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'Entourage' season premiere review: The final season began with anger, sobriety, and girls, girls, girls

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As Entourage began its final season, Vince is living the sober life, graduating from rehab with cavalier insouciance, and is eager to write and direct. Johnny seems on the verge of third-tier stardom as the lead voice in a new cartoon series. Juicy subplots abound: Andrew Dice Clay, playing himself as Johnny’s co-star, doesn’t shy away from his former-super-star-comedian status. Scott Caan is back to push his pectorals around as E’s management partner, and Rex Lee’s Lloyd is trying to sign Modern Family producer Steve Levitan.

Best of all, Ari is fighting impressively to save his marriage. Jeremy Piven’s rage and fear as Ari have rarely meshed so fluently, and the show has frequently cast smaller roles beautifully, never more so than with Perrey Reeves as the brittle Mrs. Ari and Lee as Ari’s tortured assistant-turned-agent Lloyd.

Entourage has long provided the opportunity for celebrities to make themselves look like jerks in order for us to say,  “Well, he’s certainly an unpretentious good sport, isn’t he?” (The Larry Sanders Show — Piven’s undergraduate school for stardom — was the series that raised this strategy to an art.) In the season premiere, Johnny Galecki was happy to appear snappish, horny, and anxious to jump-start a movie career. If I were his agent, I’d be telling him to thank his lucky stars he’s still got a Big Bang Theory paycheck, but ego-stroking, percentage-extracting agents aren’t in the business of being brutally frank, are they?

The series has certainly had its ups and downs – for me, the sixth-season Enzo Ferrari movie project and Eric commencing what now looks like a perpetual pining for Sloan was a bit of a slow trudge. But the new, final season finds just about everyone pulling himself together to close it out for a final hurrah. For me, the glib casualness of Adam Adrian Grenier’s Vince and the pained wincing of Kevin Connolly’s Eric (the character has begun to resemble an ulcer in jeans), always lays bare the barren center of the Entourage universe. It’s only when these two of forced into action by Kevin Dillon’s Johnny and Jerry Ferrera’s Turtle, or by a project dangled by Ari, that they’re brought to something close to life.

Entourage scrupulously avoids trying teaching us lessons about greed-head ambition; amorality is the watchword of the series. If anything, its flaw has been its throbbing sentimentality about the bonds of bro-ship and the Tinseltown tao of being laid-back. Still, the episode this week moved along with a sleekness that nearly matched Turtle’s slimmed-down frame. The producers have engineered a way to get the boys all together under the same roof once again, so that they can act out their final fantasies of perpetual adolescence in the fleshpots of Hollywood for the vicarious pleasure of their fans. The way they bounce off and exploit each other is, paradoxically, the heart and soul of the show: sponging off Vince long ago became interchangeable with loyalty.

Next week’s episode features fewer of the ridiculous nods to Vince’s easy-peasy sobriety, and Ari will make scorching remarks about Mad Men that will burn Matthew Weiner’s ears. And more Andrew Dice Clay — which I mean, believe it or not, as a good thing.

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