HBO’s Entourage has always been a show that reveled in a brand of Los Angeles-specific decadence, a California Casual fantasia of exotic cars, hilltop mansions, comely women, and an omnipresent sunlit sky as protective umbrella. Despite its stream of wicked repartee and unpleasant tantrums, one imagines that the program makes L.A. perversely appealing to those who’ve never lived there, or even visited, much as Bret Easton Ellis’ horrific 1985 novel Less Than Zero served as a magnet for sheltered Generation Xers of that era, myself included. Of course, Entourage is a much lighter examination of privileged hedonism than the Ellis tome, and I’m reminded of long-ago prime-time fluff such as ChiPs or the short-lived California Fever, that seemed to market the Beach Boys fun-in-the-sun vibe to those unfortunate souls who lived in more frigid climes.
In its seventh season, Entourage continues to chart the misadventures of Hollywood hunk Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) and his hangers-on: manager Eric (Kevin Connolly), friend/erstwhile driver Turtle (Jerry Ferrara), and actor bro Johnny (Kevin Dillon). And lest we not forget – and who could? — Vince’s agent, the volcanic, irrepressible Ari Gold, who reportedly is based on actual superagent Ari Emmanuel, and played with ferocious glee by the relentlessly wired Jeremy Piven. Loosely based on rapper-turned-film star Mark Wahlberg’s career, and he himself is an exec producer on the show, Entourage‘s primary creative force is creator and show runner Doug Ellin, a fellow Long Islander, though he’s a scion of the Five Towns area, while I hail from Nassau County’s North Shore.
Entourage has always moved at a lightning-quick pace, its characters wielding acidic bon mots like weapons, and delivering them like machine gun fire. The program expertly conveys the tensions and frayed nerves that accompany a fast-lane lifestyle, especially one in which tens of millions of dollars are on the line and monstrous – not to mention powerful – egos are at risk of deflation. If you’re still wondering why David Letterman required a heart bypass job some years back, just tune into HBO on Sunday evenings.
That said, the pressure cooker ambience the Entourage boys exist in – and it’s largely a boys’ club – grows ever more fraught during Season 7, as the stakes increase. Ari’s “fuck you” hubris proves that what goes around comes around, Johnny’s desperation for a home run success multiplies as he faces foreclosure, Eric grows more aggressive about living life on his own terms, Vince faces an emotional crisis which could derail his career, and Turtle continues his ongoing struggle to prove his own worth.
I’ve always found Jerry Ferrara utterly appealing as Turtle, a chunky, hip hop-loving manchild equally focused on earning his own loot and finding a steady lady love. In this season, he pursues the fetching Alex, a slinky Latina who initially wants nothing to do with him – yes, predictable, I know – but that doesn’t slow Turtle down, even though his desire to impress her ensnares him in a trap his own hubris has fashioned, one which only reminds him of Vince’s centrality in his life, Vince being the 800lb gorilla Turtle would perhaps like to shut away in another room. Still, Turtle never relinquishes the earnest, boyish sweetness that has become his trademark.
One could never say this about about Kevin Dillon’s Johnny, or could we? There’s no question that Johnny “Drama” — does anyone know where that inane adopted surname originated? — is a hot-tempered bundle of insecurities, keen on objectifying women, and probably feigning arrogance to mask his doubts, but maybe that makes him more the tragic figure than a target of wanton derision. As mentioned before, Kevin Dillon has, for much of his career, been overshadowed by brother Matt, and perhaps Ellin had this dynamic in mind when he cast Dillon as Vince’s brother. At any rate, towards the end of the season, Drama stumbles into a potential hit, but as always, he was too clueless and blustery to envision it himself. His neurotic haplessness, however, remains a comic keystone of the show.
I’ve suggested that Entourage is a boys’ club, and while it’s true that most of the primary characters are male, the interplay between the genders is decidedly more complex than that, as well as the influence of the female characters. Indeed, it seems that the show’s women – all products of a more enlightened period – are in Season 7 asserting control in numerous ways. Ari faces devastating legal and social consequences from female colleagues he’s wronged, as well as non-stop harangues from his wife (Perrey Reeves) and a dressing-down from her sister (a hilariously bitchy Illeana Douglas), Alex wraps the smitten Turtle around her finger, Vince falls hard for a sophisticated “career” woman who refuses to yield to his demands, and Sloane and Eric – perhaps enjoying the only calm, emotionally stable relationship of the show – settle into blissful domestic habitation as they prepare for their nuptials, Eric seeming to prefer cocooning monogamy to raucous bacchanalian nights with his mates.
Thus, while it’s easy to deride Entourage as a televisual embodiment of reprobate lad mags like Maxim or Penthouse, is it possible that the members of Vince’s posse are more likely contemporary avatars of Hugh Hefner’s mod-era Playboy Aesthetic? A scruffier Rat Pack for the new millennium? These questions become a bit fuzzy. It’s been argued that Playboy has always been friendlier to and more inclusive of women than its newer competitors, which seem more fixated on sexual objectification than amicable companionship; to use the ugly street vernacular, “bros before hoes”, mindless of the homosocial implications of said mindset.
Certainly, Playboy has always included intellectual stimulants alongside its naughty pics of fresh-faced ‘girls-next-door’; challenging fiction, film reviews, music critiques, et al. Supposedly, a tenet of the magazine’s viewpoint is that women should be the intellectual equals of their male consorts, and not merely physically arousing eye candy. Considering Hefner’s love life, however, it’s difficult to picture the bottle-blond Fembots the Old Grey Fox surrounds himself with, many young enough to be his granddaughters, expounding on the latest works of Gore Vidal or Andrei Tarkovsky.
And regarding Entourage, can you imagine any of the men, and particularly the scheming Scott Lavin (played with oily, sniggering charm by Scott Caan) holding their own at a highbrow salon? The prospect is as funny as any of the show’s situations. At best, the take-no-shit women of Entourage are anchoring their fellas to a tricky, mine-laden middle ground between laddish machismo and the sensitive-man enlightenment that began to take root during the Me Decade. Damn, was that really 40 years ago?!
Of course, Entourage‘s milieu likely represents wish-fulfillment for the creative minds steering the program. Both Doug Ellin and Executive Producer – one of many – Rob Weiss are suburban New Yorkers, products of Long Island’s Jewish upper-middle class, in fact, a background common to successful Hollywood movers-and-shakers. Imagine horny teen boys living in quiet, leafy Mid-Atlantic comfort, but with an insatiable itch to play in L.A., squiring shapely MAWs to the hot restaurant du jour, cruising Avenue of The Stars in an Aston Martin, or striding the red carpet into premieres at Grauman’s Chinese, and it’s not too difficult to conjure up Entourage as the vehicle to transport you into that wondrous realm and reflect the reality that you’ve arrived. Weiss himself is a controversial figure in Filmland circles; he wrote and directed the highly-regarded 1993 indie Amongst Friends, but reportedly succumbed to boorish behavior, alienating many, including independent cinema impressario John Pierson, who vigorously denounced Weiss in his memoir Spike, Mike, Slackers and Dykes .
Entourage also tweaks the celebrity gossip outlets by inviting renowned stars to play themselves, often unflatteringly, a subversive concept pioneered in the early ’90s by HBO’s own The Larry Sanders Show, arguably a spiritual predecessor to Entourage. Indeed, in just a few episodes, the show has probably featured more celeb guest spots than the entire run of The Odd Couple, and this practice lends verisimilitude to the program, while snarkily blurring the lines between fact and fiction. In Season 7, we see Mike Tyson’s brats commandeer King Ari’s office – a subtle reminder that the talent pulls the strings, Eminem throwing down with Vince and Johnny in a disco, and a tatted-up Nick Cassavetes as a thuggish Cinemacho strongman, the very antithesis of his thinking-man dad, threatening Ari with bodily harm while exhorting Vince not to be “a pussy”.
Entourage can also be seen as an androcentric version of Sex and the City, as both shows offer up a clique of high-living, self-absorbed individuals navigating their way through a series of social and professional tribulations, with little apparent concern for anything or anyone outside their group. One senses that the ladies of Sex and the City are no less reluctant to step off the island of Manhattan than Woody Allen, despite his recent ‘romances’ with Paris and London, and I’ll bet my right arm that Vince’s cronies never venture east of La Brea Avenue, so often the case with parochial Los Angeles Westsiders.
Extras present in this DVD package are fairly copious, if unsurprising. A 13-minute featurette, “Inside The Hollywood Highlife”, elaborates on a car stunt Vince handles in Episode 1, we learn that Kevin Connolly helmed Epiosde 9, and cast and crew sing predictable hosannas about working together. A second, shorter documentary, “The Shades of Sasha Grey”, gives us a closer look at noted porn queen Sasha Grey, who figures prominently in this season, and no, I won’t say anything more about what her role is. Now trying to transition to ‘legitimate’ work, Grey cites DeNiro and Gena Rowlands as influences, and claims to have heavily researched the adult film industry before taking the plunge. Beyond these, there are at least three audio commentaries for the hardcore aficionado, and recaps of the first two seasons but, for some unfathomable reason, only a portion of Season 3. And the recaps stop there.
Entourage is a rude, scabrous, but presumably honest dissection of the manners and mores of the Dream Factory, a comic nightmare of Sammy Glick infecting all those around him. Ominously, Doug Ellin insists that the movie biz he depicts is a toned-down simulacrum of the real deal. It’s been remarked that Hollywood is merely high school with money, and Entourage cheerfully rubs our faces in this notion. Chow down, Entourage fans, ’cause after Season 8, school’s out.