On one level, Jersey Shore and Entourage might seem like they're coming from different places. After all, one is an Emmy-nominated Hollywood satire heading off into the sunset for its final episodes. The other is pure reality-TV sleaze, with DJ Pauly D freaking out because he can't get his blow-dryer to operate on Italian voltage.
Yet they're the same fantasy, and at this point, they have the same bittersweet tang of melancholy. They're set in a dude utopia where it's T-shirt time, all the time: a crew of party boys living out the wolf-pack dream, looking good, staying young forever and macking on the fine ladies. They've perfected the art of bromance to such a degree that there is no escape. Yet the suspicion that the party is over haunts the festivities, and the pungent aroma of withered dreams hangs in the air like spilled Drakkar Noir. Bro, the humanity.
The 2000s were the time when bromance became a kind of love that dared to speak its name. As a high-water mark of bro culture, nothing can ever top the MTV series Bromance, with Brody Jenner and his search for a new BFF. When it was time for Brody to pass judgment, the contestants would pile into the hot tub for the big elimination scene, waist-deep in the rippling water, pool lights flickering off their bare chests, silently praying, "Pick me, Brody! Please, pick me!"
If there are any DVRs out there still holding on to Bromance, let's hope they get donated to the Smithsonian, so future generations can see that this actually happened. It was to bros what Breakfast at Tiffany's was to doe-eyed gamines. And it already seems like a long time ago. As the saga of Charlie Sheen proved, America has discovered a limit to its appetite for the New Bromantics.
This season, the Jersey Shore gang is on its long-awaited trip to Italy, and it's full of that elegiac vibe, as the boys struggle to keep their endless-summer fantasy alive. It's downright poignant to see Vinny lost in the streets of Florence, trying to find the pizza parlor in his LIVE FAST AND DIE YOUNG T-shirt. Pauly D and the Situation might be kissing their late twenties goodbye like so many grenades, but they're not willing to admit anything has changed, so they keep primping to hit the Italian clubs. "I'm the pimp daddy mack of this whole place," Ronnie proclaims, with toilet paper stuck to his face.
The girls on Jersey Shore are just filler by now. Snooki, J-Woww, Sammi and Deena have all figured out the bare minimum expected of them: party, fall down, get paid. The guidettes don't have the same emotional investment in the group. It's the guidos who get their feelings hurt, obsess over romantic angst and keep working on their GTL regime. But they have no luck picking up the Tuscan bocchinaras they presumably have crossed the ocean to smush. So who does the Situation end up with in the smush room? A Florida exchange student named Brittany. (Not sure what you're studying, Brittany, but please, get that degree.) And what could be more natural than Vinny and Ronnie sharing the Jacuzzi? "This could be, like, ill romantic," Ronnie observes, as the water heats up. "It's, like, hard being in the Jacuzzi with two guys." We believe you, Ron Ron. We believe you.
Entourage has been in this territory for years – Vince, E, Johnny Drama and Turtle, still trapped in the Hollywood paradise, forever doomed to keep going to the same parties and cracking the same jokes. Nothing ever changes, because as far as the bros are concerned, nothing ever should. Their fight against adulthood has a whiff of desperation about it – they seem to realize they wouldn't survive a week anywhere else.
Back in the day, a sitcom like The Odd Couple needed to begin every episode with a voice-over explanation of why straight men of a certain age are shacking up. No such squeamishness interferes with the fantasy here. As Johnny Drama says, "How great is this? All the boys back together, living under one roof, just like old times!" Yeah, Drama – pretty great. Entourage ends the way it began: The Golden Girls with 80 percent more back waxing.
There's always something grandly sentimental about masculine vanity forced to struggle for its life. That's why cheesy late Sinatra is more popular than brilliant early Sinatra – most people would rather hear Frank reminisce about his wild times and lost loves than hear him when he's still young and starry-eyed. Jersey Shore has already reached that "It Was a Very Good Year" point. What a fate.
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This story is from the September 15, 2011 issue of Rolling Stone.