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''Entourage'': First impressions

On ”Entourage,” Billy runs off with the only copy of ”Medellin,” while Ari learns he may be keeping his son out of a good school

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Current Status:
In Season

”Entourage”: First impressions

After last week’s unexpected ”making of” doc, ”The First Cut Is the Deepest” felt like the real season 4 premiere. Granted, any of the last nine episodes would have worked equally well as a season opener, but this one definitely had all the trappings of a classic Entourage premiere: party planning, nameless girls, and vague concerns about Vince’s career. Medellín is still keeping Vince from pursuing any other projects. (Side note: Seeing as they went all ”meta” with last week’s episode, is it possible that the producers are poking fun at the meandering nature of the show with these arbitrary season breaks? Or does HBO just know how to keep us subscribing and buying partial-season DVD compilations?)

The one strong thread of continuity between the last two episodes was the transformation of Billy Walsh into the show’s best character. As Paul Katz (who’s on vacation) pointed out last week in his TV Watch, the outlandish auteur seized the spotlight with his meltdown in Colombia — as well as the hilarious degeneration of his look from grungy soccer hooligan to vaguely fey guerrilla insurgent. But how did he measure up this week, with Ari back in the fray? I’d say Walsh still took the trophy. Jeremy Piven has stolen so many scenes he should be incarcerated by the Screen Actors Guild, but since Rhys Coiro went south of the border, he’s become the Angel Cabrera to Piven’s Tiger Woods.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves: In spite of having an ”easing back into things” vibe, the episode was uncharacteristically goal oriented. After a brief ”bros back in L.A.” moment and a meeting with Ari to let us know that no one’s seen a frame of Medellín in the several months since shooting ended, the main characters split up into three groups to tackle various missions around the city. Let’s consider how well they succeeded:

Squad #1 Vince and E
Mission See the first cut of Medellín
Locations Abandoned warehouse, Billy’s girlfriend’s house, strip club
Status Complete

With the ”Gigli effect” becoming more real by the day, the movie star and his producer really needed to see the film that would determine their next job — and their next paycheck. (Apparently the entrepreneurial E was too proud to put his pizza-making skills to work in Italy.) Things did not look good when they found Billy — rocking the only cut of Medellín around his neck like a Flavor Flav clock — outside an ”editing room” that more closely resembled a medium-scale cocaine operation, complete with a Colombian streetwalker. (By the way, did anyone else laugh out loud when Billy yelled, ”Raúl, prepare the projector”?) In their wild-goose chase, the boys got a little tour of Billy’s sordid underworld: his decrepit working environment, his spaced-out girlfriend’s house (where he disturbingly left his mother), and the Body Shop (”the only place where he knows he’s loved”). He’s clearly a moral black hole, but since his flash of vulnerability, he just seems like a lovably bizarre man-child running away from his parents at bedtime. And while the synching of Medellín‘s explosive ending with his impromptu workout had me dying, the whole ordeal felt like another faux conflict too easily resolved. Oh, but wait?E didn’t like the movie! Gasp! And so it continues?

Squad #2 Turtle and Drama
Mission Throw a party at Drama’s new pad
Locations Costco, MySpace, Chez Drama
Status Aborted

Even though we did get to see a pair of boobs (smooth moves, Turtle!), the Turtle-Drama party-planning committee was by far the biggest disappointment of the evening. Is it just me, or has Entourage‘s odd couple been pretty off recently? The banter wasn’t there, Turtle’s pimp game was as painful as ever (I guess he and Kelly didn’t make it past his long absence in Colombia), and Drama’s concerned condo-owner shtick grew tiresome. Maybe the show can only handle two great characters at any one time. Drama needs to move back in with the boys — and probably lose his TV job as well — if he’s going to find his feet again.

Squad #3 The Golds
Mission Ensure son Jonah’s acceptance at the Briar Country Day School
Locations School grounds, the dentist
Status In progress/failed?

I love how Ari juked his wife outside the school like a linebacker toeing the line of scrimmage before a very sexual sack. I have no shame in saying that they are hands down the hottest couple on TV. But I digress….The whole Jonah saga struck me as pretty implausible (an L.A. private school would blackball a huge donor for swearing and using his cell phone?), but it was entertaining to see Ari grab the fatherly reigns with the same fervor he usually reserves for Vince’s career. Maybe he’s still atoning for his Yom Kippur transgressions, or maybe the writers are still pursuing the ”Ari as human being” motif that began with the Lloyd intervention, but I think his behavior was actually pretty laudable (if characteristically aggressive). On the other hand, I probably care less about Jonah’s fate than I did about whether Dom really stole the Shrek doll (i.e. very little).

Overall, the episode was fair to middling, with a few good lines (”I teach my son never to let someone just take something from him — it’s my Israeli blood”). It seemed a little lazy, with no theme to tie the missions together. Indeed, the three main story lines had little bearing on each other. Vince and E didn’t seem to care about the party; Drama and Turtle didn’t seem to care about the movie; and Ari didn’t really have to sacrifice any big deals to spend a day on family affairs. Where’s the tension? The camaraderie? The ironic denouement? (Can’t someone get Larry David to help out? He’s still in-house, right?)

So after the Entourage equivalent of a cliff-hanger ending, will Vince and E come to blows over the movie? How much longer will this plotline drag on? Do you think Anthony Michael Hall saw a script before he agreed to do his cameo? And finally, will the producers just go whole hog and never have another recurring female character?