On September 16, 2007, Jeremy Piven ascended the stage at the Emmys to accept his second straight award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for playing Ari Gold in Entourage. (The next year, he would three-peat.) By that point, “supporting” wasn’t the most applicable term you could use for Piven’s role on the show. “Hug it out, bitch” was a national slogan; his character’s marital problems were getting heavy screen time. If the ensemble comedy had a face, it was Piven’s foul-mouthed, fat-tie-wearing power agent—not Adrian Grenier’s empty, so-called “leading man.”
Ari Gold was the role of a lifetime for Piven. Before 2004 he had mostly played repressed, bemused and/or annoyed friends or sidekicks: John Cusack’s buddy in Say Anything, Droz in PCU, Jerry on The Larry Sanders Show, and Spence on Ellen. Entourage creator Doug Ellin harnessed Piven’s volatility and let it spew out in a tornado of curse words and misogyny for a mid-2000s audience that couldn’t get enough of that stuff.
Ari became an icon—an icon who faded with the decade’s hypermasculine aesthetic. After Entourage ended in 2011, Piven entered into an awkward, still-ongoing phase of his career, unable to get out from under Ari’s shadow. He’s not the first to encounter this problem—Jon Hamm is doing H&R Block commercials because of the pull of Don Draper; Jason Alexander is George Costanza—but Piven isn’t exactly helping things. He seems caught in an identity crisis, vacillating between trying to become Ari Gold and trying to move past him. It’s extremely confusing, to the point where I don’t know if I’m following Jeremy Piven, or if Ari Gold somehow came to life like the bro-iest possible version of Stranger Than Fiction. And now that Piven’s back on TV, eternally looking down at a computer screen as the star of CBS’s Wisdom of the Crowd, it’s clear that this issue won’t simply go away.
But I think I’ve figured out a way to solve the conundrum: by playing a game I’d like to call “Piven or Gold?” The rules are simple. We’ll bring up a number of Piven (or Gold)-related things from the last six years or so, analyze them, and then answer either “Piven” or “Gold.” Hopefully by the end of the exercise we’ll be able to determine whether Jeremy Piven still exists.
Round 1: This Cadillac Commercial
The commercial is called “Ari Gold Is Back.” In it, Piven-or-Gold steals another man’s car, and then the “Oh yeah!” song from Entourage starts playing.
Round 2: This American Express Commercial
In this 2016 ad, Shaquille O’Neal shops for a dog bed alongside our guy. The best indication that this is Piven, and not Gold, is a helpful bit of onscreen text:
Hang on—why is his name so small in comparison with Shaq’s? What a shady move by the United States’s fourth-most popular credit card company. But anyway, no matter how small, Piven’s name is right there; it’s pretty hard to argue with. Furthermore, in the commercial Piven says things like “shabby chic” and displays affection toward a dog. One time on Entourage, Ari Gold made a joke about eating dogs.
Round 3: This New York Times Article
The article’s headline says, “Don’t Confuse Jeremy Piven With Ari Gold,” and then it talks about how everyone confuses Jeremy Piven with Ari Gold.
Winner: I don’t know, man. The New York Times is only adding to the confusion here. This is why the print industry is struggling: It can’t adequately determine whether TV characters have swallowed the souls of their actors or not.
Round 4: This Instagram
Have you visited Piven-or-Gold’s Instagram? You should; it’s pretty incredible. There are pictures like this, of the actor wearing hats and holding a French bulldog:
(That dog, Bubba, has its own Instagram, by the way, and it is almost definitely run by Piven-or-Gold.)
There are pictures of Piven-or-Gold standing with Conor McGregor—and Scott Conant from Food Network, maybe?—after the Mayweather fight:
“A true warrior is never satisfied.” —Jeremy Piven or Ari Gold, August 2017
And then there is A LOT of cigar-smoking:
Hell fucking yeah, bro.
So where does this all leave us? First of all, I don’t recall Ari being a smoker—although being in the locker rooms after the Mayweather-McGregor fight is a full-on Ari move. That leaves us with the dog Instagram, the chunky sweaters, and the abundance of fedoras, on which my take is: This is not how Ari Gold would function on social media. His posts would all be smarmy photos with celebrities and teaser trailers for Aquaman. What we have here is a man in his early 50s who has become the most quintessential version of himself. Every post is a dad post—everyone knows a dad who posts too many selfies with the family dog on Facebook—except that dad has a lot of money and a love for Mediterranean coasts and never wears socks. Gold would never be so shamelessly comfortable with himself.
Round 5: This 2015 Book
This one seems pretty clear-cut. Especially when you consider how Ari Gold himself went on the Today show to promote the book and subsequently cursed on live TV:
Round 6: These TV Shows
The first TV show is a PBS series called Mr. Selfridge, in which the actor in question plays the titular character, a man who founded a department store. You’ve probably never heard of it, because it’s extremely British, but all you need to know is that in it, Piven-or-Gold says words like “razzmatazz” and dresses like this:
Note the tie, which isn’t chunky at all.
The second show just premiered this past Sunday on CBS. It is called Wisdom of the Crowd, and it is about a Silicon Valley type who invents a program that crowdsources evidence from people’s mobile devices in order to solve crimes. (Piven’s main character, Jeffrey Tanner, is primarily interested in solving the case of his daughter’s murder.) If you’re currently asking yourself, “Didn’t this technology-solves-crimes show already premiere like a year ago?”, then no—you’re thinking of the Minority Report reboot. Or APB. Or Person of Interest.
Anyway, the show is very CBSish—there is an extremely cheesy title drop in the first 10 minutes of the premiere, and though the show is about murder, it is quite light—and Piven-or-Gold is much more Pivenesque in it. Aside from talking quickly and holding a cellphone at all times like Ari Gold, Jeffrey Tanner is rather soft-spoken and emotionally accessible. He has a moral compass. He wears sweaters.
Between that and resolutely non-chunky ties, I think I’ve seen enough.
The final score is three Pivens to two Golds, which means that, thankfully, Jeremy Piven is still in possession of his body. Hopefully with time, that will become even clearer. I look forward to seeing the actor write his own books, star in more British television, and eventually post a photo on Instagram in which he’s open-mouth kissing a dog.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.