The Thrill of the Chase

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In the season opener of Entourage, Vinnie Chase finds himself in jail—a free-floating party jail with joints by the fist-load, gorgeous girls at the ready and, as always, the loyal buddies who follow him everywhere—this time behind the figurative bars of Hollywood prison. This is the lockup where movie stars land when they can’t get arrested.

It’s a fun notion to see the former movie star at the center of Entourage searching for a job, any job—and it might have been even more entertaining if the producers had taken the idea to its craziest extreme, with Vinnie serving customers at the In-N-Out Burger. Still, it’s almost enough to see his demotion to has-been actor driving around Los Angeles for meetings with disinterested executives who don’t even bother blowing smoke up his ass. He’s a burned-out box-office bum with a scraggly beard and no juice. Even his cell phone doesn’t get good reception anymore.

This season’s provocative, underlying theme is redemption, and whether its characters can find any in the hedonist hellhole they live in. Vinnie needs a way out of the career logjam created by Medellin, the art-house flop that used up his considerable Aquaman capital. The side stories that dominated last season—the emergence of Turtle’s romantic life, the revival of Drama’s dormant career—recede to the background as this year’s episodes begin on Sunday. Instead, the focus goes to Vinnie and his self-made mess; the sole subplot comes from Eric’s desperation to galvanize the career of his only moneymaking client. It isn’t until the end of episode four that “E” even manages to make a dent in the high walls of the Hollywood chain-link fence that keeps Vinnie out of sight.

As usual, the bimbos come and go at warp speed; but this time around, Vinnie has to expend a little pro-active energy to get the girl. Now, when the boys strut down Sunset Boulevard, the background extras aren’t instructed to do double takes at the passing movie star, because there isn’t one. Even Ari, the high-flying über-agent who handles Vinnie, finds himself defending his major-domo status by engaging rivals in daredevil car races—and losing. It’s a new low point for the boys of Entourage, which means a high point for the audience at last; we get to see them closer than ever to the glass we’ve been watching them through for the last four seasons. Close up, their desperation drags them down so far that for once, we can feel our jealousies replaced by our sense of superiority. Hey, even we knew Medellin was a bad idea!

The focus on the foursome yields great rewards this time—especially as the producers probe the essence of male bonding and brotherhood. The relationship between Vinnie and Drama deepens as the two change places this season; by the end of episode four, it’s hard to know who’s more famous. I won’t be surprised if the season’s plot arc includes the idea that Drama replaces Vinnie as the family’s most prominent star—shifting, in a fundamental and potentially riveting way, the dynamic that dictated the premise of the series. I hope I’m right, but even if not, the sight of the brothers singing a drunken duet of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” had almost as much emotional resonance for me as in The Deer Hunter, when Christopher Walken and Robert De Niro belted out that same sad song. Coincidence? Don’t think so.

Who knew, after four seasons of slogging through the ups and not-so-ups of this fabulist four, we’d finally have true down-and-out characters to root for? It’s about time Entourage kicked in with a storyline of failure and pain for us to care about. Four episodes in, I’m already hooked on the jagged edges of this poignant plot; it’s a big hole these producers have dug for Vinnie Chase and his pals, and nothing beats watching these guys climbing their way out of this prison’s subterranean tunnels, a flashlight in Vinnie’s gleaming teeth as he leads the way with the common sense of a kid from Queens. After four years as a mixed bag of insight and ineptitude, Entourage finally has the potential to emerge as a true television classic—and just in time to spring HBO from another season in the slammer.   

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