Claudette Barius/HBO
Ken Tucker
July 20, 2011 AT 04:00 AM EDT


TV Show
Current Status
In Season

We gave it a B

When Entourage debuted in 2004, ?it was the tale of four plucky lads trying to navigate the shallow, dangerous waters of Hollywood. The most handsome boy allied himself with a yappy shark for an agent, and their success seemed predestined. Not the show’s, though. At the time, Entourage was a real risk — a male Sex and the City that was sometimes 30 minutes of drama despite being a comedy, featuring inside references that might not play well among HBO subscribers who didn’t know Ari Emanuel from Nikki Finke.

Entourage, however, turned out to be a star-making vehicle for almost everyone involved. There was a ?substantial audience for the show’s shrewdest fantasy: living the Hollywood high life with your childhood buds, scoring babes and recreational substances with macho ease. The guys — Adrian Grenier’s Vince, Kevin Connolly’s Eric, Kevin Dillon’s Johnny, and Jerry ?Ferrara’s Turtle — were a posse before posses were cool, and the way they bounce off and exploit one another is, paradoxically, the heart and soul of the show. Against the deeply cynical backdrop of showbiz, sponging ?becomes proof of loyalty.

The series has had its ups and downs. For me, the sixth-season Enzo Ferrari movie project and the beginning of Eric’s perpetual pining for Emmanuelle Chriqui’s Sloan were a bit of a slow trudge. But the eighth and final season finds everyone pulling themselves together for a last hurrah.

Vince is living the sober life, and is eager to write and direct; Johnny seems on the verge of third-tier stardom as the lead voice in a new cartoon series. Juicy subplots abound: Andrew Dice Clay, playing himself as Johnny’s costar, doesn’t shy away from his former-?superstar-comedian status. Scott Caan is back to preen gloriously as E’s management partner, and Rex Lee’s Lloyd is trying to sign Modern Family exec producer Steve Levitan. Best of all, Jeremy Piven’s Ari is fighting ?brilliantly — Piven’s rage and fear have never meshed so fluently — to save his marriage. (The show has always cast smaller roles beautifully, never more so than with Perrey Reeves as the brittle Mrs. Ari and Lee as Ari’s tortured assistant-turned-agent Lloyd.)

Entourage has avoided teaching us lessons about greed-head ambition; if anything, its flaw has been its throbbing sentimentality about the bonds of bro-ship. But what the series may come down to is the enduring notion that friendship is the simplest and best premise for comedies. Oh, and all the better if you can get people like Tony Bennett, Martin Scorsese, and Anna Faris to make appearances with those friends. B

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