Sunday, November 19, 2006 by

By rights, Entourage should be, and is, a difficult show to promote to friends, family and well wishers. It’s from HBO, which is almost always a good start, and it’s executively produced by Larry Charles, the bearded sitcom wunderkind whose previous work has included Curb Your Enthusiasm, Seinfeld and most recently, a director’s credit behind the lens of Borat.

When you first sit down to watch Entourage, if you haven’t already, there’s a very strong chance you’ll dislike it, or worse, feel total indifference.The floss-thin plot is as follows – Vincent Chase is an extremely pretty, fairly wealthy, young, moderately successful actor living in LA. Assisting his far from strenuous living are his childhood friends from Queens, New York, who each play roles as manager, chef and driver. They worry about cinematic choices, women, and fast cars. They go to a lot of industry parties, and even Turtle – the tubby runaround boy for Vincent, and a man with a consistently reversed baseball cap and the attitude of a 12-year-old who can’t wait to go to college and join a fraternity – gets laid a frankly insulting amount through the series. These are smug little boys.

ITV2 have recently acquired the rights to the first three seasons of the show, and are churning through them in order. The first, shorter series of episodes border on the banal. Entourage relies entirely on character to push the situation forward, while the plot is usually as loose as waiting for a phone to ring about a “deal”. By the second season, finer details emerge – Vince, for all his childish frivolity in tinseltown, wishes to be taken seriously as an actor, which is why he’s so frequently turning down the role of Aquaman, a big budget, daft sounding blockbuster, in the face of his agent, the brilliantly named Ari Gold.

Ari is in near constant friendly warfare with Eric (or “E”), Vince’s well meaning and professional manager/put upon, but well paid, best friend – bickering over scripts and lunch meetings for their client, each citing endless usually selfish reasons that one thing or another works out best for Vince. Ari, played in turns, ruthlessly, hilariously and sharply by Jeremy Piven, is a near perfect character, whose scenes, arguments, dialogue and increasingly stifling marital issues become more entertaining each episode. They also provide a surprising depth and sense of genuine likeability to a wheeling, dealing and occasionally cheating character that should be severely lacking in any sympathy at all from the audience.

Even better, is Jonny “Drama” Chase. Once the star of cult sci-fi television epic Viking Quest, and the man who was so nearly Joey from Friends, he is supported only by the good fortune and expansive bank account of those around him to keep afloat in day-to-day life, and have the time and expenses to consider, for example, getting his underwhelming calves surgically enhanced to give him a better chance of impressing casting directors with the quality of his legs – a good example of one of the show’s more obscure, but oddly entertaining story arcs.

Elsewhere, he simply finds himself the butt of the others’ jokes, particularly after an incident in a recent episode in which he was banned by Hugh Hefner from the Playboy Mansion, under accusations of releasing a caged chimp at a party. As much as he is played for effective laughs, his character highlights that – in between all the sex, pot and credit transactions – Entourage possesses a beating heart, even if for once, and quite interestingly, the audience are more aware of it than the characters.

One of the more off-putting things for those uninitiated with the show, is the blurring of lines between genres – again, most relative in the first episodes. It’s not outright hilarious enough to be a comedy, and it’s never harsh or eventful enough to be a drama. Therefore, it’s a very light “dramedy”, but considerably and thoroughly hipper and more engaging than Heartbeat. In this debatable confusion could well be the key to the show’s increasing worldwide success.

Entourage has repeatedly been feted as something of a masculine edition of Sex and the City, another HBO classic. Replacing New York with LA, the four central, effortlessly stylish and very sexually active cosmopolitan women exchanged for four fish-out-of-water males with similar interests and pursuits. But, despite it’s immensely attractive cast, Entourage lacks the glamour and idealization of Sex. Its formula is so winning, because the viewer not only gets a funny, irreverent, realistic and therefore, occasionally cynical perspective on Hollywood life, but the main characters are just fairly normal. Like the rest of society, they have their own goals, and quite often misrepresent themselves – but generally, they are simply, hopelessly, themselves.

It is also genuinely good fun to watch, and perfectly fits its Sunday night slot as a smart slice of light entertainment. The glitz is appealing, offering a quality potentially akin to say, Dallas, and the “insider” view on the concerning industry is refreshing – for further reference of its accuracy, the show is the work of Mark Wahlberg, with many of the plotlines and story arcs based on his ascent to stardom with the help of his friends throughout the ’90s. In each episode, it can be expected that a celebrity guest or two will make an appearance, at which point a reasonable knowledge of popular American culture is helpful, but not essential. Here, the surprise appearances and name-dropping feel a lot more natural than say, Extras, and although the stars often appear in a self parodying way, the spoofing is never as harsh or startling as those in the work of Gervais, or even Larry Sanders.

A notably short review then, for a show that needs your attention, ratings wise, and one that definitely deserves 30 minutes of your time – if not just to see something that proves there are several degrees of smart behind this particular slice of brainlessness.


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