April 6, 2007

Season’s Greetings, The Return of the Real Man Show

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It’s that time of year once again. A special, even sacred day of celebration for many of us. Not Passover or Easter but something far better than both combined. Entourage is back on TV, and everybody’s celebrating. The show that had dudes everywhere asking each other to “hug it out” will once more fill our lives with joy, hope and a few new ribald jokes. Make no mistake: this is not hyperbole. Fans of the show are legions and we are vociferous in admiration of its magnificence. In the interest of full disclosure, I should admit that I am a member of this legion. Furthermore, this may be a sad admission to make, but few things have had an impact on my life and atttitude as large as Entourage did when it first premiered. Aside from being one of the funniest shows on television, it is both well-conceived and well-executed. Moreover, it serves a higher purpose, giving guys everywhere of a certain age a sense of direction. It’s our lodestar, our guiding light. As children, we wanted to be astronauts or fireman, now we aspire to be Vincent Chase (or if we’re more realistic, E).
For those of you who’ve been living abroad (or under a rock) for the last few years, a quick description is in order: Entourage is a television program on HBO that follows the life of movie star Vincent Chase, played by Adrian Grenier, and, in a rather literal twist, his Entourage, composed of his half-brother, Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon), his best friend and confidant, Eric Murphy (Kevin Connolly) and a sycophantic hanger-on, Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) as they navigate the murky waters of Hollywood in their $100,000 cars, picking up girls, going to parties and generally living the good life. Jeremy Piven bursts in at regular intervals to delight as agent Ari Gold, spewing obscenities with great charm and humor.
What makes Entourage special to so many is that it provides, in almost sociological detail, a deft portrayal of how men of a certain age relate to each other. These stunted adolescents (a term I use affectionately) may throw insults and epithets at each other, but they fail disguise their mutual affection. Though only Vince and Drama are related, they might as well all be brothers. No matter the circumstances, there is an unfailing sense that these guys would do anything for each other.
Despite this, some dismiss the show as a celebration of excess and a model of conspicuous consumption. And while they aren’t wrong, they are missing the point. Entourage would be just as good no matter its locale. What the audience cares about is not what kind of car the boys get next (though those Aston Martins are not too shabby) but what’s happening in their lives. Sappy as it sounds, we care about them. Beautiful women and cool toys are all well and good, but I’m not watching (just) for that, but rather because I have a vested emotional interest in what happens next. I want to see what Turtle’s next plan to earn some quick cash is, I want to see if Ari gets his job back, I want to see if Drama actually manages to get work as an actor. The point, I think, is that Entourage is not, as some people might claim, an episode of Cribs swaddled in a plot, but rather an intimate study of these characters who happen to live in a world of obscene wealth.
At its core, what makes Entourage so enjoyable is that it is relatable. This may be an odd claim for a show that deals with a movie star and his pals, who would seem to be anything but. No matter the trappings and accouterments, these characters feel familiar. We’ve all known someone like them, or feel as though we did. We all envy Vince, admire E, pity Drama and laugh at Turtle’s whacky antics. Over two-and-a-half seasons we’ve all come to know and love these characters, and enjoy the friendship they have together.
As an example of how important the friendship of these four guys really is to the shows success, it was the opinion of many (read: me and my friends) that the first half of the third season lacked the exuberant insouciance of the first two seasons. It was decided that this was due to the fact that each of the central four characters had become so popular that each was given greater individual story-lines, necessitating less screen time for the group as a whole.
With the group separated, some of the fun left as well, which is why the best episodes of the show are the ones in which the group hangs together and why the best episode of the third season (at least, so far) was the season premiere (A quick caveat: if you’re catching up on old episodes and don’t want to know what happens, stop reading now): In Vince’s efforts to bring his Mom out for the premiere of Aquaman and the reactions it causes in the other three guys, we are shown a whole lot about how the relationships between them work. Drama is hurt that his mother’s coming to his little brother’s event when she’s eschewed attending his own for so long, E works hard to ensure that Mrs. Chase will get to L.A., and Turtle makes a huge sacrifice in that effort. In the end, not only does Vince’s mother show up, but so too do E’s and Turtle’s. Any show that was just trying to glamorize the Hollywood lifestyle of girls, booze and cars probably wouldn’t have had the character’s mothers show up, as moms aren’t usually considered a cool subject for a TV show. Yet, Entourage managed to pull it off. And that’s why it’s one of the greatest shows on TV, and why I’ll be waiting impatiently in front of the TV this Sunday at 9:55 p.m. So to all of you I say, Happy Easter, Happy Passover and (most importantly) Happy Return of Entourage.