Last Night's TV - Entourage, Sky Atlantic; Wonderstuff, BBC2
The party's over for the bratpack
Tuesday 26 July 2011
In a decade that yielded a glut of great American television dramas, The Wire, The Sopranos and Mad Men were the meat, and
Entourage was the dessert. Like a bowlful of ice cream, it's moreish, mostly nutrition-free and gone in a flash. Here, because I'm too lazy to find another way to say it, is how I described the show in this paper two years ago: "Brilliant, unlike other shows, because it [is] so entirely undramatic: four friends eat brunch, drink cocktails, engage in casual sex with a string of beautiful women and casual conversation with an embarrassment of celebrity cameos, all the while charming our pants off with their repartee. The closest they come to jeopardy is wondering whether Vince's next blockbuster paycheck will cover the rent on their mansion in the Hills. It's Sex & the City for dudes."
For those unfamiliar with the show, the premise is simple: a young movie star (Vincent Chase) and his friends hang out in Los Angeles. And that's about it. Despite being set in the unreal world of Hollywood, Entourage seems like an authentic portrayal of male friendship. Or, at least, an authentic portrayal of what every male imagines his ideal friendship group would look like. Similar to The West Wing, but instead of the Democratic Party, Entourage has the afterparty (and the after-afterparty).
At some point in the past few series, however, its creators decided that, rather than quitting while they and their characters were ahead, they would succumb to the temptation to introduce "darker" storylines about critical and commercial failure, addiction, or porn stars. This detracted from the show's simple pleasures, and it also presented another problem: Adrian Grenier, as Vince, was required to become as good an actor or better than the Oscar nominee he portrays – a challenge to which he rarely rose.
And so, last night, we fans found ourselves at the start of the show's eighth and final season, with a movie slated to follow, SATC-style. The following brief précis will probably be baffling to initiates, but most of it is inconsequential anyway: Vince has spent the last 90 days in rehab, but now he has an incredible idea for a movie (actually it's awful, but he thinks it's incredible). E has taken over his own management firm, but he has lost his gorgeous fiancée, Sloan. Ari and Mrs Ari are on a break, and Drama and Turtle are... well, Drama and Turtle are Drama and Turtle. In short, everything has changed, yet nothing has changed. Vince is still a movie star, E is still his manager, Ari is still his agent. Entourage remains a pleasure to watch, but even the life of the party can outstay his welcome. Time to get your coats, chaps.
Sometimes when there's nothing left that's new to watch during prime time, I'm ordered by my whip-cracking superiors to look elsewhere for a show with which to fill the second half of the review. And that is how, yesterday evening, I found myself venturing into that odd televisual hour between seven and eight o'clock, when the news programmes (Channel 4 aside) have finished, but nobody's quite ready to sit down in front of a serious documentary or a major drama series. Most people are still stuck on their commute, or cooking dinner, or reading the morning's post, and the schedules reflect as much with programmes that are, at best, only mildly enticing.
The leading genre in this time-slot seems to be consumer advice, to which Jane Moore's Wonderstuff broadly belongs. Over the course of six whole episodes, Moore promises to find out the names of all the chemicals in a variety of household cleaning and personal-hygiene products: a bit like Open University, but presented by a Sun columnist. "I've been handed the ultimate dream ticket," she enthused in her opening voiceover. "The chance to pull apart some of the most essential items on my everyday shopping list and zero in on exactly what's in them." Really? That's her ultimate dream ticket?
The first episode was devoted to – stick with me here – soap, shampoo, conditioner and toothpaste. A man called Mark was enlisted as Moore's nerdy sidekick, and showed her how to make soap and toothpaste from scratch. At one point, he told her that he was about to show her "something from [her] past" that would make her "slightly fearful". "Not one of my ex-boyfriends, is it?" she joked. "It's worse!" he replied. "It's litmus paper!" That's pretty much the tone of the thing.
On the plus side: a heroically enthusiastic presenter, unexpectedly high production values and decent muzak (Lily Allen, MGMT and a number of other leftovers from Match of the Day, I expect). On the minus side: Moore made quite a passionate argument for the efficacy of hair conditioner, suggesting that it was not, in fact, a total waste of money. I remain unconvinced. Then again, I have now learned that two chemicals in particular – sodium laureth sulphate and hydrated silica – would be extremely useful if I was planning to make my own home-cleaning products, which I am not.
"When I started this journey," said Moore towards the end of what seemed like a few hours, but was really only about 29 minutes, "I had no idea where it was going to take me." The most interesting place it had taken her, as far as I could tell, was to a shampoo factory in Bradford.
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