Friday, 5 June 2015

TV Show Review: Entourage Season 1 (2004)

© HBO | Source: Screenrelish

USA; 8 episodes; comedy, satire, drama
Channel: HBO
Creator: Doug Ellin
Cast: Kevin Connolly, Adrian Grenier, Kevin Dillon, Jerry Ferrara, Jeremy Piven, Debi Mazar, Samaire Armstrong, Leighton Meester
Cameos: Mark Wahlberg, Ali Larter, Jessica Alba, Jimmy Kimmel, Luke Wilson, Vitali Klitschko, Lennox Lewis, Corrie Sanders, Sara Foster, Big Boy, Gary Busey, Larry David, Scarlett Johansson

Turtle: Look, if you were gay, okay, I’d accept that. But you’re not. So why you gotta pretend you are?
Drama: Cause the guy’s an actor, you fucking idiot. That’s what he does.
Turtle: Well, that’s what you do, you ass-fuck loser.

Entourage is back. Not in form of a ninth season, no. The HBO comedy hits big screens this month, reassembling the entire main cast and a whole bunch of new cameos. In the course of eight seasons, the show quickly began to feel repetitive and out of fresh ideas for me. For this reason, I’m still quite puzzled as to what story might there be left to tell, or which jokes left to make. So, in light of the cinematic release, I’d like to take a look back at the year 2004, when the first season had just come out and the whole concept still felt as fresh as a newborn babe – or did it?

Season 1 introduces us to actor Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier). Formerly a poor guy from New York, Vinny is at the brink of Hollywood stardom, with the premiere of his newest movie Head On just around the corner. Always with him is his entourage of BBFs: Eric (Kevin Connolly), who also functions as a kind of manager, good-for-nothing Turtle (Jerry Ferrara), and Vincent’s older half-brother Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon), an aged actor running out of lucrative work opportunities. Together, they navigate through the ups and downs of celebrity, mastering good and bad reviews and excessive publicity work, including a visit to Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night talk show.

The focus of the series, however, lies not on the plot. While the eight individual episodes present us with the every-day challenges of movie stardom, they only add up to a rough story arch. If I’d have to point my finger at something, I’d say that maybe the friends’ balancing act between artistic integrity and cash making for Vince’s blossoming career could be identified as the overall narrative of the season. But, in the end, the show succeeds much better in creating a vibe than in telling a gripping story.  

© HBO | Source: Complex
The atmosphere really is the greatest strength of the show, but also its biggest weakness. As a satire on Hollywood lifestyle, Entourage profits from its all-embracing aura of excess and shallowness. The boys hop from one party to the other, chase girls, alcohol and marijuana, lease expensive cars only to abandon them a couple of days later, or, accidentally, destroy a piece over at Gary Busey’s art exhibition. Women sleep with them for money or prestige, movie producers give Vince jobs in return for drug supply, and shops offer the boys discount for his autograph. Rap music, modern pop sounds and quick editing endow the show with a vivid rhythm and fast pace, making the 25-minute episodes fly by in next to no time. Additionally, the flat way of storytelling, without any cliff hangers or hyperboles, and the coarse dialogues full of sharp, often politically incorrect humour or mental diarrhoea provide the show with an engaging sense of realism.

Unfortunately, if there’s hardly anything else besides an atmosphere of superficiality and excessive partying, the whole thing becomes old fairly quickly. And not much can be expected from the characters to cover up the absence of an overall exciting story. In accordance with their surroundings, all of them are unlikeable. I guess, we’re supposed to identify with Eric since he seems to be the smart guy who tries to hold everything together. Furthermore, he also tries to build solid love relationships away from the Hollywood sleep-around-lifestyle. But, still, I find him to be a little too bland to really grip my interest. Vince is generous enough to share his success with his friends, but appears like a little boy incapable of decision-making. And while Grenier has all the right features to pull off the pretty-boy-routine, his acting is cringe-worthy more than once throughout the series. Turtle fulfils the task of the goofy sidekick and can be regarded as the most shallow of the four friends. He’s in the game for the money, the cars and, well, the pussy.

One of the highlights of the show, character- and performance-wise, is Johnny Drama. His desperate efforts to get back into the acting game and revive what is left of his career give him an almost tragic quality. Dillon knows exactly how to meet this sadness inherent in the role with the right amount of absurd humour. Drama, indeed, becomes the butt of many jokes and is featured in many of the truly funny moments of the show, and yet there is heartbreak surrounding him, which plays off nicely. The other highlight certainly is Vince’s agent Ari Gold, played with unleashed vigour, meanness and comicality by Jeremy Piven. Kept on a short leash at home, he tries to prove that he’s the man in his business life, and steals the show most of the time.

© HBO | Source: TheListLove
Many critics have already called the show out on its issues with sexism and homophobia. It’s true, women, except for the occasional minor supporting characters such as Vince’s publicist Shauna (Debi Mazar) or Ari’s assistant Emily (Samaire Armstrong), seem to be a mere piece of ass available for sexual intercourse. Men, on the other hand, appear like dick-driven idiots incapable of commitment. I guess, it’s fair enough to say that normative gender prejudices are broken down to their most appalling essences. However, I do find that this also supports the general tone of the show. In a world, where superficiality rules, shallow characters abound.

The same goes for homophobia. In the episode “The Scene”, Vince’s crew is in an uproar because the script for an upcoming indie project features a scene in which Vince is to receive fellatio from another man. Shauna sees his status as a rising sex symbol endangered and Drama is merely okay with him playing gay because it will increase his chances to take home a trophy during awards season. Turtle, as one of the strongest opponents, can’t understand why his friend should go “fag” when really he isn’t gay. I like how this conflict puts a spotlight on the fact that still today being gay in Hollywood is a big deal. Homosexual actors and actresses refrain from coming out because they fear for their careers. The dynamics of this issue are perfectly manifested in the way Turtle and Co. react to Vince’s project. Still, at times, I can’t help feeling uneasy about the way the writers overdo their sexist and homophobic jokes. While I think that, mostly, they play into the satirical quality of the series or serve to disclose normative male group dynamics; sometimes, they appear to have no other purpose than to be funny, when, really, they’re just insulting.

All in all, season 1 of Entourage has its issues. It suffers from a too fragmented way of storytelling, a bunch of too shallow roles and an atmosphere that perfectly sets the scene, but eventually exhausts itself rather quickly – and, mind you, there only are eight episodes. I feel like, at some point, more plot- and character-driven aspects are necessary to maintain the appeal of the show in the long run. However, season 1 strongly benefits from the way it zeros in on Hollywood. Its satirical bite, fast-paced nature and depiction of bromance make for some diverting entertainment. Additionally, the show has found two wonderful actors in Kevin Dillon and Jeremy Piven. While there’s room for improvement, it’s still good fun and worth a ride.


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