As one of the hottest rising movie stars in Hollywood, Vinnie Chase (Grenier) brings his best friends out from Queens to live and ‘work’ with him. Though streetwise buddy Turtle (Ferrara) and Vinnie’s older half-brother Johnny ‘Drama’ (Dillon), himself a C-list actor, enjoy token jobs and lap up the lifestyle, closest friend Eric (Connolly) acts as unofficial manager by choosing scripts and making decisions. In the midst of promoting Vince’s new action thriller, the gang help him decide between the interesting indie he fancies and a lucrative blockbuster that his tempremental agent Ari (Piven) is pushing for…
From the outside, Entourage probably seems like a shallow, superfluous and overly-glossy celebration of fame. So let’s make one thing crystal-clear right now: it’s not. One of the best kept secrets on TV, writer-creator Doug Ellin’s effortlessly-charming dramedy is Diner or Swingers for the FHM generation, a wildly-addictive and morish ride that navigates us through the hottie-swarming parties of Tinseltown, while remaining – above all – a character-based journey about male friendship. For some, it might take a few episodes till the contagious fun takes hold (hitting stride with the Jimmy Kimmel instalment), but soon you’ll be devouring entire discs in a single sitting and wishing you were hitting the town with Vinnie’s East-Coast mob.
Recently, reports about its inception have varied, but what is for sure is that the show is loosely inspired by producer Mark Wahlberg’s early days in Hollywood with his own crew. Part of the fun is in likening this bunch to your own gang (identifying which one you’d be etc), whilst Ellin and his writers translate their experiences and knowledge into a pitch-perfect rendering of how the industry works. Though you don’t need to be an obsessive movie buff to find enjoyment, knowledgeable film-fans will gleam that extra level of satisfaction from all the in-jokes and name-dropping, such is their plausible believability. The idea of a CSI Minneapolis with Don Johnson (sadly, not cameo-ing) in the lead? You can imagine that actually happening.
And, while a string of bona fide stars popping up with cameos might sound self-indulgent, it actually adds a further layer of realism. After all, if you were a newly-hot movie star in LA, you’re going to bump into a few of these faces. Partaking in the meta-situational comedy, the likes of Larry David, Jessica Alba, Ali Larter, Luke Wilson, Sarah Silverman and a gloriously-bonkers Gary Busey (is he even acting?) rock up as twisted versions of themselves. Val Kilmer might not be playing himself (now there’s a thought…), but he’s also great fun as a nonsense-waffling, weed-dealing Sherpa.
But as stated earlier, this is a show about friendship. More specifically, male friendship, which means that the close-minded feminists out there won’t be able to relate to it in the same way that their boyfriends struggled with Sex And The City. Doing for guys what the sexploits of Carrie Bradshaw and co did for girls (but, inevitably, less relationship-obsessed), Entourage completely understands how men interact and relate to each other. In the best portrayal of boy buddy banter since eighties brickie Brit-drama Auf Wiedersehen Pet, there’s a genuinely convincing familial bond between these life-long buddies. We believe they’re best friends. We believe they’ve grown up together.
Though such camaraderie was likely strengthened by pre-shoot hang-outs and barbeques at Wahlberg’s home (clearly, this job was not just a paycheck for the impressively involved producer), the credit here lies with the naturalistic cast. Jerry Ferrara as the mooching-yet-loyal Turtle, Adrian Grenier as laid-back super-stud Vince (a reference to Swingers‘ Vince Vaughn, who also gets a name-check), Kevin Connolly (an actual veteran of Leo DiCaprio’s entourage) as the grounded, ‘normal’ one E… they all disappear into their roles to the point when you see them in something else, it’s not Jerry, Adrian and Kevin – it’s Turtle, Vince and E.
And, while most shows are lucky to produce one memorable character, Entourage offers two. First is Vinnie’s less-famous brother Johnny Drama, who is played by Kevin Dillon… Matt’s less-famous brother. Presumably using this life experience, Dillon embodies that largely-ignored fringe component of the fame system – the struggling actors who’re perpetually passed over and rejected – while constantly finding new ways to wring hilarity from Johnny’s insecurities and over-compensating delusions. He’s hilarious, human and passionate, and sometimes all at once. In a brilliantly character-defining moment, when a junior agent explains that it won’t be easy to get him back in the game, a disgusted Johnny retorts: “Back in the game? I am the fucking game pal”. No arguments here.
Then there’s Jeremy Piven’s attention-grabbing performance as abrasive alpha agent Ari Gold. Supposedly based on legendary agent Ari Emanuel, though more realistically an amalgamation of several smarmy sharky suits, in lesser hands Ari easily could’ve been a hateful caricature. But like Dillon, jobbing journeyman Piven clearly knows it’s the role of a lifetime, taking the vulgar outbursts, quick-fire insults and foul-mouthed tantrums and barking them into recycleable comic gold (“Call me Helen Keller because I’m a fucking miracle worker!”). If season one comes into its own with episode three, Ari finds his true voice during episode six, where he storms a beach-house party to stop Vinnie being poached with the first of his now-trademark big, fast-talking speeches. He owns the role from there.
The smaller roles are impeccably cast too, from the likes of Debi Mazar’s bitchy, mouthy publicist Shauna (just perfect) right down the line. Hell, even Vince’s accountant (Paul Herman) has his moments. “You guys are out of control! 25 hundred dollars a month his brother spends on vitamin supplements. Nobody can take that many supplements and still fuckin’ live.” Priceless.
A Sex And The City for guys, a pitch-perfect depiction of Hollywood life, a spot-on rendering of male friendship, fun wish-fulfilment. It’s addictive. It’s brilliant.