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.