mark Wahlberg have talked about coming up with an “Entourage’’ movie, which makes me sad. The show is ending; let the story end. It has already been stretched too thin. Just hug it out one last time, and tell anyone who wants to milk “Entourage’’ for every last penny that the cash register is finally closed.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.

ENTOURAGE Starring: Adrian Grenier, Kevin Connolly, Kevin Dillon, Jerry Ferrara, Jeremy Piven, Rex Lee, Perrey Reeves

On: HBO

Time: Sunday night, 10:30-11