Warner Bros. // 2004 // 240 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // May 18th, 2005
His fame is their fortune.
HBO is in a tight spot. Their flagship shows, which have proven to be enormously successful and helped make a new name for the cable channel over the past several years, are coming to an end. Sex and the City has already wrapped up; The Sopranos and Six Feet Under are entering into their final seasons. Some new blood has to be brought in.
Enter the Mark Wahlberg-produced Entourage, premiering in the summer of 2004, and now being released as Entourage: The Complete First Season in a new two-disc DVD boxed set. Is the show another Deadwood for the network? Or will it suffer the fate of The Mind of the Married Man and K Street?
Movie star Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier, The Adventures of Sebastian Cole, Cecil B. Demented) is on the road to the top: His new action thriller, Head On, is about to open; Ari, his pit-bull agent (Jeremy Piven, Chasing Liberty, Grosse Point Blank), has just lined up his next movie, described as "Die Hard at Disneyworld"; he lives in an enormous house in Hollywood, dates beautiful women, and makes piles of money. And, like any young star in Tinsel Town, he's got a gang of buddies who accompany him wherever he goes: his older brother, a has-been / would-be actor who goes by the name Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon, Platoon, The Doors), Turtle (Jerry Ferrara, Nailed Right In), and Eric (Kevin Connelly, The Notebook), the best friend who's recently moved out from New York to serve as Vincent's unofficial script reader and manager.
The first half of Season One revolves around the promotion and publicity of Vincent's newest film, Head On, costarring Jessica Alba (Honey, who is one of many celebrities doing a guest appearance as herself); the second half deals with Eric's efforts to get Vincent to star in a low-budget independent film (shooting back home in New York) against Ari's wishes, as well as his growing interest in being taken more seriously as Vincent's manager.
Here's how I've decided to make the case for Entourage, one of the better-kept secrets on television (despite some commercial and critical success -- the first season picked up two Emmy nominations -- it's still failed to spark the kind of morning-after discussion that HBO's most popular shows inspire). Seeing as it's a show in which plot takes a back seat -- it's driven by its five major characters (the four friends and Piven's agent character) -- I thought I might attempt to examine which of the characters (or the respective actor's performance of that character) makes the show work. Sounds easy, right? Yeah, okay. Here we go.
* Eric: The obvious brain of the series, Eric is the character we experience all events through. He's the audience's vessel: the fish-out-of-water -- the Normal Guy -- unfazed by the surfaces and politics of Hollywood. Eric is there solely for his best friend -- the fact that his friend happens to be a big movie star doesn't seem to factor into the equation, a quality that endears Eric to us even further and gives us yet another reason to root for him. Kevin Connelly keeps Eric grounded -- he's the only one who sees the big picture amid a sea of fickle now-ness and immediate gratification. He's our ballast; without Connelly, the show would float away towards total inaccessibility -- a self-absorbed in-joke not unlike Steven Soderbergh's Full Frontal (or that similarly-themed -- and, incidentally, Soderbergh-produced -- other HBO show, Unscripted). With him, it becomes a kind of travelogue with Eric as our guide; an outsider's look at the movie industry, told from the inside.
* Vincent Chase: Look, as a satire of the movie business in Hollywood, it would have been all too easy for Entourage to take the low road and make the character of Vincent Chase, the movie star at the show's center, a self-absorbed and self-serious narcissist -- a one-dimensional douchebag. It's a testament to the writers, then, and to Adrian Grenier's loopily charismatic performance, that Vincent comes off as charming and magnetic as he does. We believe the man is a star. We understand his appeal. More importantly, though, we respect him -- not for his professionalism (he doesn't have much) or his talent (which we don't get to see), but for his loyalty to his friends. Vince is a Good Guy; he's someone we want to hang out and be friends with, whether or not he's famous (the fact that he is doesn't hurt). Grenier allows us to see the man beneath the celebrity, and it's that kind of humanism that makes Entourage much more than just another shallow stab at a shallow culture.
* Johnny Drama: If Kevin Connelly's Eric is the brains of Entourage, then Kevin Dillon's funny, ballsy, and, yes, touching portrayal of Vincent Chase's older, never-quite-made-it actor brother Johnny is the show's undeniable heart. Not only does he provide a perfect picture of what could have been (if Vince had never hit it big, the two brothers would be in the same boat), but Johnny also represents the enormous fringe component of Hollywood -- the bit players, the extras, the people facing countless rejections at the hands of countless auditions. Dillon makes Drama aggressively and hilariously macho -- by the last couple of episodes in the season, he's able to get laughs just by opening his mouth -- but there's a human side to him that occasionally peeks its head out. Neither Dillon nor the show's creators ever call attention to it, and that's the right choice, but it's there -- watch the hurt on his face when the Industry lets him down for the umpteenth time, or when his friends treat the business that he knows and loves like their own personal playground. As much fun as the Entourage gang has with the movie industry, Johnny Drama still takes it very seriously; that he's forever passed over in favor of his younger brother, who couldn't take it less seriously, clearly weighs on him. Dillon never goes too heavy with this shade of his character, though, and keeps it light and funny; like the rest of the actors, he takes a role that could easily go broad and grounds it in humanity. Maybe something in the role speaks to Kevin Dillon, whose real-life older brother Matt has had a more successful career, but he's finally gotten a role deserving of his talents; with Entourage, it's the younger Dillon getting the last laugh.
* Turtle: The most amazing thing about Jerry Ferrara's performance as Brooklynite goofball Turtle is that is works at all. He's the clown in the series already top-heavy with comic relief; if Vincent Chase is the King, then Turtle is his Jester. In a show called Entourage, he's the clearest example of the simple-minded route the show could have taken -- he's a hanger-on, the only one in the group who's there to take full advantage of being friends with a movie star. Turtle's not above making Vince shill for an electronics store during a Jimmy Kimmel appearance in order to get a home theater hookup; he talks the assistant to Vince's publicist into scoring him some UGG boots so that he can score with a girl. And, yet, there's more to Turtle than opportunism and leeching; he's a loyal friend and a hard worker for Vince, often taking on tasks that no one else is interested in performing. Ferrara, the only actor on the show of whom I was previously unaware, is a real find. As broadly as his character is sometimes drawn, Ferrara finds subtle ways to make him funny -- a gesture or an expression to punch up the laugh on the page. He's also got a kind of Clerks-era Jason Mewes thing about him, in that he doesn't appear to be acting at all -- you'd swear someone just plucked him off the street and threw him into a series. That kind of naturalism helps keep the role from being too over-the-top silly. He avoids being the Screech and becomes a totally believable member of the gang.
* Ari Gold: Vincent Chase's agent, Ari Gold, is exactly what you expect from Entourage. He's a fast-talking, caffeinated sleaze -- more willing to pimp for his client than he is to participate in his own family. As played by Jeremy Piven, though, Ari becomes something transcendent. It goes beyond the typical "backstage Hollywood satire" -- which it (and the whole of Entourage) could have been nothing more than -- and lives and breathes on its own. The performance -- the only one of the bunch to receive an Emmy nomination last fall -- is the breakout of the show, and there's a reason: This is the role Piven has been leading up to his entire career. He's played roles that have contained elements of Ari -- think of his manic energy in Peter Berg's Very Bad Things or his cocksure arrogance in Judgment Night -- but Entourage finds Piven firing on all cylinders. He barks and insults, wheels and deals; he's cruel, sharp, vulgar and hilarious. In show packed with good reasons to watch, Piven is the best one -- his Ari Gold might just be the most likeable bastard on television.
So, which guy is it that makes the show work? The answer should be obvious: It's no one character, but rather the sum total of each of them that adds up to what makes Entourage such a smart, funny, and refreshing series. It's one of the rare shows I've seen that understands the ways in which guys interact and relate to one another (a bit like a boys' answer to Sex and the City in that way), but avoids lapsing into misogyny or macho stereotypes -- there's an appeal for men and women alike. Plus, there are enough layers present in the show to last it for multiple seasons; the fact that the creative forces at work have found and developed so many of those layers in the span of a single season speaks well for what's to come.
Entourage: The Complete First Season comes to DVD courtesy of Warner Bros. The eight episodes are spread out over two discs (four on each, for no good reason) and are presented in their original full frame television format. Though the series' photography shifts from bright, sunny L.A. beaches to the darkened clubs of the night life, the image on the DVD never favors one look over the other -- the image is surprisingly consistent and detail is sharp throughout. The 2.0 stereo audio track packs an unexpected punch; the dialogue is loud and clear and the ever-present thumping rap-and-club music has real presence. It's a very technically sound set.
The extras that have been included -- and they're pretty spare -- appear primarily on the second disc. Doug Ellin (Kissing a Fool) and Larry Charles (Seinfeld), who both serve as writers and producers on the show, speak over three episodes -- one on first disc (the Pilot) and two on the second. Their commentaries are listenable if uninspired. There's a reasonable amount of behind-the-scenes information present, and they can be amusing at times (especially when talking about Gary Busey's insane and brilliant turn as himself in the episode "Busey and the Beach"), but I would have liked to have heard some of the other voices that helped bring the show to TV -- say, Mark Wahlberg (who's an executive producer and major inspiration for the Vincent Chase character), for one. There's also a short behind-the-scenes piece that basically talks about how much the cast members like one another and how they all bonded on a trip to Las Vegas.
Give Entourage a chance. It's a smart, funny show and one of the few half-hour comedy series on television that actually works. Long may it run.
Not guilty. Let's hug it out, bitch.
Review content copyright © 2005 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
Running Time: 240 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Cast and Crew Interviews
* Audio Commentaries on "Entourage (Pilot)," "Busey and the Beach," and "New York" Featuring Creator-Executive Producer Doug Ellin and Executive Producer Larry Charles
* Official Site