Entourage is the most fun you can ever have without actually making friends with the Next Big Thing - it's a giddily verite spin on what up-and-coming stars must go through on a daily basis. Centered on hot newcomer Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) whose movie "Head On" is opening to big business and a bright future; his brother Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon) and their two life-long pals from New York, Eric (Kevin Connolly) and Turtle (Jerry Ferrara)- the show, which is executive-produced by reformed bad boy Mark Wahlberg, never feels like anything less than stolen reality.
First airing last July on HBO, it was an instant success - it was renewed for a second season within a week of its premiere (a second season which begins on June 5, incidentally) and snagged two Golden Globe nominations in 2004 - one for Best Television Series, Musical or Comedy and one for Jeremy Piven's brilliant turn as Vincent's agent, Ari Gold.
Over the course of the eight episodes that make up the first season, viewers are introduced to this tight-knit group of friends as they explore the ins and outs of becoming famous - much of the show's power and charm comes from the rag-tag chemistry displayed by the four main actors. My girlfriend described the show as "a peek at a boy's club" - and she's right; it's this peek behind the curtain that is only hinted at in tabloids and TV talk shows that makes Entourage so fascinating and endlessly compelling.
More than once through the course of the commentary tracks, series creator/executive producer Doug Ellin and executive producer Larry Charles (late of Curb Your Enthusiasm) make note of the series' authenticity. The show feels grounded and as a result, makes the characters (who can do some pretty bone-headed things) much more sympathetic. Indeed, there's an air of Peter Pan (and not in that creepy Michael Jackson way) about these boys who, sometimes, refuse to grow up, indulging in wants like Gulfstream jets and spur of the moment trips to Vegas. For what, on the surface, would appear to be a throwaway show about beautiful people and hot celebrity cameos, Entourage packs a surprising emotional punch that rewards repeat viewings.
Speaking of celebrity cameos, this show is rife with them: executive producer Mark Wahlberg drops by, as does (among others) Val Kilmer, Luke Wilson, Sarah Silverman, Jimmy Kimmel, Jessica Alba, Sara Foster, Scarlett Johansson, Lennox Lewis and, of course, Gary Busey in one hilariously memorable episode (more on that below).
The set-up is killer, the casting (even down to the most minor roles) is spot-on and Entourage is so compulsively watchable that you may find yourself blowing through the entire run of eight episodes in one sitting - it's that good. Kudos to the creative team for taking the time to get it right and building a world populated with people it's easy to care about - Entourage looks to maintain its momentum going into its second season; here's hoping there's many seasons to come of Vince and his pals.
The inaugural season of Entourage fits on two discs and is housed in a rather handsome looking box that opens up revealing the insert attached to the lid and the pair of discs facing each other - very slick.
(Mild spoiler warnings throughout!)
Entourage (pilot), dir. David Frankel
The series kicks off with Eric suddenly having more input in the direction of Vince's career, on the eve of his breakout flick, "Head On" opening - which of course naturally infuriates Vince's temperamental agent, Ari. (Features commentary from Doug Ellin and Larry Charles.)
The Review, dir. Julian Farino
After Variety describes Vince's performance in "Head On" as "lackluster," Ari schools Eric in the fine art of handling negative reviews.
Talk Show, dir. Julian Farino
In support of "Head On," Vince agrees to an appearance on "Jimmy Kimmel Live," not realizing that his brother, Johnny Drama, has a bit of a history with Mr. Kimmel and that a former flame, Sara Foster, is also appearing.
Date Night, dir. Daniel Attias
Eric's budding relationship with Ari's assistant Emily (Samaire Armstrong) is put to the test during a night out with the boys in celebration of "Head On" opening - each fella brings someone a little different to the party, with some unexpected results.
The Script & The Sherpa, dir. Adam Bernstein
Vince's latest lady, an outspoken vegan named Fiona (Beau Garrett), isn't making any new friends with Vince's crew, who naturally aren't shy about letting him know.
Busey and the Beach, dir. Julian Farino
One of the funnier episodes in the season, Turtle accidentally breaks one of Gary Busey's sculptures during an art opening and Ari is forced to act when he fears that Vince may be toying with leaving him for Josh Weinstein (Joshua LaBar), another agent. (Features commentary from Doug Ellin and Larry Charles.)
The Scene, dir. David Frankel
As pre-production on the hard-won project "Queens Boulevard" begins, Vince takes a shine to Billy Walsh (Rhys Coiro), the director, even though Eric doesn't care for him.
New York, dir. Julian Farino
The season finale finds the boys packing up to head back home to the East Coast but not before Vince "says goodbye" to a laundry list of ladies around town - all this while Eric faces greater responsibility with Vince's career and Johnny Drama deals with a tough career decision. (Features commentary from Doug Ellin and Larry Charles.)
Presented in its original 1.33:1 ratio as broadcast, Entourage looks as sharp as a Prada lace-up. The image gets a little soft on occasion, but overall, this is a perfectly servicable transfer that looks as good, if not slightly better, than the original HBO broadcast.
Dolby 2.0 stereo is the only option available and while it would be cool if the soundtrack - which often features cuts by Jay-Z, Joe Walsh and The Doors - were a bit fuller, what's available sounds good. There's a slight punch to the songs every now and then, but the dialogue comes through loud and clear with no distortion.
The packaging makes it sound as though what's offered here is ample, but it's slightly closer to anemic - three commentary tracks, all featuring Ellin and Charles, split their time between describing what's on screen, pointing out friends and co-workers and along the way, talking a little bit about the long, winding road to having the show greenlit. Ellin seems a bit uncomfortable at first next to Charles, but he loosens up by the season finale. Aside from a season index and episode previews, the only other feature included here is a brisk, 10 minute and 20 second, full-screen behind-the-scenes featurette that features interviews with executive producer Wahlberg and the cast - some of what's covered in the commentary tracks is repeated here, but it's still a fun watch.
Entourage is the latest in the new wave of HBO series and sets out to do exactly what it promises: provide an entertaining peek behind the Hollywood curtain. It's a relaxed, funny series that will win over all but the most jaded viewers - consider it the somewhat warm-hearted antecedent to the occasionally harrowing "Unscripted." Highly recommended.