TV Review: HBO’s ‘Entourage’

More than a year has passed since the last Entourage episode (thanks, writers’ strike!), but in season five (premiering Sept. 7 at 10/9c on HBO) it feels like the boys never left. Which is a testament to Doug Ellin and Co.’s sorely underappreciated writing, because a lot has changed and, in fact, some of the boys have left.

Last we saw Vince Chase (Adrian Grenier), he was poised to become the toast of the Cannes Film Festival before his movie Medellin flopped miserably. Season five opens with film critic Richard Roeper simultaneously recapping Vince’s Cannes demise and voicing his disgust with Medellin–which, by the way, was relegated to a straight-to-DVD release. Ouch!

Ever since, Vince has been in self-imposed exile on a Mexican beach inhabited by supermodel-ish servants who attend to his every need–a few of which aren’t sexual. He has also grown an I-don’t-give-a-f*** beard that’s reflective of his six months of inactivity.

Turtle (Jerry Ferrara), being the caring and loyal mooch, er, friend he is, has tagged along to watch after Vince–and pounce on any of his female leftovers.

Meanwhile, back in L.A., Vince is never far from the minds of his other entourage members, who have more or less gotten on with their lives since the Medellin debacle.

Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon) is still the oldest cast member on his Edward Burns-created TV show, still vain as is humanly possible, and still dating Jacqueline, the Frenchwoman with whom he was caught frolicking on the beach in Cannes. They’re trying to make their intercontinental relationship work via Webcam, which is both difficult and hilarious for obvious reasons.

Then there’s Eric (Kevin Connolly) and Ari (Jeremy Piven), who, despite their continued hatred for one another, have almost become interchangeable. Yes, sadly, E is a genuine “suit” nowadays with a fledgling talent-management company (and even a receptionist!) whose non-Vince client roster consists of one person: a rising actor named Charlie, played by Shad Moss, aka Bow Wow, aka Lil Bow Wow.

Early in the episode, Eric and Ari come across a script for Danger Beach, which they both agree is atrociously titled but would be perfect for Vinnie’s proverbial comeback movie. But there’s one problem: Vince is in full-on stubborn mode. (OK, two problems: That beard makes him unemployable!)

So E and Ari private-jet down to Mexico to persuade Vince to consider the movie, and Vince’s reluctance to accept the deal is mirrored by the movie industry’s reluctance to accept him post-Medellin.

Thus season five exists in heretofore uncharted territory, whereby Vince is genuinely at the top of Tinsletown’s s**t list (or at the bottom of its in-demand list).

The themes of redemption and vulnerability are such a welcome change from one of constant invincibility–or more aptly put, inVince-ibility.

And while it’s a safe bet that Vince will at some point this season rise again to A-list status (that’s a guess, not a spoiler), it’s nice to see that he is, at least for now, not immune to the hot-cold dynamic that is Hollywood. Indeed, this might be Entourage’s peak in terms of realism.

Elsewhere, everyone’s favorite aspects of the show are still in place–including but not limited to Ari’s vulgar one-liners hurled at his beleaguered assistant Lloyd (Rex Lee), and the bevy of cameos and guest stars.

The latter is in full swing in the second episode, during which Tony Bennett and (Entourage exec producer) Mark Wahlberg have cameos, Leighton Meester (Gossip Girl) and Carla Gugino reprise their roles, and Giovanni Ribisi and Lukas Haas become the latest guest stars.

Grade: B+