By Jennifer Armstrong
Updated June 06, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT
Entourage: Claudette Barius

What could’ve been an obnoxious bore — oh, the travails of a hot rising star and his hangers-on! — gained a surprising amount of genuine wit and heart during its debut season. Entourage‘s sophomore run does that one better. Every one of its main characters, most notably star-boy Vince (Adrian Grenier), develops believable layers — no easy task in such a stylized study in swaggering manhood.

We’re now rooting so hard for them to succeed in Hollywood that those Aquaman negotiations are grippingly suspenseful, not to mention that cliff-hanger of a finale, after manic superagent Ari (Jeremy Piven) gets the boot from his firm. The season gives us something to cheer for, whether it’s Vince falling for costar Mandy Moore or Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) landing a music-management gig.

One complaint: just one real extra. But at least ”The Mark Wahlberg Sessions” is a keeper: Vince’s real-life inspiration (and the show’s exec producer) interviews the cast to revealing effect, eliciting a fitting combination of pathos and crassness: ”I got a half a piece of a– ,” Ferrara complains of Turtle’s bad luck with the ladies — save one threesome with Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon). But how touching it is when he says of getting his own story line, ”I took that very serious…. I might as well have been in, like, The Godfather that week.” And in a rather Vince moment, Grenier admits that he thought the pilot sucked a little because Vince was such a cipher — ”Not sucked per se, but my character didn’t exist.” No longer true, thanks to a great season 2.