Entourage is a weird animal for me. Though I find it imminently entertaining, it's often for the same reasons I also find it imminently frustrating. It's one of those shows where I can't reconcile why I like it with the reasons why I shouldn't like it, and so I just surrender to its hypnotic flow and try not to worry about it.
The series is about a sickeningly pretty actor, Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier), and his rise through the ranks of fame. In an attempt to maintain his self-belief as "just a guy from the neighborhood," he has surrounded himself with his childhood friends: his older brother, an out-of-work actor with the ridiculous moniker of Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon); the do-nothing who will do everything he's asked, Turtle (Jerry Ferrara); and the uptight guy who provides the sense of responsibility, Vince's business manager Eric (Kevin Connolly). The show chronicles their ups and downs on the party scene, as the four try to live a life of excess to match Vince's emerging status as a movie star. All of them are hopelessly shallow, and you can't help but feel a little dirty by being amused by their endless pursuit of less-than-noble good times. No one is going to end up talking politics on their nights out, unless there is a punchline on the back end to make the person who broached the topic look stupid. Nor will they be discussing art. Even their conversations about cinema are pretty basic. Most of the films they enjoy are going to show up as posters on the walls in the home of some flash-in-the-pan rapper on MTV Cribs.
Add to that that these dudes are exceedingly macho, and we're in a real trouble area. I don't particularly like any of these guys, and I doubt I'd ever want to hang around them. I particularly wouldn't want them near any woman I have even a passing acquaintance with, because I know I'd feel the need to apologize at the end of the night. This is why any female character on the show that is presented as having a brain must also have a permanently arched eyebrow. Just as the boys in the entourage wouldn't have jobs if it wasn't for their more famous friend, it's a pretty safe bet that they wouldn't have any women in their lives either (and, in fact, there is much comedy derived from Drama and Turtle's inadequacies in that--and just about ever other--department). The entourage is only tolerated because its leader is a talented guy.
Well, allegedly talented. That's something the audience has to take on faith. The few scenes we've seen of Vince in an acting role over the first three seasons have played more like parodies of real movies than legitimate motion pictures. Then again, that may actually be the main indicator of where Entourage is coming from. These guys aren't necessarily being presented on screen for emulation, but to be laughed at. They are examples of how insipid the current state of entertainment is, more of a celebrity machine than anything else. Sort of like the movie gangsters the quartet looks up to, if they end up being heroes of their own narrative rather than the buffoons, it's because of how tantalizing their lifestyle is. There's something about seeing guys who can go wherever they want and do whatever they want that we love to watch.
The most current Entourage DVD set is actually Season Three, Part 1. It's part of the new HBO scheme to draw out their shows over a longer period of air time, originally devised for the last season of Sex & the City and then carried over to the final season of The Sopranos. Presumably Entourage was given an extended season in order to couple it with The Sopranos, which it's airing in conjunction with. Both shows went on hiatus at the same time, and for those of you with cable, the second part of Entourage – Season Three will be starting again next month when The Sopranos returns. I'm not really sure if there would be much of a marketing difference for Entourage if the next batch of shows was called Season Four instead of Three, but by making these two halves part of one piece, I think it actually hurts the program. When these twelve shows are taken as a whole, they may still be funny, but from a narrative standpoint, they are stretched pretty thin. The life and career of Vincent Chase develops, but there seem to be more detours into non-sequitur episodes and knowing that we're being cut off midstream, the story lacks any sense of resolution. Lucky for the series creators, Entourage manages to still be plenty entertaining.
Much of Entourage – Season Two (reviewed here) was occupied with the pre-production of Aquaman, a James Cameron-helmed adaptation of the comic book with Vince starring as the underwater superhero. Season Three, Part 1 begins with the movie's opening. The first two episodes involve Vince and the guys caught up with the premiere and the first weekend box office, while the rest of the ten episodes concern themselves with what Vince is going to do as his next move now that he is in the biggest movie in the country. In the meantime, Vince's agent, Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven), has broken away from his larger firm to set up his own boutique agency. His entire venture is riding on his number-one client, and Vince is going to put him through the paces. If Ari wants this success, he's going to have to earn it.
Piven is Entourage's ace in the hole. Ari is more than the stereotypical shark agent, he's more like "Shark Week" all on his own. Back in Season One (reviewed here) when the series was still finding its legs, Ari was really the only reason to keep watching. You never know what foul thing is going to come out of his mouth, what dirty trick he's going to pull to get what he wants, and it never stops being fun waiting to find out. Through most of this cycle of shows, Ari is left spinning his wheels. Vince balks at signing on for Aquaman 2 and ends up chasing a couple of more arty projects in hopes of showcasing his acting skills. Every time Ari tells him to go left, Vince not only goes right but also switches the street signs so his agent is left running in circles trying to catch up. While this does provide Piven with opportunities to go to new levels of manic we haven't seen him employ with this character before, I can't help but wonder if this is a similar move as they pulled on Deadwood in their third season, when Ian McShane's character, Al Swearengen, was sidelined with an illness to give the other actors a chance to take the spotlight. It didn't work on that show, and it doesn't work here. Ari Gold is still the guy you want to watch more than any other.
These machinations actually allow Entourage plenty of time for the kind of insider subplots that interest me more than whether or not Vince can buy the car he wants or if Eric is going to be able to pull off a threesome with his girlfriend (Emmanuelle Chrigui) and her pal (Malin Akerman)--both of which come up this season. Far more fascinating are Ari's deals with the head of Warners (Paul Ben-Victor) or his old boss (Malcolm McDowell), or the industry jokes that spin out fast and furious. You practically need a pop culture scorecard to know why it's funny when, in one episode, the names Michael Bay, Kevin Smith, and Jake Gyllenhaal are all dropped, and how mean-spirited some of those references are. Season Three, Part 1 is already infamous for its harpooning of legendary producer Robert Evans (The Kid Stays in the Picture) with the has-been producer character played by Martin Landau. The show's honesty is what makes it more than just an empty-headed series about Hollywood glitz, and it's also likely why it attracts people like Paul Haggis, Penny Marshall, James Woods, and James Cameron to play themselves, often subverting or encouraging their images, both to the good and the bad.
Other guest stars this season include Mercedes Ruehl as Vince and Johnny's mother, Beverly D'Angelo as Ari's new partner, and the late Bruno Kirby as a producer Vince wants to work with, who also happens to be behind the Shrek franchise. Two of the best episodes of the season concern themselves with the addition of another of Vince's neighborhood pals, the rough-and-tumble and out-on-parole Dom, played with hilarious bullishness by The Wire's Domenick Lombardozzi. In his own misguided way, Dom cuts through the Hollywood horse manure with his East Coast attitude, showing how far from the neighborhood his old pals have traveled. Unfortunately for him, stealing the original Shrek doll is a little too real for the guys to handle, and he is shuffled out of sight so his buddies can return to the lifestyle to which they've become accustomed.
Season Three, Part 1 crests at episode 9, the Vegas episode. Seth Green shows up playing himself with his own entourage in tow, establishing them as a set of evil doppelgangers to Vince's entourage, both validating the show's concept and mocking it at the same time. Drama also gets himself into a precarious situation, something that only he can't see coming a mile away. Kevin Dillon is pretty much an unsung genius. He makes the most obvious, absurd situations into gold, and as far as the high comedy goes, he usually gets the best moments. In episode 3, "One Day in the Valley," while Vince has a bit of fun riffing on Almost Famous, Drama turns into a sweat machine in the valley heat, a threatening Jedi in a movie theatre, and he gets beaten in a wrestling match by a high school student. In other episodes, when Dillon gets turned down by Malin Ackerman, dangled off a balcony, and forced to give up his hot date with a rap video dancer so his mom can see the premiere of Aquaman, the actor's silent reaction shots induce more laughter than most of the written dialogue--which is actually saying something, because the writing on Entourage has a lot of zip. On the final disc of the set, Drama gets a pilot for a TV show being put together by Ed Burns, and true to form, his success is balanced out with some humiliating screw-ups. One imagines that even on his fictional shows, Johnny Drama would steal every scene.
The season's first half also rounds out with Vince finally getting his hands on a new project, this time connected to Landau's character. His hubris from earlier in the season catches up with him, though, and the wrath is also visited down on Ari, putting everyone in a shaky situation for the start of Part 2. How you feel about who is right or who is wrong in the shakedown is up to debate. I personally think Vince comes off badly, particularly given his petulant behavior throughout the rest of the season, angering a major studio and the Hollywood Foreign Press and sinking his chances on several projects. There are some, though, who feel Ari goes too far and gets what he deserves. I guess the second half of this season will be the payoff, and we'll just have to see how the dust settles.
Regardless, Entourage – Season Three, Part 1 is a well-written, well-acted go-around for Vinnie Chase and the Chasers. It may sag in the middle, but the arc regains its trajectory by the close of these twelve episodes, delivering another DVD set that lands just shy of being a shameful indulgence. You may or may not like the characters, but you're going to enjoy watching their outlandish exploits. In a weird way, Entourage is just the kind of show its fictional heroes would probably make themselves if given the opportunity. It's certainly the kind of entertainment they'd want to watch, and in a screwed-up metafictional way, it makes the series all the more ingenious.
There are three discs in Entourage – Season Three, Part 1, each with four episodes ranging between twenty-five and thirty minutes each. They come in a sturdy box that folds out to reveal three plastic trays, one for each disc. Beyond the quality of their programming, HBO always designs the nicest DVD sets. There is no "play all" function, but when one episode ends, it does cue up the next episode for you.
The English mix is really good, with lots of nice background details and some real bump in the speakers when the music kicks in.
There are three audio commentaries with producer and series creator Doug Ellin and actors Dillon and Ferrara. One is on DVD 1 and is for episode 2, "One Day in the Valley," and the others are on DVD 3, for episode 9 (the grammatically incorrect "Vegas Baby, Vegas!") and episode 12 (the grammatically correct "Sorry, Ari"). These are fairly entertaining, as the trio are obviously friends and have no problems engaging in a bull session. The topics veer all over the place, covering technical elements, on-set anecdotes, and tangential information that may not relate to the show at all. Given my premise that the show is a little overly saturated with testosterone, it's kind of funny hearing how much they debate certain lines of dialogue, afraid that maybe the characters are coming off as too lecherous. I'm also shocked by how much worrying was done in regards to Johnny Drama's Vegas exploits. I can't believe I'm saying this, but lighten up, guys!
DVD 3 also has a behind-the-scenes promo for the Vegas episode. Running eleven-and-a-half minutes, it's largely a standard puff piece, though it spends a lot of time on the casting of the strippers for the club scenes, taking us right back to that macho thing. (Though, kudos to Jeremy Piven for his Wizard of Oz quip.) Most interesting revelation: the show has some origins in Vegas, as Mark Wahlberg, whom the show is partially based on, flew the cast out there to bond before cameras rolled on season 1.