Reviews

Entourage

David Swerdlick

Entourage makes fun of Hollywood, but protects and promotes its mystique at the same time.


Entourage

Airtime: Sundays, 10pm
Cast: Adrian Grenier, Kevin Dillon, Kevin Connolly, Jerry Ferrara, Jeremy Piven, Debbi Mazar
MPAA rating: N/A
Network: HBO
Website
Amazon
I wanna live a life like that.
I wanna be just like a king.
Take my picture by the pool,
'Cause I'm the next big thing.
-- Weezer, "Beverly Hills"

Entourage is a once a week, summertime advertisement for a lifestyle that you're not living. Three guys in their 20s are soaking up the Southern California good life, thanks to the looks and charm of their buddy Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier), an up and coming movie star. The show's pitch to post-college, suburban guys is the equivalent of what hip-hop videos are to urban kids. The entourage has a never-ending supply of free designer gear, a giant bachelor pad, luxury cars, and access to the best parties, weed, and sexy groupies in L.A. The catch is that they must maintain a delicate balance between buddy and flunkie.

Last year's finale had a key male bonding sequence set on the tarmac of the Van Nuys airport. As Vince, his brother Johnny (Kevin Dillon), and Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) prepare to leave for Vince's next shooting location, Eric (Kevin Connolly) -- the semi-responsible member of the group and Vince's main guy -- demands to be elevated to official manager status. Vince plays hard to get, asking, "You're willing to fuck up our friendship?" before he agrees, "At five percent of me, I'd take that chance, too."

Season Two starts out with Vince and his crew back in L.A. looking for his next project. His agent, Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven) wants him to do Aquaman, a big-budget action movie. Vince wants something edgier (as Eric observes, "He doesn't want to be typecast"). Ari has to convince them that if they want to keep living lavishly, Vince has to do a movie that's commercial. At the Lakers game, he lays it out for them: "Lookit. There's the Joker, there's Batman, there's Spiderman. They're all typecast -- as rich guys."

Entourage's sarcastic bite begins in the casting. Vincent is a B-list actor with one medium-hot studio movie and one independent film under his belt, looking for a breakout hit. Ditto Grenier, who was looking to be big a few years ago, then took a few off-brand parts and never quite made it to superstar status (his credits include Drive Me Crazy and the straight-to-video Harvard Man). Kevin Dillon (real life brother of Matt). The show is loosely based on the experiences of executive producer Mark Wahlberg, whose brother Donnie (New Kids On The Block) was famous first, but flamed out long before Mark was a Calvin Klein billboard icon.

Like a music video, Entourage provides a stylized narrative set to music, without complication. It has all of the good stuff of videos -- plush scenery, action, and easily digested themes. In addition, it offers witty banter, and just enough dimension to hold viewers' attention beyond four minutes. Every episode comes around to the same conclusion in half an hour: being rich and famous rocks. Even when Vince and the guys have problems, they aren't really problems: Vince is bent because he can't get decent bagels or pizza in L.A. Johnny won't go swimming with topless groupies at a beach party because he's afraid his calves are too skinny. Eric gets dumped by Kristen (Monica Keena), but not before he sleeps with a Perfect 10 model. It would be easy to fault the show for being shallow, but that misses the point. Entourage makes fun of Hollywood, but protects and promotes its mystique at the same time.

The self-congratulatory sensibility the show chronicles should be annoying. But it winds up being irresistible, in the same way videos can be. It's patently absurd when rappers surround themselves with luxury cars, enough jewelry to blind you, and gyrating dancers all around. But it also makes them look cool, and fans seem content with just being able to watch and emulate.

Only Eric is even remotely self-conscious about the fact that women who are way out of his league want to date him, and that he drives a Maserati that puts Johnny Sac's to shame. But he obviously doesn't feel too guilty, because he drives the car, he sleeps with the women, and slowly but surely, he adapts to the "reality" of his best friend being a Hollywood commodity. In their world, it's always all good, so it becomes pointless to feel guilty or pass on any goodies, regardless of how undeserving they actually are. As Johnny guilelessly observes, "You know, we could all be working for the phone company."

At the end of a recent episode, Eric returns to an exclusive jewelry store to bring back a gift that he almost gave Kristen, now his ex-girlfriend. The slender blond saleswoman not-so-innocently asks, "So are you an actor too, like Vince?" There's a moment of existential hesitation as Eric considers just being himself, and the show flirts with the notion of some sort of personal dilemma, before he responds the only way that he can, "Actually, yeah, I'm Vince's manager." Her eyes light up, she gives up her phone number, cue Free's "All Right Now," roll credits.

It's no accident that Eric and Ari always have their meetings at an upscale restaurant called Koi. They're fish in a pond, eating and being seen. It's also no accident that the show's soundtrack features Mos Def, Beck, DJ Danger Mouse, and Franz Ferdinand. This is the right theme music for a show about the fantasy of being in the place to be at all times. Vince represents the fantasy lifestyle, and his posse represents the audience -- we're along for the ride. In the series pilot, Jane (Courtney Peldon) sums it up nicely when she tells Turtle, "Look, it's not like I don't think you're cute. But I'm just still hoping I'm gonna be the one that gets to fuck Vince."

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