Who really wears the pants in the home of foul-mouthed agent Ari Gold?
When Entourage wraps up its third season Sunday night, fans can expect answers to many questions.
Will Vinnie stop alienating studio heads long enough to land another job? Will he fire his agent Ari? Will Johnny Drama ruin his chance for glory in an Ed Burns pilot by pleasuring himself while unknowingly wearing a mike?
I’m willing to wager one thing, however, will remain unknown: Ari’s wife’s name.
Referred to by her husband as “honey” and “baby” and, of course, “Mrs. Ari”, no one knows the woman’s first name—or if they do, they aren’t saying.
This lack of moniker—either tongue-in-cheek clever or too cute by a half—didn’t much matter in the show’s first two seasons, when Mrs. Ari was often relegated to the background. But lately it’s come to seem a bit odd, as the character’s role has been beefed-up.
It’s even more striking when you consider just how much Mrs. Ari deviates from the usually thankless norm of Jewish TV wife.
We may not know her name, but we do know other things about Mrs. Ari. Played with hard-bodied, eye-rolling exactness by Perry Reeves, an actress best known for her work as Will Farrell’s wife in Old School, Mrs. Ari is an attractive former actress, we’ve discovered, from a monied family. She dresses impeccably (I’ve never seen a better outfit on a mother of a Bat Mitzvah), works out a lot, enjoys (and sometimes demands) sex with her husband, and has a fang-bearing rivalry with Melinda Clarke, the actress who plays Marisa’s mother on The O.C.
But Mrs. Ari primarily functions as an antidote to her over-the-top husband. She both grounds him and makes him more sympathetic. Yes, we viewers are meant to say, Ari is a cut-throat, Machiavellian, crude potty-mouth, but he’s also a family man who is steadfastly faithful.
More importantly, he’s also a scene stealer. Over the course of the second season, it slowly became apparent that while Adrien Grenier’s Vinnie may be the star on Entourage, the star of Entourage is clearly Jeremy Piven’s Ari. As his screen time has increased—a major plot of the third season has been Ari’s founding of his own agency—so, too, has Mrs. Ari’s. And in adding likeability and gravitas to what would otherwise be a shallow, somewhat unappealing character, Mrs. Ari gives Ari exactly the same kind of soul that the entourage of the show’s title provides for Vinnie.
Not that any of this is particularly groundbreaking. The purpose of television wives has always been to make their husbands more likeable. But coupled with the fact that Mrs. Ari is a decidedly Jewish TV wife, the way she adds to her husband’s appeal is indeed something different.
Critics have long lamented the absence of Jewish women characters on television—yes, the Jewish men on thirtysomething and Mad About You married shiksas; we know—and the fact that the identifiably Jewish women who did make it to the small screen tended to be the sort of overbearing nag popularized by Philip Roth and Woody Allen, like Jerry’s mother, on Seinfeld, who flew in from her Florida condo to hector him about his diet and dating life. And the moaning over such characters isn’t unjustified: When presented with such a wife or mother figure, the audience sympathizes with the Jewish male lead; we’re meant to be thinking “poor guy.”
Much as we do whenever Susie—the bossy, foul-mouthed wife of another fictional Hollywood-type, Jeff Greene—stomps across the screen in HBO’s other hit, Curb Your Enthusiasm. Played to perfection by comic Susie Essman, the character is quick tempered, shrill, and tacky. She’s also hilarious and has become many viewer’s favorite Curb character. Still, no one would want to be married to Susie. Larry himself is married to sweet, even-tempered Cheryl, the ultimate shiksa TV wife, despite the fact that the real-life Larry David is married to Jewish environmental activist and An Inconvenient Truth producer Laurie David. (In interviews, Laurie David has said that her husband has “given himself his fantasy wife” on the show, because Cheryl is much more tolerant of Larry’s foibles than she is.)
In recent years the unmarried Jewish heroines of sitcoms like The Nanny, Will and Grace and Friends have won the affections of viewers by being quirky and charming. (Their foremother is, of course, Rhoda, who began life as colorful sidekick to Mary Richards.) But with their love of expensive clothes and search for Prince Charming, these characters—Fran, Grace, Rachel and Monica (though it’s hard to include a supposedly Jewish heroine played by Courtney Cox)—reinforced yet another stereotype: the ever-popular JAP.
And so we come to Mrs. Ari, a woman who, when presented with an enormous diamond ring by her husband, immediately flashes it around to her lunching girlfriends. Later, she becomes apoplectic when, thinking she must hide the fact that Ari received a large settlement from his former employer, she tells her nemesis it’s “only a C.Z.”
So, yes, with her attitude, wardrobe and Yogilate-cized body, Mrs. Ari bears the hallmarks of the modern-day JAP. But those are superficial likenesses. In reality, Mrs. Ari is very different, than, say, Grace Adler. She’s extraordinarily quiet and composed, which is exactly why she has the upper hand in her marriage. And although she’s materialistic, she operates entirely outside of Ari’s celebrity-centric world, serving as an antidote to the vapid values of Hollywood. And while she shares Susie Greene’s one decidedly positive trait—she can give as good as she gets—she does so with a keen intelligence, an almost super-human poise. Susie is all id. Mrs. Ari is all super-ego.
Take this exchange, from this season’s first episode, where we learn that Ari has been borrowing money from her “personal savings” to float his fledgling agency. Ari reminds her that since the money came from her father she “hasn’t saved shit personally.” When she claims the money is there in case “something happens” to them, Ari counters by saying, “I could’ve banged Heidi Klum when she was 23…what the fuck is going to make me leave now?”
“You could die,” says Mrs. Ari.
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
“Not until I saw that the life insurance check didn’t bounce.”
Were Ari a doughy nebbish like Jeff Greene, Mrs. Ari’s quip would come off as harsh and bitchy, but within the context of her marriage, it makes a certain sense. You get the feeling that Mrs. Ari, like those famous cavefish whose evolution included the loss of their eyes after thousands of years in the dark, has adapted to her circumstances. And this is why she can be a tough cookie, she can show off her massive rock, she can icily insist on a vacation in Provence, while still remaining sympathetic, endearing, and even possibly heroic, in comparison to Mr. Ari. It is Ari, in fact, who has the most in common with Susie Greene. Perhaps he’s forging a new archetypal television character: the yenta Jewish husband.
Fishnets and fingerless gloves at a Pittsburgh casting call as Michael Chabon’s first novel heads to the screen