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'Entourage' surprises with its own Hollywood comeback
September 9, 2010  | By Ed Martin
 
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I pretty much wrote off HBO's Entourage two seasons ago, but this summer it has, without warning, become the television equivalent of a seductively trashy beach read. For the first time in the history of this series about a movie star of marginal talent and his opportunistic buddies, its characters are learning that there are actual consequences for bad behavior, and the results are unexpectedly entertaining.

Entourage always felt a little too sanitized to me, given that it's an uncensored comedy about young men with the means to enjoy whatever they want whenever they want it. As TMZ and so many other tabloid magazines and Web sites have made inescapably clear, the young end of the entertainment business isn't known for its sensitivity or its sobriety. Temptation is everywhere, especially when money is no object and egos obliterate normalcy.

But check out Entourage this season. (Air times below.) Suddenly it's all alcohol and drugs and porn stars and partying and psychotic behavior. Now that's Hollywood!

After six seasons of playing actor and eventual superstar Vincent Chase as a laid-back, low-key, stand-up guy, I can only assume Adrian Grenier is having a ball with young Vince's downfall, the causes of which are coming at him from every direction, not all of them intentional.

His best bud and manager, Eric (Kevin Connolly), is now in business with an upcoming cut-throat smoothie named Scott, whose aggressive attempts to ingratiate himself to Vince often include playing to his weaknesses and encouraging all kinds of risky business. (Scott is played by this year's Hot Actor, Scott Caan, who steals almost every scene he's in, just as he stole the pilot for CBS' reboot of Hawaii 5-O from its leading man, Alex O'Loughlin.)

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Other bud Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) is on the verge of becoming a tequila titan, with potential financial backing from the one and only Mark Cuban, who knows a good investment when he sees one. Thanks to a boozy bit of Twittering, Vince has become the unofficial spokesperson for Turtle's new product, which comes to him through his sexy new girlfriend's father, a stubborn Mexican businessman.

With so much tequila lying around the house, Vince has given in to heavy drinking, handily encouraged by his half-brother, Drama (Kevin Dillon), who's been busy drowning his own career sorrows, and his new girlfriend, the real-life porn star Sasha Grey, who also likes to party, very often naked.

It's all too much for Vince to resist, and his reckless indulgences have brought his career to the brink.

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Meanwhile, his combustible agent Ari has been so busy with his own multiple crises that he initially didn't notice what was happening to his star client, though that changed when he found Vince lying naked and wasted by his swimming pool. Still, Ari can't focus on helping Vince because he's too busy burning in fresh hells of his own creation -- lurid accusations of sexual harassment that have mushroomed into full-on scandal after finding their way onto Deadline Hollywood, a failed business deal with the NFL, and an explosive confrontation with rival Amanda Daniels (Carla Gugino) in a crowded restaurant that may have brought his marriage and career to a humiliating end.

All of these storylines are working so well because they collide with and energize each other with some frequency, just as multiple storylines on soap operas used to do, back when they were well written. Entourage is also making excellent use of the many supporting characters that have brightened its canvas in recent years. Autumn Reeser as young agent Lizzie Grant, Beverly D'Angelo as Ari's partner Babs, Constance Zimmer as studio chief Dana Gordon, and the above mentioned Ms. Gugino light up the screen whenever they appear. So do Emmanuelle Chriqui as Eric's ever-patient fiancee Sloan, Janet Montgomery as his helpful assistant Jennie, and Perrey Reeves as the long-suffering Mrs. Ari Gold.

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Further, there have been enjoyable (if sparse) contributions from recurring players William Fichtner, Rhys Coiro and Gary Cole, while Jonathan Keltz has proven the perfect straight man as Jake, Ari's new secretary and the frequent target of his tirades. If I've one gripe this season, it's that we haven't seen enough of secretary turned agent Lloyd, played by the once-invaluable Rex Lee.

Not all of Vince's issues are the stuff of comedy, at least not in the traditional sense. Then again, Edie Falco was just honored with an Emmy as Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for her portrayal of the hard-drinking, drug-abusing, adulterous title character on Showtime's Nurse Jackie, so it's only fair to cut Entourage some slack. Just like watching Jackie cope with the consequences of her reckless choices, there is satisfaction to be had in seeing Vince screw up after all that partying, messing up meetings and potentially destroying everything he has worked for. The same is true of Ari, although the world of crap he's drowning in is the clear result of his toxic personality and brutish business ethic, the likes of which are not uncommon in a town where vulgarians often come out on top.

I sure as hell hope that come Sunday's season finale everything isn't readily put back in order for them. Should Vince and Ari be made to suffer for their spectacular bad choices right through next year's episodes, finding some kind of redemption only as the series draws to a close, then Entourage might well be remembered as a great show that ended the way it should, rather than as a pointless comedy that overstayed its welcome.

[Before Sunday's HBO season finale at 10:30 p.m. ET, catch up to the previous two episodes Thursday (Sept. 9 at 10 and 10:30 p.m. ET on HBO). Entourage starts its broadcast syndication run next Monday-Friday (Sept. 13-17 in late night). Check local TV station listings.]

 
 
 
 
 
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