Judge Patrick Bromley finds that being a Hollywood insider is all it's cracked up to be.
Our reviews of Entourage: The Complete First Season (published May 18th, 2005), 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), Entourage: The Complete Seventh Season (Blu-ray) (published August 4th, 2011), and Entourage: The Complete Series (Blu-ray) (published December 10th, 2012) are also available.
Fame. It's more fun with your friends.
A year ago I reviewed HBO's release of Entourage: The Complete First Season and, having enjoyed the series immensely, expressed some concern over its chances of becoming a hit for the network. A number of their flagship shows had either wrapped or were just about to (Sex and the City, Oz, Six Feet Under—even The Sopranos has an end in sight), and HBO had yet to find another regular series to match the kind of commercial and critical success they had met with under their previous lineup.
Well, it's a year later and Entourage is officially a hit (at least, enough of one that a third season is just about to start, which this DVD set is no doubt intended to coincide with). Now the question becomes whether Season Two delivers on the promise of Season One. Is Entourage still as good as it was?
Facts of the Case
The second season of Entourage picks up several months after last season's finale, with the boys returning from New York and the filming of Queen's Blvd. Eric (Kevin Connolly, The Notebook) is now working full time as the manager of his best friend, movie star Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier, Harvard Man, A Perfect Fit). Johnny "Drama" (Kevin Dillon, Poseidon) is still searching for his next acting gig and contemplating getting calf implants, while Turtle (Jerry Ferrara, Brooklyn Rules) is looking for some new avenues to generate income. As always, Vince's likably sleazy manager, Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven, Runaway Jury), is busy lining up the next movie deal, but he's having some difficulty doing so—Vince's time away shooting an indie film has left him "cold."
Much like the show's first season, Season Two of Entourage is structured essentially in two parts. The first part involves the gang's search for the next gig, complicated further by mounting financial problems and the purchase of a new multimillion-dollar home. It eventually leads to Vincent's being considered for the lead in the new Warner Bros. production of Aquaman, though those negotiations don't exactly go smoothly. The second half of the season deals with preproduction on Aquaman and the trouble that arises when Vince resumes a previous romantic relationship with his costar, Mandy Moore (Chasing Liberty).
The box set consists of all 14 episodes that make up the second season of
I hate food analogies, especially in criticism, and refuse to use them. If I didn't, I might compare a cable series like The Sopranos to a steak, in that it's thick and satisfying and gives the viewer something to chew on and digest. Then I might go on to say that, conversely, a show like Entourage is more like a root beer float—fizzy and sweet and fun to gulp down, while still capable of pretty much melting away. That's if I used food analogies. Too bad I hate them.
Instead, I'll say that Entourage is a massively entertaining show, and the second season is every bit as good as the first. This is a fast, funny, smart, adult show. These are fun people to hang out with. They do fun things. They're good to one another—best friends without preaching about being best friends (like, say, Friends). In fact, Entourage is the first worthy successor to Swingers in that it understands boys and their friendships in a way that most entertainment doesn't. Fun is fun (and Entourage is nothing if not about having fun), but at the end of the day there's a real bond between these guys—a sensitivity, dare I say—that goes beyond the macho high-fiving and chest-thumping that we are typically treated to elsewhere.
In a recent review, I took movies about moviemaking to task for being too lazy and self-reflexive—there's nothing inherently funny about winking at yourself. But even though Entourage is set in the movie industry, it never runs into that problem. It's inside, sure, but not exclusive. It doesn't go for cheap shots at the industry (an episode built around a Harry Knowles-like web guru, played by The Office's Rainn Wilson, comes close, but it's too funny and well deserved to criticize), nor does it focus on one aspect selectively. Entourage gives us the whole showbiz spectrum in Hollywood, from the A list (James Cameron, very funny playing himself as the director of Aquaman—though the fact that this is really the only work he's done in close to 10 years is a bit saddening) to the B list (Brooke Shields costarring with Johnny "Drama" in a movie of the week) to the C list (Pauly Shore getting thrown out of the Playboy mansion). The series doesn't seek to savagely spoof Hollywood; it just exists there.
Season Two is jam-packed with highlights: There's Vince's first heartache (kudos to Mandy Moore for working without ego), there's Turtle's foray into music management, there's Johnny "Drama" competing with Vanessa Angel (Kissing a Fool) at the San Diego Comicon. The boys go to Sundance, to the Playboy mansion, to a U2 concert (though that last one seems to be less about how fun it is to be famous than about how fun it is to work on Entourage). Eric gets a new girlfriend (played by Emmanuelle Chriqui of In the Mix); the boys shoot a commercial for a Chinese soft drink and move in next door to TV-dad Bob Saget, who spends his days getting stoned and is on a first-name basis with every hooker in a brothel. Best of all: The penultimate episode of the second season, "Exodus," features Jeremy Piven's finest hour as bastard agent Ari Gold. He's been building up to this meltdown for his entire career, and "Exodus" finally lets him have it.
That's not to say that Season Two is not without its flaws. Eric, who once acted as our common man's tour guide through the movie industry, has been all but absorbed into the system by this point. Leaving us without a ballast at this point is forgivable; we're acquainted now, and can find our own way around. What is less forgivable is that in losing that component of Eric, the writers aren't quite sure of what to do with him; too often he's simply reacting to the plot, bouncing around from character to character and driving exposition. That we can still see the old "E" in there is a result of Kevin Connolly's strength of self and total sincerity. Vince may have all the best toys, but Eric is the Friend We All Want.
Turtle and Johnny "Drama" are given short shrift in Season Two, too. They're still both great characters, and still both expertly embodied by Jerry Ferrara and Kevin Dillon, respectively, but they end up sidelined to each episode's "B" plot. Whether it's trying to score food at a bat mitzvah, or competing for the same girl, or getting stuck in traffic on the PCH, or trailing Mandy Moore's rental history at Blockbuster Video, Turtle and Johnny are consistently given the "stooge" story. They're stooges enough already; there's no need to underline that fact with a frivolous plotline. Besides, the appeal of the show is hanging out with these four friends—something we're denied every time the series decides to divide their efforts.
Entourage: The Complete Second Season includes all 14 episodes, spread out over three discs. The shows come in their original full frame broadcast aspect ratio (this is not one of HBO's widescreen series), and the transfers here are bright and sharp—sunny California looks awfully inviting. The stereo audio track, like that on the previous season's release, shows a good deal of dimensionality; though most of the dialogue is directed in the front and center channels, the constant, thumping bass of the show's hip-hop soundtrack gives the sub-woofer a surprising workout (you'd swear at times that you were listening to a 5.1 mix).
Where the set lacks is in the extras department. HBO hasn't even seen fit to include the one or two commentary tracks that supplemented Season One's release; instead, we get one 22-minute featurette called "The Mark Wahlberg Sessions" (more than likely an attempt to plaster the executive producer's name across the set a few more times), in which the actor conducts some lazy interviews with the cast and creative team. Wahlberg can't seem to muster the energy to articulate much, and his questions don't demonstrate any kind of insider's edge. There are, however, a few choice moments, including a look at the real-life Johnny "Drama" and a rather frank confirmation that pretentious alpha-director Billy Walsh really is based on series writer Rob Weiss (Amongst Friends). The few good backstage stories that are told (Jerry Ferrara has the best ones) only make us long for more bonus material; HBO missed an opportunity to provide commentary tracks with the cast that would allow us to hear their real-life chemistry.
If the good news is that Season Two of Entourage still finds the show clicking, then the even better news is that HBO (who used to charge around 50 bucks for 8 episodes of Sex and the City) hasn't employed its usual price-gouging for the set; 14 episodes are retailing for under 30 dollars. This gives you no excuse. If you're still not watching Entourage, do yourself a favor and pick up both seasons before the new one starts. It's too much fun to miss.
Not guilty. I can't wait for next season.
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Scales of Justice
• "The Mark Wahlberg Sessions": Behind-the-Scenes Interviews with the Cast and Creators
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