HBO's hangers-on in more Hollywood high jinks

The Baltimore Sun

Welcoming back Entourage can feel like welcoming back an old friend who's a lot of fun to cut around with, but not someone you necessarily want to cut around with the rest of your days. Mostly harmless (and likewise, immature), he parties too much, lives for the minute, and the ladies ... oh yeah, he likes the ladies, too.

As mentioned, amusing, if only because he takes your worried, addled brain off all of the stuff that it's addled with. Then, that little judgmental voice starts to whisper, "Doesn't this guy ever grow up?"

Entourage hasn't, won't and likely never will. It's all about cutting - from one party to the next, or one agent to another, or Hummer-hopping between mansions, pools and very sleek bars where very sleek people primp and posture. There's no such thing as "memory" because that leads to thoughts of the past (and other than the good old days in Queens, that's uncool) and no sense of the future, which would impose a sense of responsibility and foresight (likewise). That leaves the present - the only dimension Entourage functions in, along with much of the rest of Hollywood, and - incidentally - a few million 16-year-old guys, too.

Entourage knows precisely what it is, but as the final episodes of the third season begin tonight, that little judgmental voice is at it again. Is this enough? For people as well as for shows, the answer's usually "no," and the same goes for Entourage.

After a not-quite-Sopranos-like hiatus (the last episode aired late August), it slides back into the HBO lineup as effortlessly as if it had never left. Vince (Adrian Grenier), Eric (Kevin Connolly), Johnny "Drama" (Kevin Dillon) and Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) are all the same, although their little world has changed a bit. A casualty of the failed Ramones' project, Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven) was given the boot and replaced with Amanda (no last name given) played by Carla Gugino. Drama has a new pilot, Five Towns, directed by Ed Burns. Turtle is preoccupied with Vince's birthday party, if not preoccupied enough with the fact that he has maxed out all of E's credit cards.

To anyone familiar with Babs (Beverly D'Angelo), Dana Gordon (Constance Zimmer) or Shauna (Debi Mazar), Gugino's Amanda is of an Entourage type - the gimlet-eyed, rapier-tongued Hollywood female shark who can hold her own with the big boys and can punch just as hard.

Amanda envisions a whole new career track for Vince, away from the action-adventure genre (Aquaman) toward soft-edged chick flicks and period pieces. Where Ari saw a budding Schwarzenegger or (at the very least) a Tobey Maguire in Vince, Amanda sees a Hugh Grant.

Ari, naturally, seethes from afar. He explodes when he sees Vince and Amanda courtside at a Lakers' game - "that's the house that I built!" - and is contemptuous of the strategy.

Naturally, he plots to get Vince back. Piven's portrayal of Ari always works best when Ari is at his worst - scheming, adolescent and ADD-afflicted.

So what's wrong with any of this? Mostly that it all feels so completely familiar. Ari's narcissism, Vince's vanity, Drama's preening need for attention. ... After a while, these characters feel too predictable, while predictability tends to rob punch lines of their punch - even those as well-written as they often are on Entourage.

Does Entourage need to grow up a little? I think you have your answer.

Verne Gay is a reporter for Newsday.

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