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HBO's Entourage Is Appointment Viewing Once Again

HBO’s Entourage, the comedy that spoofs all things left-coast showbiz, lost some of its sizzle last season.  I kvetched this time last year, complaining about the Mary J. Blige cameo and other matters. 

Season five Entourage is now on deck, set to debut Sunday, September 7, at 10p.  The Entourage we know and love is back. The show is, once again, appointment viewing in our household.  Announced my gen-y daughter after testing the screeners with me: "Entourage is the best show ever!"

HBO has probably never once considered Entourage "family viewing," but the series is actually one of the few shows our entire family often sits down and watches together - the old fashioned way.

The first two (season five) episodes are jammed with all the fun we’ve come to expect from Entourage: snappy writing, a parade of star and television executive cameos, a sound track guaranteed to drive viewers to iTunes asap, no apology/high carbon-footprint wheels, ubiquitous Apple computers, and - best of all - the witty skewering of the biz.

(Episodes #3 and #4 are sitting in the DVD player and I’ll update accordingly.)

Last season concluded with the disastrous screening at the Cannes Film Festival of the highly anticipated Medellin, starring Vincent "Vince" Chase (Adrian Grenier).  As season five opens, film critics Richard Roeper and Michael Phillips (as themselves) trash Medellin.  

Roeper thinks Vince, stuffed in prosthetics and a fat suit to portray drug lord Pablo Escobar, "looks like the love child of Jiminy Glick and a case of Twinkies." 

That was probably the nicest thing Roeper had to say about Medellin.  I won’t repeat any more of the Roeper/Phillips rant.  It’s just too funny to spoil - only to say that Medellin, Roeper reports, is going straight to DVD.  Ouch!

(If you want a preview, Maureen Ryan posted a vid of the Roeper/Phillips segment on her blog.)

A wounded Vince has retreated to an idyllic "Mexican" beach (the scenes were actually filmed on location on Oahu), frolicking with humpback whales and gorgeous women.  It must be heaven because even the portly, inappropriate Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) has snagged some vacation action.

Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven), Vince’s high-powered agent, returns this year as archetype, not caricature.  His capacity for biting sarcasm is fathomless.  "I saw your trailer last night," he says to producer Carl Ertz (Kim Coates, also the sexually deviant biker on Sons of Anarchy), "very, very scary stuff.  It makes Nightmare on Elm Street look like Free Willy."

Carl is interested in casting the out-of-favor Vince in his latest film, Danger Beach.  The question is: will the team manage to extract Vince from his hedonistic abyss in Mexico long enough to rejuvenate his career?

At any rate, Carl eventually behaves badly and the ensuing screaming match between competing agents is classic Entourage.  Drama and Turtle take revenge against Carl in a scene so funny that my husband was nearly rolling on the floor. 

Vince’s brother Drama (Kevin Dillon) is vain as ever.  Now the star of a bona fide hit television series Five Towns, Drama can’t control his compulsive diva tendencies.  NBC Universal co-chair Ben Silverman (as himself) is summoned to the set to straighten him out.

Drama, who masks his insecurities with bravado, is joined at the hip to his Apple laptop.  He’s addicted to live video chats with Jacqueline, the (now) long-distance French girlfriend first introduced at the Cannes Medellin screening.  Drama yearns to achieve the effortless cool of his brother Vince, but he’s often his own worst enemy.  Early in the new season, once again his insecurities get the best of him and Drama self-destructs in rather spectacular fashion.

Drama struts.  He swaggers.  He sweeps women into his arms in just that perfectly awkward, trying-too-hard way.  Dillon was nominated again this year for an Emmy as best supporting actor in a comedy.  Previous winner Jeremy Piven is great, but it’s time to hand Kevin Dillon his well-deserved Emmy.

Vince’s earnest manager Eric (Kevin Connolly) struggles to launch his fledgling talent management business.  Ari blames Eric for the Medellin meltdown and these two are definitely not hugging it out.  Eric stumbles upon an indie script written by RB and Nick, a couple of unwashed, tobacco-spitting, gun-lovin’ biker-bar types played by Lukas Haas and Giovanni Ribisi, respectively.

Turtle is the only member of the posse who hasn’t yet carved out an LA identity.  He continues to be a good-natured lecherous leech, lacking entirely in social graces.  He’s crude and he watches too much porn.

But creator/writer Doug Ellin sprinkles in a few breadcrumbs to let us know there could be more depth to Turtle.  It will be interesting to see if Ellin develops and enlarges the subtle teasers going forward in the storyline.

In episode two, when ex-girlfriend Justine (Leighton Meester of Gossip Girl) pawns him off to an adoring fan at a party, Vince feels the cold shock of life on the Hollywood B-list.  And just when you think that Entourage characters might be a little too one dimensional - and that Entourage might be just a series of more parties, more girls, more cameos - Doug Ellin shifts the mood.

Ari gives Vince his clear-eyed assessment of his attitude and his future as an actor.  

Entourage:  Sunday nights just aren’t that awesome without it.

Series regulars also returning:  Debi Mazar (Vince’s publicist Shauna) and Carla Gugino (Ari’s nemesis Amanda).  Oh, and Rex Lee!  Rex Lee, as the beloved, resilient  Lloyd - Ari’s indispensable gay assistant - is still frantically charging down the hallways of Miller Gold.

Cameos this year include Tony Bennett, Eric Roberts, studio exec. Tom Rothman, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Jeffrey Tambor, rapper T.I., the cast of the "The View" and Mark Wahlberg.

Guest stars include: singer Bow Wow as Charlie, Eric’s carless LA client; Paul Ben-Victor (HBO’s The Wire) as studio head Alan Gray; Martin Landau as Bob Ryan; and Fran Drescher and Kevin Pollack as the Levines, a pretentious Beverly Hills couple.

ETA:  in comments, stick to the topic please.   Off-topic remarks will be deleted.

The season five teaser: