Wednesday, July 12, 2006

TV REVIEW: Entourage (Season 3)

In its third season, the HBO comedy series Entourage continues to fire on all thrusters. For those of you who haven't been watching, Entourage is the story of Vincent Chase (Adam Grenier), an up-and-coming young movie star in Hollywood - a veritable stranger in a strange land. Vince thrives (and navigates the Byzantine by-ways of La-La Land...) by keeping it "real;" maintaining his ties to the old neighborhood, Queens NY.

Vince's "entourage," his colorful group of hangers-on, include Johnny "Drama" Chase (Kevin Dillon), an out-of-work actor and Vince's brother; Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) - the driver, and a budding entrepreneur; and Eric (Kevin Connolly), the savvy business manager (and the only one with even a lick of common sense...). Also among those Vince must contend with is Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven), his foul-mouthed agent...who plays all the angles and knows the ropes of the industry. This season, Ari is vexed by a dissolute child actor that wants to date his daughter.

However, what has really made this third season so much fun to watch (for me, anyway...) is that in the fictional world of Vincent Chase, he's just starred in a huge Warner Bros. superhero blockbuster: James Cameron's Aquaman! An early episode this season, "Aquamom," takes Vince and his buddies to the premiere of that mega-budget film, and features red carpet cameos by "King of the World" director James Cameron himself, and James Woods, who plays the fictional movie's villain (and who parodies his off-kilter, temperamental persona). What's neat about this facet of the series is the way Entourage pays attention to detail. For instance, production designers have developed a "logo" for Aquaman (a trident forming the letter "A") that looks just like a real Hollywood marketing ploy.

Follow-up episodes have continued the jokes about Chase's big superhero movie. The second episode of the season, "One Day in the Valley" follows Aquaman's opening weekend, and the worry and concern over the box office numbers. Is the movie going to be another Spider-Man (which grossed 114 million on its opening weekend...) or fall below expectations (which rest at 95 million)? As Ari tells Eric, Vince's business manager, one penny under expectations and the movie is a failure...and Vince might as well leave town. One penny over expectations, and Vince is a conquering hero. I hasten to add, this is the exact same rigmarole that Superman Returns and the Pirates of the Caribbean sequel have faced in the last two weeks...so the Entourage observations are timely.

The same episode takes the time to offer a well-crafted riff on a trademark scene from Cameron Crowe's 2000 rock-n-roll masterpiece, Almost Famous, so it's clear that Entourage is having a tremendous amount of fun with the exigencies of modern Hollywood, as well as film history. I also got a kick out of the fake scenes from Aquaman...one of which includes hunky Vincent ripping open his shirt (Spidey or Superman-style) and spectacularly leaping off a pier to confront a looming tidal wave (which appears lifted right out of Cameron's The Abyss [1989]).

Other Entourage episodes this season, including "Guys and Dolls" and "Crash and Burn" continue to track Vince through his surreal, Alice in Wonderland-style existence as he becomes a prisoner of his own success and instantly becomes typecast as Aquaman. Vince wants to play Pablo Escobar in a passion project, a movie called Medellin (directed by Paul Haggis...who also cameos in an episode), but instead must report back to Warner Bros. for shooting on Aquaman 2, which is to be directed not by James Cameron...but Michael Bay.

The episode "Dominated" follows Vince to a promotional appearance at a theme park...where he's tasked to open the Aquaman rollercoaster ride, and it's all quite funny. I'm enjoying watching a show that acknowledges (and ribs) the odd, bi-polar nature of Hollywood. It's a land filled with creative artists, storytellers and actors, yet dominated by cutthroat, imagination-impaired businessmen. No wonder the town seems so schizophrenic...and watching Vince navigate this mine-field is amusing, bewildering, and spot-on accurate. I remember conducting an interview with the great writer Simon Moore (the man behind the Sam Raimi western, The Quick and the Dead) and he discussed with me in great detail how he was with Raimi when the opening weekend numbers for that Sharon Stone film came back...and the ensuing fall-out. So Entourage is not quite a satire...because it observes without histrionics the "real" movie industry, but it tickles the funny bone anyway; and in intelligent fashion.

I would say that Entourage is further proof of HBO's utter dominance on the contemporary TV series stage. Their slate also includes winners like Deadwood, Rome and Big Love. But then I got a gander at Lucky Louie, HBO's dreadful new sitcom...and realized that even at HBO, not every show is a winner (or even passable). Entourage is so good because it's precisely the kind of show that acknowledges how and why two-dimensional crap like Lucky Louie gets made in the first place...

3 comments:

  1. Though I have not yet made it to season three, I can state without reservation that ENTOURAGE is one of the unexpected-delights-of-a-show that I was at first really skeptical about but now love. It is also, for some reason, a show that I can't bring the usual critical eye to and find anything wrong with. Maybe I'm just getting soft.

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  2. Kevin -

    Based on what I've seen of this series, I don't think you're getting soft. You're just responding to what is an unexpectedly fine series.

    This is a really funny, very carefully-observed show. I was taken back. I didn't think it was going to be so...accomplished.

    The third season is great! (Hope this post doesn't spoil too much of it for you, though!) Oopsy.

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  3. Anonymous10:12 AM

    This show has gone downhill since Jan Merlin left midway through season one.

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