Who would have figured that Ari Gold, the high-strung, foul-mouthed, Hollywood agent protrayed by Jeremy Piven on HBO's "The Entourage," would wind up offering us a lesson in priorities and family values? But that's what happened (SPOILER ALERT) in the series finale last night.
One of the most intriguing characters on modern TV, and one of the most intriguing Jewish characters ever, Piven's Gold often stole the show from a talented ensemble cast that, ironically, centered around the universe of a fictional A-List movie star who was often the least compelling character.
As brilliantly rendered by Piven, Gold is greedy, vindictive and often often misogynistic but fiercely loyal to his top client, Vincent Chase (Adrien Grenier), and at odds with Vince's best friend, Eric (Kevin Connolly), over what's best for Vince. He's also loyal and committed to his wife, but so consumed by his job thateven counseling sessions are a sacrifice.
One of a recent crop of agent characters on TV (HBO seems to have a penchant for them, with Robert Wuhl as "Arliss" and Jeff Garlin as Jeff Greene on "Curb Your Enthusiasm), Ari Gold -- inspired by real-life agent Ari Emanuel (Rahm's brother) -- was a gripping portrayal of a man constantly on the verge of a deal, whether at his daughter's bat mitzvah, trying to get his kids into an elite private school or working to win an NFL franchise. While hardly the kind of person you'd want to ride an elevator with, let alone be on the opposite side of the table from him, he was somehow both compelling and likable.
So it's with some sadness that we said goodbye to Ari last night after eight seasons of "The Entourage."
Ending a long-running series is always a challenge for producers, who have opted for outlandish ("St. Elsewhere"), puzzling ("Lost," "The Sopranos") or comical ("Newhart") twists for the signoff.
But executive producers Mark Wahberg (the actor on whose life the series is very loosely based), Doug Ellin, Stephen Levinson (and others) opted for a rare loose-ends tied up, happy ending, with an also rare "moral of the story" twist. A newly sober Vince, after moving heaven and earth to help his less successful brother Johnny (Kevin Dillon), get a breakthrough TV movie role, settles down with an impulsive proposal to a Vanity Fair reporter with whom he's infatuated. Eric refuses to give up on his elusive (and pregnant) true love, Sloane, (Morrocan Jewish actress Emanuelle Chriqui) and, with some help from Vince, finally whisks her off on a private jet.
And Ari, on the verge of divorce from his wife -- broken, unshaven, unable to continue a post-separation relationship with an old-flame or concentrate on work -- jettisons his entire empire in a bid to get her back.
Mrs. Gold had always appeared so tangential in Ari's life that her first name was never mentioned for eight seasons -- until one of the last episodes, when we learn that it is Melissa. That brillliant quirk illustrated her frustration that she is living her life as Mrs. Ari. Hours away from an arranged visit to break the news of their impending divorce to their children, Ari and Melissa reconcile when he reveals that he has walked out on his business for good and thrown away his BlackBerry (and not even to get an iPhone). "We have enough money for five lifetimes," he tells her, promising to whisk her off for the year in Florence they had long ago postponed. At the same time, he becomes a hero to his daughter by getting representation for her singing friends in his final act as an agent.
"Entourage" has always been a show that allows viewers to live vicariously through characters enjoying incrediby good fortune. With Americans increasingly working hard and struggling more, the only way to top the fantasy of a life of little work and too much cash is one of being able to chuck an entire, hard-fought, pressurized career in order to be a full-time father and husband, without suffering financially for it. Ari gave that to us.
If you hung in after the credits, you saw Ari and Melissa some time later relaxing on a veranda in Italy, mulling whether to go shopping or just stay in their room, when a landline rings. Fictional mogul John Ellis offers Ari the job of a lifetime to take his place as the head of a major, unnamed media conglomerate, promising to call back in a week for his answer.
This is a "Sopranos"-style ending (did I say before that all loose ends were tied up?), leaving us guessing what comes next. (At least until the "Entourage" movie, supposedly in the works).
Left to interpretation, I'd like to think that Ari either refuses the multi-million dollar offer and stays retired, or that his wife pushes him to take it (with some ground rules), knowing he'll eventually regret turning it down and resent her for it.
It's not just the romantic in me that wants to imagine that outcome. I like the idea of wrapping on a high note, when so many shows and movies today play to our dark side and appeal to the iconoclast in us, building up sentimental mush only to poison it.
All this can easily be undone if there is an "Entourage" movie, especially one that hopes to launch a franchise, of which Snarly Ari would be a key component.
But for now, let me enjoy the idea that "The Entourage" could have ended with Ari Gold as a stereotype; a lonely, greedy man unable to relate to human beings as well as he does to his balance sheet, but to their credit, the producers aimed for higher ground.
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