When it comes to quality TV shows (and I judge "quality" by the amount of times friends and readers tell me "Dude, you have to see this show!!"), I'm more than content to wait for the DVDs. I'd heard so many people raving about HBO's Entourage that I just knew I had to check it out eventually. I mean ... it's about a young movie star who invades Hollywood with two old buddies and his big brother. That's so up my alley it's not even funny. Combine the concept with the fact that Entourage comes from a guy who's actually been there (Mark Wahlberg), and all of a sudden this warm-yet-venomous Tinseltown satire takes on some extra layers.
Last year a friend of mine lent me his Season 1 set, and I pretty much went nuts for the thing. Laden with "inside" jokes, Hollywood jabs, and a strangely unexpected amount of wit and warmth, Entourage is a supremely satisfying comedy -- doubly so if you happen to be a ravenous movie geek like me.
The players are:
Up & coming superstar Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier), who's been in Head On and Queens Boulevard, but needs a big-time blockbuster to cement his status.
Straight-arrow manager Eric Murphy (Kevin Connolly), who's been friends with Vince since they were six years old. It's Eric's job to keep Vincent focused, professional, and happy.
Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) is another old pal who's been given the "general labor" job: Keep the household moving, make the important purchases, drive the car, etc.
Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon) is Vince's older brother, a semi-failed actor who's living off the last crumbs of fanboy praise. Always happy to ride his little brother's coattails, but also fiercely loyal and protective, Drama just might be the best character of the bunch...
...ah, but then there's Ari Gold, shark-like talent agent extraordinaire. As played by the brilliantly funny character actor Jeremy Piven, Ari, while not exactly a part of the "entourage," storms through every episode and doles out only the biggest laughs.
So you have the concept and you have the characters. The rest is an all-out assault on the duplicity, hypocrisy, and insanity that is Hollywood. Season 2 sees Vince signing on to star in James Cameron's Aquaman, which gives Entourage an enjoyable "soap opera" feel as you wend your way through the episodes ... but there are a lot of detours along the way. Highlights include: as trip to Sundance, time spent at a Comic Con, and an ill-fated romance between Vincent Chase and Mandy Moore.
Ah yes, the guest stars! Peppered throughout Entourage's second season you'll find an impressive array of Hollywood royalty, all of whom seem more than willing to poke a little fun at their chosen profession. Keep your eyes peeled for juicy moments from Amanda Peet, Gary Busey, Jaime Pressly, Ralph Macchio, Bob Saget, Bai Ling, Peter Dinklage, Brooke Shields, Beverly D'Angelo, Dale Dye, Richard Schiff, Malcolm McDowell, Vanessa Angel, Rainn Wilson, Pauly Shore, and the late Chris Penn. Maury Chaykin also chimes in with one of the funniest Harvey Weinstein caricatures I've ever seen. Plus, c'mon, who would have ever thought that James Cameron could be funny? (Special mention is due to Ms. Debi Mazar, who pops up quite frequently as a wonderfully, profanely direct publicist.)
Recently renewed for a third season (yay!), Entourage is a concept that sounds potentially smug and obnoxious on paper, but with a stellar cast, some superlative writing, and the sure hand of series creator Doug Ellin at the helm, the thing's a damn sight more compelling and insightful than it has any real right to be. Plus it's really freaking funny.
Video: The episodes are presented in a clean and crisp fullscreen format, just as they're delivered on HBO.
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 across the board: English, French, and Spanish. Optional subtitles are available in the same three languages.
No commentaries, darnit, but there's a rather excellent piece on disc 3 called The Mark Wahlberg Sessions. It's a 22-minute interview compendium in which Wahlberg discusses the series with Grenier, Connolly, Ferrara, Dillon, Piven, and several other cast & crew members. For those who'd like to learn a little of the "truth" behind Entourage, this featurette is for you.
You'll also find a season 1 recap and 14 individual episode previews, should you need 'em.
Entourage has figured out a way to have its cake and eat it, too: It's a scathing, sexy indictment of Hollywood silliness, but it also has enough sincerity and warmth to work as a character piece. In the hands of lesser actors and producers, Entourage could have been a stunningly obnoxious experience. Happily for all involved, it is not.