There was a somewhat funny digital short that made the rounds a couple weeks ago called "Every Week on Entourage." The parody's subhead was "So many twists and turns you'll forget they've been using the same formula for five seasons." A couple of the actors in the skit did dead-on impressions of their "Entourage" counterparts, but the thing I found funniest about "Every Week on Entourage" was that the joke about the staleness of "Entourage" was pretty stale itself.

Critics and even fans have been complaining about the "Entourage" recycling for at least two seasons now, some longer. The creative forces behind the series have either been living in a cave or else they've heard the criticisms. 

Having watched the first two episodes of the sixth season of "Entourage," I can only draw one conclusion: The show's braintrust couldn't care less about your concerns. It's not that they hate the fans, but they obviously like "Entourage" as it was in Season One and they have no interest in tweaking the formula in the slightest. The unrelenting stream of product plugs, name-checking, wish-fulfillment, arrested development and goofball misogyny are unaltered as Season Six begins on Sunday (July 12) night. It's almost impossible to tell if the jokes and characters are less funny or if the punchlines falls flat because we've become desensitized through their sameness. You'd have to enlist the opinion of an "Entourage" neophyte to know for sure, which wouldn't be a problem since every episode of "Entourage" is designed to be equally accessible to somebody watching their first episode as to somebody who'd watched all 66.

Should a show be rewarded, though, for targeting amnesiacs as its core demographic?

[Review of the "Entourage" premiere after the break...]

Was it Aristotle who once observed that the absence of conflict is the root of all great drama or comedy? No? Then it's possible Doug Ellin misread the manual.

"Entourage" Season Six picks up with Vincent Chase's (Adrian Grenier) career back on an upswing, not that his three or four past nadirs had much of an impact on his lifestyle. Martin Scorsese's "Gatsby" is about to be released and this isn't going to be another "Medellin." Vinnie is about to be hot again.

Yay?

Things are also going well for the rest of the entourage. Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) is still in love with Jamie-Lynn Sigler who, like most beautiful actresses, is perfectly happy to smoke pot in her bubble-bath with a roly-poly directionless chauffeur. Johnny's (Kevin Dillon) ego hasn't gotten him kicked off of his show, which appears to be the only successful program on Fantasy NBC. Eric's (Kevin Connolly) back on the dating scene and his management career is also a smash, even though in two episodes he never mentions another client.

Even Ari's (Jeremy Piven) doing well, since his firm's new hire -- Gary Cole's Andrew Klein -- is bringing in enough clients for Ari to lord his success over partner Barbara Miller (Beverly D'Angelo).

The season's first episode sets up a semi-interesting potential arc. Johnny's working steadily. Turtle's spending all of his time with Jamie. E's somehow loaded enough to consider subletting his own plush mansion. With his three boys suddenly verging on self-sufficiency and his own star on the rise, Vinnie's learning to drive himself around and forcing himself to face a life where he's simultaneous successful and yet alone. It's an idea floated in Episode One and ignored completely in Episode Two, because "Entourage" is a show that's about spinning in circles, rather than moving forward.

I'm not complaining, mind you, that "Entourage" isn't prepared to commit to a season of swirling nihilism in which Vince's career reaches greater and greater heights and yet he finds himself more and more isolated from those he loves. If Adrian Grenier weren't such a well-meaning black hole of charisma, maybe that would be a fun way to spend a season, with Vince trying to replace his friends with proxies at first, but realizing that his new entourage only cares about his money and eventually spiraling into a cycle of alcohol, drugs and random sexual encounters. Actually, those last three things are central to the wish-fulfillment of the show and could never be interpreted as anything less than awesome.

The show could never sustain that sort of hypothetical season because, over all of its years, "Entourage" has failed to indicate that any of the main characters could sustain a series solo, so separating them would be futile. Who would want to watch E pining once again for Sloan? Who could possibly care that Turtle has found love? Even Drama, once the show's most reliable supporting character, has seemingly exhausted his amusement potential as a legitimate TV star. And Vinnie? Well, he continues to be Forrest Gump or Chance the Gardener transplanted into a dreamboat's body. He mugs and grins and behaves a little badly knowing that there's nothing he could possibly do to avoid getting laid or lucking into a Martin Scorsese movie.

That leaves Ari. Some people continue to insist that Ari Gold is every bit as hilarious today as the day he first asked us all to hug it out. I can't tell if Ari's normal spew of homophobic banter with Lloyd has become less amusing and more desperate, or if I've finally begun to let my growing distaste for Jeremy Piven color my impression of the whole character. I'd like to think the latter isn't the case. I'd like to think that if The Thermometer were still funny, I'd still be able to laugh at him.

If nothing else, you can always count on "Entourage" to fill the screen with pretty faces. In that respect, Emmanuelle Chriqui's return to the cast is a great boon, as are new additions Alexis Dziena and Autumn Reeser. I really hope "Entourage" will find a way to Dziena's gangly awkwardness and Reeser's Type-A tartness, but this is a show that still struggles to tap the potential of the criminally underused Perrey Reeves and Debi Mazar.

"Entourage" needs to wipe the slate clean and start again. Occasional jaunts to Cannes or Mexico aren't enough. Maybe it's time for Vince to go back to New York to take the lead in a Broadway play, where he'd discover how under-developed he is as an actor, while also simultaneously dealing with the presence of family and friends from his past. Maybe he could star in a new David Mamet play, with Mamet playing himself? He and the gang could still get an over-priced apartment overlooking Central Park, but they'd have to deal with co-op boards and whatnot? The show would get a whole new array of locations, a whole new color scheme, a whole new sense of itself.

It's time to do something. 

"Entourage" returns to HBO on Sunday, July 12.