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The Fabulous Life of “Entourage”

Rama Gottumukkala | Wednesday, April 18, 2007

One of the defining moments in the charmed life of Vincent Chase, budding Hollywood superstar and the fictional centerpiece of HBO’s “Entourage,” takes place, appropriately, in a darkened movie theatre.

Seated incognito in the back row of a packed auditorium, Chase (Adrian Grenier) nervously fidgets and wonders how his fans are taking in “Aquaman,” the movie playing on screen. This is his first crack at a summer blockbuster and with “Terminator” and “Titanic” mastermind James Cameron directing him, how could anything go wrong? Still, Chase’s ever-loyal quartet of amigos – half-brother Johnny “Drama” Chase (Kevin Dillon) and best friends Eric “E” Murphy (Kevin Connolly) and Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) – are quick to reassure him that the fans are eating it up.

“Wait’ll they get a load of this next part,” Turtle says excitedly.

And for the briefest of moments, we get a tantalizing glimpse of Vince’s Aquaman in action. Jostling past the frantic and unruly summer beach crowd on an ocean pier, he unbuttons his suit while racing to stop an incoming tidal wave. But at the last second, as he does a death-defying leap off the edge of the pier, the theatre projector breaks.

An usher tries to quiet the grumbles from the audience, blaming the malfunction on rolling blackouts caused by a sudden heat wave. It’s a clever and painfully frustrating way to begin the third season of “Entourage,” but an effective one nonetheless.

Recently released on DVD, “Entourage: Season 3, Part 1” collects the first 12 episodes of the show’s third season, which follows the rise of Vince from indie darling to A-list star after the success of “Aquaman.” While the second season of “Entourage” remains the show’s best, Season Three thrives by stringing together the misadventures of Vince’s crew in smaller, two to three-episode arcs. What it lacks in plot, this season makes up for in superb comedic situations that never let Vince and the boys get too comfortable with their comfortable lot in life.

Early on, Vince falls prey to the Hollywood studio system. Unsatiated with the record-breaking $116 million debut of “Aquaman,” Warner Bros. tightens the ropes on their golden goose and tries to force Vince into a three-picture deal, not unlike Tobey Maguire’s real-life deal with Sony Pictures for the “Spider-Man” films.

As show creator Doug Ellin reveals in one of the DVD commentaries, much of the “Aquaman” storyline draws its inspiration from Sony’s lucrative “Spider-Man” trilogy, but with a lot more discord. All this makes for good drama, because one minute Vince’s crew is jubilant at surpassing Spidey’s opening weekend gross, and the next it’s stuck with the ugly reality of the Hollywood machine.

Never lost in the shuffle is Vince’s alpha-shark of an agent, Ari Gold. Played to passive-aggressive perfection by Jeremy Piven, Ari seems to always find a way to steal the show from his celebrity client. It’s a role that won Piven the 2006 Emmy for Best Supporting Actor, and Season Three bottles up and shakes Piven’s manic charisma for some of the show’s most explosive comedy. More often than not, these scenes involve Ari slandering Lloyd (Rex Lee), his wise, cheerful and gay assistant, the Yang to Ari’s Yin. Together, they share some of the best chemistry on “Entourage,” a show that continues to thrive on the strength of its performers.

HBO’s choice to release the third season on DVD in two parts reeks of a money-grubbing ploy. It’s a tactic they used to split up the sixth and final season of “The Sopranos.” And while it’s nice to be able to catch up with the Chase crew before HBO airs the second half of the season, it shamefully doubles the cost of each episode.

Fortunately, HBO is a little more generous with the special features here than in the paltry excuse for “bonus material” from the second season set. Aside from a breezy promotional piece for the Vegas episode, Ellin, Ferrara and Dillon sat down to record lively commentary tracks for easily the three strongest episodes of the season: “One Day in the Valley,” “Vegas, Baby, Vegas!” and “Sorry, Ari.”

All three tracks are informative and continually engaging and you get a sense of how laid back the atmosphere on set must be. This DVD set also marks the first time that the show is available in widescreen, which suits its cinematic locales.

Sadly, the “Aquaman” footage that “Entourage” teases us with to begin the third season isn’t real. But the quartet’s genuine desire for Vince’s fans to love the movie is. Like the very best segments in HBO’s ever-entertaining dramedy, it’s one more example of the “Entourage” writers poking fun at the inanity of Hollywood while never straying too far from these four middle-aged boys from Queens. Together, they steer through the choppy waters of the business in search of every actor’s fleeting dream: a glamorous fairy tale ending.