Initially heralded by critics as a straight man’s Sex and the City, HBO’s Entourage is as shallow and tedious as Darren Star’s now-defunct series about gossipy New York working women getting in touch with their inner sluts, and the yin-yang parallels between the two shows are fascinating. Creator Doug Ellin’s comedy, now in its second season, purports to be a satire of the Hollywood Dream Factory (or so executive producer Mark Wahlberg would like you to believe), but for the show’s mostly male audience it serves a much more basic purpose: fulfilling the adolescent fantasy of quitting “real work” to relish in the easy pleasures of the rich and famous. Like Sex and the City’s emotionally troubled sisterhood, the horny boys of Entourage fit one-dimensional, stereotypical character descriptions that will have viewers identifying with their fictional counterparts (“I’m that one!”) and day-dreaming of driving Rolls-Royces and receiving blowjobs from supermodels. The show’s power-hungry mantra: “This can be your life!”
In season one, actor Vincent “Vince” Chase (Adrian Grenier) quickly became one of Hollywood’s rising stars, moving into a mansion with his childhood friends from Queens, NY. Because Vince can’t be bothered to read scripts or make decisions on projects, he appointed his best friend Eric (Kevin Connolly) as assistant, and by the start of season two Eric is full-time manager. Eric talks a whole lot about Vince’s future career choices, but other than gratuitous name-dropping and routine celebrity cameos (James Cameron, Neil LaBute, David LaChapelle and Gary Busey, in the first episode of season two alone), there is little insight into the studio system or the frequent missteps of actors experiencing burgeoning fame (for that you’ll have to watch HBO’s infinitely superior Unscripted).
The only worthwhile approach to Hollywood satire comes via Vince’s cocky agent Ari, played by a brilliantly vicious Jeremy Piven. Not only does Piven give the vulgar, self-satisfied dialogue the no-bullshit delivery it deserves (my personal favorites: “Is that the way they drive in Tiananmen Square, bitch?” and “Call me Helen Keller because I’m a fucking miracle worker!”), but his every threat to Eric’s manliness speaks to the guarded vulnerability of hard-boiled Los Angeles executives attempting to survive in a pond full of sharks. It’s a caricature, but one that touches territory that is beyond Doug Ellin and the rest of the cast, who half-stab at themes of familial bond and artistic integrity as if it were melodrama.
When Slate television critic Dana Stevens surveyed Entourage fans, she found that most of their favorite moments from the show had nothing to do with Hollywood but, rather, “captured a time in their lives when they actually lived more or less like Vince’s posse”—in other words, when they were younger, better-looking and got laid more. If this is the case, then the show’s true pleasures are entirely too conflict-free and smug to hold up as valuable entertainment. Not unlike in Ellin’s own film Kissing a Fool, the romantic setups and symbols of wealth and male domination in Entourage feel as though they were dreamt up in a lonely singles bar. The self-proclaimed playboys of Entourage cheer each other’s sexual conquests (Vince hasn’t gone three days without ass since sophomore year of high school—hurrah!) and uniformly dismiss any “selfish” woman who’s not willing to give it up for her horny man, even if she is on her period.
Surely this is sexist (although then what is Sex and the City, which arguably makes women look even more brainless?). But what’s worse, Ellin makes no meaningful comment out of his characters’ sex games and indulgence—it’s just that, indulgence. Languid attention is paid to elaborate plans on how a certain character will score that night, or which New York pizzeria is the best, and these drawn-out scenes quickly feel tiresome (at least Sex and the City came up with more original trash). Although it has its amusing gags and situations, mostly involving the celebrity parties Ari and posse find themselves tangled up in, Entourage too often coddles self-important male fantasies. Like Marky Mark’s naïve, ballsy autobiography, this is one better left dedicated to its author’s penis.