Thursday, 20 August 2009

Do You Wanna Be in My Gang?

Forgive me for the Gary Glitter reference in the title, rest assured I’m not here to talk about pop’s paedophile prince, I am here though to talk about the most feel good show on TV right now: ‘Entourage’.

A show where nothing really happens shouldn’t be this successful, yet it remains one of the most popular and commercially successful shows on TV and continues to attract a collective who’s who of megastars to guest each week.

Last week’s episode’s plot was basically the gang playing at a celebrity golf tournament, that’s it – but it was still great. There’s never any great drama, or great suspense, so just why the hell is ‘Entourage’ so fucking popular?

Everyone dreams of what it would be like to be a megastar or friends with a megastar, and this show offers that glimpse and although Vince and co. have their downs, for the most part ‘Entourage’ focuses on the good side of celebrity, which in this cynical day and age is a nice change of pace.

Unlike most Hollywood insider shows of this ilk, ‘Entourage’ gives an affectionate look at the inner workings of Hollywood and its politics, which again sets it apart from most of its peers, I defy anyone to watch this show and not come away feeling upbeat with a goofy smile plastered across their mush.

The main asset that ‘Entourage’ has is the unbelievable chemistry between its principle cast – you honestly believe that these guys have been friends all their lives.

The fact that the four entourage members are good friends in real life clearly helps the on screen chemistry – Jerry Ferrara was best man at Kevin Dillon’s wedding and Kevin Connolly gave away Dillon’s bride to be – but that said; the screen rapport on display here really is something to behold.

As all four actors who form the entourage, with the slight exception of Kevin Dillon – but we’ll get to him later, were relative unknowns when the show debuted and this works perfectly. It wouldn’t have felt real to have established actors, young or not, as part of a movie star’s entourage, but because the actors have grown into stars in their own right through the show, the parallel with the characters really adds to an audience’s connection with the show.

Adrian Grenier proved with his role in ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ that he has some dramatic range and I’m still desperately trying to get hold of the comedy ‘The Adventures of Power’ which he also stars in, but for the most part all he is required to do in ‘Entourage’ is look pretty which leaves this acting stuff to his co-stars.

Kevin Connolly has really grown on me as ‘E’, Vince’s best friend, for the first few seasons I found it really difficult to connect with him and I was annoyed by his heavy prominence in the show as I would have rather had more Ari, or especially more ‘Drama’. However as the show has developed so has ‘E’ and he is now arguably the show’s most interesting character.

Jerry Ferrara, as Vince’s hat-wearing lacky ‘Turtle’ has also grown into a well-rounded character over the course of the show. Beginning life as nothing more than a hanger-on who cannot fend for himself, he is now the only member of the gang with a stable relationship and is studying to start a business independent of Vince’s fame and fortune.

Then we have the two men who, in my humble opinion, make ‘Entourage’ the success it is: Jeremy Piven and Kevin Dillon.

When the show first began, it was Jeremy Piven’s monster of an agent Ari Gold, a man that makes Eric Hall look like Mary Poppins, who grabbed all the attention. Ari became a cult icon, and rightfully so – he is the sort of character an actor must dream about playing, and Piven has really made him his own.

Piven’s past must have given him a great foundation for the role – he was a regular on another great ‘insider’ show ‘The Larry Sanders Show’ for a number of years. Yet, having seen him play more snivelly characters in the likes of ‘Very Bad Things’, ‘Grosse Pointe Blank’ and ‘Old School’ I was shocked at just how commanding and out and out brilliant he was as Ari on ‘Entourage’.

Piven has rightfully been dominating the Emmys in recent years thanks to his role as the fast-talking Ari, but if this year’s nominees are any indication it seems as though people are finally starting to see what I see in the show’s unsung hero Johnny ‘Drama’.

Played by Kevin Dillon, ‘Drama’ is Vince’s older, less-successful brother, a role Dillon is well-suited to; being the younger, previously less successful brother of Matt Dillon or “Lucky Matt Dillon” as I like to call him, which for reasons that if you’ve seen ‘Wild Things’ will be very clear.

Drama is the down-on-his-luck actor still living off past-success with delusions of grandeur and a knack for making a fool of himself and he invariably steals the show. Finally recognised with an Emmy nod for his work this year, it will be an absolute travesty if he doesn’t take home the award.

Even though Drama is now experiencing some success having landed a starring role on a network TV show, it hasn’t dwindled his ability to look stupid and thus make us laugh. Drama is arguably the character with the most heart in the show, he puts it all out there and often gets slammed, but he still comes back for more.

It really is a superb performance by Kevin Dillon who is finally getting the recognition he deserves, recognition that should have come over twenty years ago. I can’t believe that things didn’t happen for him after his psychotic turn in ‘Platoon’ back in 1986 because, controversially perhaps, I prefer the work of Kevin to his formerly infinitely more famous brother. If recent times are anything to go by though, the Dillon family could have a new star.

Although each character and cast member has their own strengths and appeal, ultimately the show is about friendship and the modern concept of the bro-mance. Beneath the Maseratis, the mansions and the bling, ‘Entourage’ is a story about male friendship and four guys who now think of themselves as a family.

Like any family, the entourage is dysfunctional but they always have each other’s best interests at heart and this is where a show that could have been completely unrelatable gets its common ground with its audience.

Beyond the camaraderie and knowing insider gags, ‘Entourage’ is a well written, well made show that often blurs the lines of reality, much like ‘Larry Sanders’ and ‘30 Rock’ did and does respectively. Vince’s various movie projects, co-stars, directors and producers, both real and fictional have helped create a little universe that operates in both the real world and the fictional world – an ‘Entourage’ universe if you will.

The show also uses original music to great effect – on a par with anything else on TV right now – and has boasted a number of CD’s featuring music from the show. Let’s not forget that ‘Entourage’ also has one of the greatest theme tunes going as well (only really rivalled by ‘True Blood’ I’d say, and of course the ‘CSI’s – but when you have The Who, you can’t really compare can you?) in Jane’s Addiction’s ‘Superhero’.

So, how long can ‘Entourage’ keep going? Well, the simple and stupid answer is: for as long as people keep watching. Six seasons in and the show hasn’t begun to feel stale at all, the writing is continually sharp and the dialogue and banter between the leads is a joy to watch.

As long as these staples remain strong, if there are still guest stars willing to make fools of themselves, which there have been no shortage of recently – Jeffrey Tambor last week was great – which also adds a great deal to the warmth of the show, there is no reason that ‘Entourage’ cannot remain one of TV’s brightest shining lights.

Sure, like any show, there have been the odd mis-steps. The usually reliable Domenick Lombardozzi was horribly obnoxious as the guys’ old friend Dom and was swiftly written out of his guest arc and when Vince ditched Ari and got a new agent it harmed the show’s strongest aspects – the bonding and the banter, even if it did mean we got to see the delectable Carla Gugino for a few episodes.

All in all, ‘Entourage’ is a lesson that simple TV can not only be effective, but it can be fucking brilliant when done right. So, to quote Johnny ‘Drama’, in terms of the most enjoyable show of the TV week, Entourage has definitely secured a…

“Victory!”

Entourage airs Thursdays on ITV2 at increasingly random times - fuckers...

Other Televisual Musings this Week:

- Another great guest appearance by Jay Karnes this week. After his revelatory guest run on ‘Sons of Anarchy’, he turned up on ‘House’ this week as a man incapable of lying.

The former Dutch Wagenbach is a fantastic TV actor and I hope it isn’t long before he lands another regular role and returns to our screens more permanently.

- More a televisual musing of the year, than the week, but is it just me or is BBC Three the worst TV channel ever created?

The utter gash that channel produces just beggars belief and I know for a fact that the Gibbons that run that channel actually put together some sort of focus group last year to try and improve the channel – were they all fucking retards!?

How the BBC can sit there and increase the licence fee when it is using the money on unadulterated quim like BBC Three squirts out is beyond me.

It’s not all Beeb hate from me though, because BBC Four continues to show some great little shows and has to be up there with More4 challenging FX for Channel of the Year.

BBC Three should take a fucking anthology of notes…

Speaking of More4…

TV Moment of the Week:

- It has to be More4’s brilliant decision to screen Will Ferrell’s very funny one man show ‘You’re Welcome America. A Final Night with George W. Bush’ over the weekend.

Returning to the impression that Ferrell made famous during his ‘SNL’ tenure for an entire theatrical show, Ferrell is a comedic tour de force as the former President.

Ferrell commanded that stage throughout and in addition to being peppered with Ferrell’s usual surreal and screwball humour, ‘You’re Welcome America’ was also smart and satirical.

Ordinarily I would have never had a chance to see this, so I doth my cap to More4 for continuing to think outside the box in terms of its programming.



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