Judge Bill Gibron wishes he could smoke weed and hang out with famous people too...or maybe just the former.
Our reviews of Entourage: The Complete First Season (published May 18th, 2005), Entourage: The Complete Second Season (published June 5th, 2006), Entourage: Season Three, Part 1 (published April 3rd, 2007), Entourage: Season Three, Part 2 (published October 17th, 2007), Entourage: The Complete Fourth Season (published August 26th, 2008), Entourage: The Complete Fifth Season (published July 13th, 2009), Entourage: The Complete Sixth Season (published June 28th, 2010), and Entourage: The Complete Seventh Season (Blu-ray) (published August 4th, 2011) are also available.
All that's missing is a fictional version of the Funky Bunch.
It's the situation with almost all successful TV shows: what starts out smart and special ends up coasting on its way toward syndication or a pre-planned, insignificant sign-off. Actors grow comfortable, ego explodes, F-You money rolls in, and the premise that produced the enterprise in the first place is tapped of every last bit of entertainment relevance or potential. In the worst cast scenario, the series takes itself too seriously, turning into a more mannered late season member of the holier than thou M*A*S*H* mindset. In the case of the quasi-autobiographical HBO offering, Entourage, Executive Producer Mark Wahlberg, along with creator Doug Ellin, wanted to comment on the fleeting and foul nature of fame while showcasing how celebrity changes everything, including the personnel surrounding a fledgling star. Over the course of eight seasons, the rise and fall of such studio machine fodder found funny, often focused satire. By the end, however, the creative well ran a bit dry. Just a bit.
Facts of the Case
How do you sum up eight seasons in a single paragraph? Better still, since DVD Verdict houses several sensational reviews of the other DVD/Blu-ray box sets available, is there really a need for anything other than a brief overview? No, so, here is the recommendation. Read the following paragraphs, then head on over to read Patrick Bromley's overview of Seasons One, Two, Five, Six, Seven, and half of Three, Mike MacNeil's look at the second half of said series, and Tom Becker's take on Season Four. Then come back to see what's offered as part of Eight, as well as any additional information that's necessary for your understanding and enjoyment.
As for the premise, Entourage focuses on a group of friends led by acting wannabe Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier, The Devil Wears Prada). Hoping to be a star, he has buddy Eric Murphy, or "E" (Kevin Connolly, The Ugly Truth) function as his manager. He has an older half-brother named Johnny "Drama" (Kevin Dillon, The Blob) who works as a cook, trainer…more or less as a kind of glorified personal assistant. He had a minor moment in the spotlight and is looking to revive his lagging performance fortunes. There's also Salvatore "Turtle" Assante (Jerry Ferrara, Battleship), another childhood pal and personal aide, as well as hyperactive power-agent Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven, I Melt With You). The main narrative sees Vincent rising through the ranks, finding success with smaller roles before hitting it big with a James-Cameron-helmed treatment of Aquaman, and then falling out of favor with the studios before struggling to get back in via the hard work route. In between there are flops, personal failures, hits, hack work, and a revolving door of ladies and lotharios.
Season Eight sees Vince successfully completing rehab and desperate to find a new footing in Tinseltown. Previous business deals start to pay off, while Drama's animated TV show, Johnny Bananas, goes through some rollercoaster-like creative troubles. Ari's separation from his wife continues, as do his professional problems at the agency. Eric decides to leave the business to play dad, while Turtle finally turns a profit. Marriage for our lead looms on the horizon as Ari contemplates retirement, and a big time CEO offer he may not be able to refuse.
Like walking into a war you didn't start and really don't understand, entering the Complete Series box set of Entourage is daunting. There's a reputation surrounding it, a cult of aesthetic appreciation that, at least initially, the uninformed are not remotely part of. Message boards and fanboys have, for years, argued over the various subplots, the clever (or cloying) use of cameos, and the autobiographical reflections back to Wahlberg and his start in show biz. There was even talk of trying to make the Cameron Aquaman a reality…of sorts. Throughout this time, Entourage peaked and then started to sway. It drifted off into the entertainment ephemera, replaced by other cutting-edge entries, and then finally faded off into the remembrances of those who will always appreciate its ironies and insights.
So if you love Entourage, if you sat patiently by your TV hoping that HBO would announce another season, or a tie-in feature film, there is nothing this review can do to persuade or dissuade you from picking up this set. You are already on the hook and have given up the fight. The question then becomes one of accessibility: mainly, will someone without any knowledge of what Entourage is or stands for be able to pick up, nay appreciate what others find so fun? The answer is a bit scattered. At first, the series is a rapid fire takedown of the guy group-think ideal. Vince and his posse play the scene for every ounce of comic opera they can, disregarding political correctness and the overall tone of Hollywood circa the new millennium. The dialogue is sharp, the characters clear cut but never quite cliched, and the plot machinations interesting without being too intricate.
Once established, the truth about "the business" starts to take shape. We get the slings and arrows of attempted stardom, the washed-up wisdom of those at the top, or who used to be, and the setbacks that lead to personal and professional disaster. All the while, behind-the-scenes savant Ellin draws us in, making us root for these idiots even as they are doing their best impression of men behaving very, very badly. While Vince and Ari take up the bifurcated center, therefore determining the collective enjoyment one will get from the show (let's face it, if you don't like Grenier or Piven, you're going to find things very rough indeed), there are dozens of ancillary elements to appreciate. Entourage knows its subject, it understands these guys, and surrounds them with stunts and stories that bring out the best/worst in what is basically a career coming of age. Get invested, and eight years of professional pros and cons complement the character's growth…or lack thereof.
That being said, as it aged, Entourage tended to aggravate. Do we really need more of Turtle's pot proud dunderheadedness, or Eric and Sloan's pre-baby mama drama? Could Kevin Dillon look less happy, or Piven more pissed? As individual ideas, the Entourage gang works. As a collective aiming to chase all your cares away, they sometimes fail. As with many such series, Season One gets us in, Two and Three sell us, Four tries to stretch. Five shows how foolish that might be, and Six, Seven, and Eight argue for a marginal amount of overstaying one's welcome. Still, there are a lot of laughs here, and some interesting people providing them. Where else would you find Big Boi of Outkast, Jimmy Kimmel, Val Kilmer, U2, Paul Haggis, Mary J. Blige, Eric Roberts, Gus Van Sant, Matt Damon, and Mark Cuban among hundreds of others. Not every noted in-joke is effective, but for the most part, Entourage is more of a success than a failure. When it finds its rhythms, it's righteous. When it doesn't, it dawdles before simply drifting off.
Of course, anyone buying the entire series in a single shot probably already has their own opinion about the show's success. All they really care about are the transfer and tech specs. Luckily, HBO makes sure this HD upgrade is worth it. Granted, the show did start out kind of small, and the visual elements look it. Colors are not as bright and sharp as they are later on, and details can get lost in some of the directing and DP choices. Yes, we get a few minor issues here and there (ghosting, artifacting), but they are very few and even farther between. No, the 1.78:1, 1080p image is appropriately cinematic. As for the sound situation, we are treated to a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 that really believes in the sonic cues created by Ellin and his collaborators. Sure, the dialogue is clean and crisp, but it's the various pop, rock, and hip-hop material used that really set the speakers alight. There are also a lot of spatial and directional elements, making the rear channels essential instead of superfluous.
As for added content, get ready, cause there's a lot. The extras are divided up by season and spread out over the box set's 18 discs. For Season One, we get three commentaries from Ellin and Executive Producer Larry Charles. Recorded at the time of the series first run-through (2005), they add an interesting perspective to the material later on. We also get a 10-minute behind-the-scenes. Season Two's pickings are rather paltry, with a 10-minute Mark Wahlberg featurette being the only bit of extra. Season Three, Part 1 returns to the discussions as Ellin is joined by cast members Dillon and Ferrara. They are funny and full of information. We are also treated to a 12-minute overview of shooting in Las Vegas. Part 2 offers two more commentaries with the aforementioned, as well as a third including Kevin Connolly. We also get a making-of documentary (only 12 minutes) and a near hour-long sit down with many in the cast and crew from the Museum of Radio & Television.
Season Four give us three more discussions with Ellin, Dillon, Ferrara, Connolly and Grenier, three minor featurettes (some lasting no more than two minutes) and a 48-minute panel from the US Comedy Arts Festival. Season Five has more commentaries (this time, with Ellin, Grenier, Connolly, Ferrara and producer Ally Musika) and a 10-minute take on the various cameos while Season Six continues the discussion bent (with Ellin, Musika, Grenier, Connolly, Piven, Dillon, Ferrara and special guest Bob Saget) and three EPK-like explanations of the show and specific episodes. At Seven, we have more conversation with Ellin, Musika, Grenier, Connolly, Piven and Ferrara, as well as a look at porn actress Sasha Grey and a Hollywood-centric, HBO-centered behind-the-scenes. Eight ends things on a rather weak note. No commentaries. No major making-ofs. Instead, we are treated to a 29-minute reminiscence, which does little except confirm how much fun the show was to make and how much the actors and creators love each other.
For many, Entourage was a nice, nimble novelty. It will never be listed as one of the greatest TV comedies of all time, and on occasion, the sum of its parts barely equaled the amusing gall of some of its separate sections. It walked a fine line between knowledge and nuttiness, and rarely fell off, and while the latter seasons show signs of wear, the beginnings remain brash and bold. Coming at it all in one big box set shock treatment may not be the way to go, but if you are a fan, this is a must. For others, a more cautious consideration is in order. Begin slowly, perhaps with a trip to some On Demand service. If Entourage then scores with your sensibilities, jump right in. But be warned: it can't consistently deliver what will delight you in the first place. Accept that fact and the rest is pure power lunching.
Not guilty. A good show and an equally impressive series overview.
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