Entourage: The Complete Fourth Season:
I don't watch a ton of TV, really. Don't even have cable. However, of my top five favorite shows, those that from my limited experience I consider the best television has to offer, two are FOX shows and three are from HBO. Entourage is on that list. Underneath its pop culture fetishism beats a heart of purest gold, in which fun, friendship, and belief in the self swirl around with the sharpest writing available for a bloody awesome show. With few signs of wear, season four cements the Entourage legacy - profane, pugnacious and perfect.
Rising Hollywood star Vincent Chase (effortlessly played by Adrian Grenier) lives in the hills with his brother Johnny (Kevin Dillon) and two best friends from back home, Eric (Kevin Connolly) and Turtle (Jerry Ferrara). Wrangled by Chase's brash agent Ari, (Jeremy Piven) the free-spirited star commits to the ludicrous balancing act of maintaining his integrity, forwarding his career (seemingly mostly for Ari's sake) and supporting his friends. Season Four finds Chase and temperamental director Billy Walsh (Rhys Coiro) massaging their dream/ vanity project Medellín - a biopic attempting to humanize Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar - while looking towards that next big project. True to Entourage form, egos and integrity prove to be an almost oxymoronic combination, with fortune's pendulum swinging wildly from fantastic to f*cked, over and over again. Within that swing is where Entourage sings, and all the bling, fabulous cars, high-voltage cameos, potent weed and copious booze are just more reasons to celebrate lovely life in La-la Land.
Since this is America, we'll assume you're at least fascinated to a degree by notions of fame, glamour and riches. If you're a boy from Queens and suddenly you're watching a 60-inch plasma TV in your $30,000-a-month Hollywood Hills pad with the infinity pool and visits from Anna Faris - it's gotta seem real nice. That's the entry point into Entourage, a hugely successful lure for viewers about which Robin Leach could tell you plenty. Profligate spending never hurts, either, Vincent demonstrates, even as fickle fate conspires to keep him from his next paycheck he figures his bankroll will keep him in his pad for 18 months, anyway. That's when they bring out the weed. This enticing charmed life just continues to roll out the celebrity cameos, too. (Cameos also bring more meta-weirdness - as cool as it is for Turtle and Drama to run into Snoop Dogg at a club, how much more interesting is it for these stars to be so eager for 30-seconds of face-time on Entourage?) Not only does Snoop cruise by, Gary Busey's back, Anthony Michael Hall pisses off a balcony, Dennis Hopper plays host and Kanye West helps out in a pinch. Where one of my other favorites - Curb Your Enthusiasm - shows the sour downside to privilege, Entourage just keeps pouring intoxicating draughts of fame and fortune.
All of which wouldn't have much punch if not for some superstar performances. Connolly's Eric and Ferrara's Turtle reliably ride their arcs, (Turtle could stand another Saigon situation, though) but Piven, Dillon and now Coiro own the show with quirky, fearless performances. Piven's doing possibly the best work of his career, and he just keeps ramping up in Season Four. His utterly believable bravado, bluster and flipside desperation mask a sincere (and sincerely self-centered) family man. He's so convincing - and entertaining - people can't believe he's not like Ari Gold in real life. Dillon's mother hen goofing is pure fun, he's crass and desperate too, but hardly gets a break, not until he's enticed by an international fan of his Viking Quest character. Finally, relative newcomer Rhys Coiro earns serious time in the sun while directing Medellín. His artiste character is reputedly based on Entourage Producer Rob Weiss and indie-maverick Vincent Gallo, and he lives in that wounded, insecure ego so well - blowing up frequently on set, nursing a bottle of vodka and a gun - you can't believe he's not real.
Filmed like a luxury car commercial, Entourage walks the talk (and talks the walk, I guess). In fact, Season Four has quite a few tricky 'walk and talk' sequences, ala The West Wing - long takes as the camera backtracks while the guys nail their lines and hit all their marks. It's a nice way to ramp up the energy already generated by slick edits, sweeping camera moves and lustful shots of cars and sunbathing beauties. Writing, as ever, is sharp as a tack. Gold's tirades are more frantic and foul-mouthed than ever, Billy Walsh gets nice succinct hangdog blowouts, and Drama charts a number of howlers. I have to include the one during which Drama tells Turtle about a particular bit player, noting that he'll 'be sitting on her face like a bidet' by day's end. There's really too much clever stuff to mention, like Peter Jackson's CGI cameo, great ideas that are tossed out as a mere matter of course.
For anyone who's ever felt downtrodden, or craved respect and power, Season Four continues to fan those flames. While each instance of braggadocio seems to hide deep-seated insecurity and fear of failure, the whole notion of telling people what's going to happen, completely sidestepping any notion of asking, and living with the belief that you can make anything happen through fast-talking and force of will, is the ultimate aphrodisiac. Entourage is a very sexy show.
Ari, Vince and Eric continue to be three parts of a whole: Vince the breezy idealist, Eric the quiet realist and Ari the raging super-ego that gets things done. Their brotherly battles continue apace, and somehow the formula - Ari says one thing, Vince does another, failure looms but they still emerge unscathed - keeps working. By Season Four's end, however, Medellín's success is in question, and it's unclear if the heart of the show - the brotherly love shared by our boys - will be enough to launch them onto the next dripping-gold star.
Entourage Season Four episodes are presented in a 16 x 9 aspect ratio. The picture is nice and sharp, with excellent levels of detail - only in the smoggy, smoggy vistas of L.A. do things become indistinct. In such shots, background images of sky, clouds, smog-banks and buildings become grainy. Otherwise, there's nothing really in the way of compression artifacts to report, while colors are generally rich and naturalistic. Certain outside scenes underline a bit of harsh sunlight - especially when the crew struts around Rodeo Drive or West Hollywood. In general, Entourage Season Four looks about as good as your average DVD movie presentation.
Good old English Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio and French and Spanish 2.0 Audio tracks come with each episode. Entourage isn't a show big on special audio effects, but it would be cut in half if not for superior music selections. Closing credits music is always spot on, and each and every track used within the episodes propels the story and uplifts the spirit (often with a righteously head-bobbing hip-hop track). Music is up front and sounds stellar, then drops precipitously and well when dialog appears. Everything is clear as a bell, tight and dynamically arranged. This is a show to blast - use your speakers if you got 'em.
The biggest extra is a set of three Audio Commentary Tracks (one for each disc) with series creator/ executive producer/ writer Doug Ellin, Adrian Grenier, Kevin Dillon, Kevin Connolly and Jerry Ferrara. The commentaries swing between 'watching the show with your friends and some beers' (in fact in their enjoyment the commentators often fall silent) and solid behind-the-scenes information, mostly from Ellin. Though more commentaries would be nice, these are funny, entertaining and informative, and the guys often talk over each other or cover up their comments with laughter, so the tracks actually merit more than one listen each. Also included is the fantastic unrated Medellín Trailer for the fictional film. Edited in perfect Hollywood style, with classic narration, the hard-selling trailer makes the movie look fantastic, while (for the meta-audience - that's us) also managing to be hilarious and pointing out (check Chase's Escobar makeup, for instance) how absolutely ludicrous the movie is. Sending us further down the rabbit-hole is a seven-minute long featurette The Making of Medellín, which shows how Entourage creatives and crew dummied up the whole filming of Medellín, which in itself was the subject of a faux making-of documentary comprising the first episode of the series. If you at all have a hard time separating what Grenier's life must be like in comparison to Chase's, this mini-making-of and the first episode will thoroughly warp your mind. Both subjects are also, of course, quite funny. The US Comedy Arts Festival Panel - hosted by critic Elvis Mitchell, features 47 minutes of questions and answers with Ellin, Grenier, Piven, Connolly and more. Lots of good-natured laughs and ribbing go around, the actors are forthright while demonstrating just how good the writers on the show are. Closed Captioning and English, French and Spanish Subtitles are available for all episodes. Finally, a super-cute two-minute interview Meet The Newest Member Of Entourage! helps us get to know the youngest cast member. Nepotism is not dead, it's nice to see.
After what many thought to be a lackluster Season Three, Entourage comes roaring back for Season Four on this three-disc collection of half-hour episodes. Starting with the brilliant 'Making Of Medellín' documentary/ premier episode, all the razor's-edge writing, skewering of Hollywood, brotherly love, internecine fighting and booze-fueled celebrations you can handle are here for you. If you can't stand the notion of someone getting paid $10,000,000 to star in a silly movie, Entourage might not be for you, but even then you should give it a chance. With vital characterizations, exhilarating fun and jaw-dropping humor, Entourage Season Four is Highly Recommended.
- Kurt Dahlke
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