The Boys Are Back on ‘En­tourage’

The Washington Post Sunday - - Arts -

Adrian Gre­nier is af­fa­bly cute and cool as the ac­tor, but it’s Jeremy Piven’s fire-breath­ing per­for­mance as Ari that makes the show, that lifts it above the or­di­nary and rams it into over­drive, the way ni­trous ox­ide su­per­charged the hot rods in “The Fast and the Fu­ri­ous,” two ad­jec­tives that fit Ari per­fectly.

Piven’s ac­com­plish­ment is tak­ing this es­sen­tially cold­blooded mon­ster and mak­ing us love him.

He’s heed­lessly ruth­less but has to be. When, in the new episodes, he starts show­ing signs of com­pas­sion and con­cern for oth­ers, it scares him silly, be­cause he knows it takes a tiger to sur­vive in the jun­gle and he can­not be a pussy­cat. Se­ries cre­ator Doug Ellin, who wrote or co-wrote most of the new episodes, has found a way for Ari to grow and evolve with­out com­pro­mis­ing his at­trac­tive ex­plo­sive­ness.

We wait for him to blow his top as ea­gerly as TV au­di­ences of an­other age looked for­ward to Jackie Glea­son’s Ralph Kram­den, in “The Hon­ey­moon­ers,” to burst into fury, anger or pain. Piven is as cru­cial to “En­tourage” as Si­mon Cow­ell is to “Amer­i­can Idol,” but he’s a much more elec­tri­fy­ing pres­ence.

As reg­u­lar view­ers re­mem­ber from the first half of the third sea­son — or what­ever it was — Vince fired Ari as his agent and, as the story picks up, is now al­lied with the ag­gres­sively at­trac­tive (and at­trac­tively ag­gres­sive) Carla Gug­ino as Amanda, an agent who talks tough even to her own clients. The story line in­volv­ing Gug­ino and Gre­nier is dra­mat­i­cally sat­is­fy­ing and mod­er­ately sur­pris­ing. Vince is at­tracted to her and vice versa, but what we know, and wait for them to find out, is that they were not meant for each other — at least not the way Vince and Ari were.

It’s a pe­cu­liar pla­tonic love af­fair cur­rently in Splitsville. Ari thinks it’s Vince’s fault; Vince thinks it’s Ari’s. They’re both right.

Debi Mazar is fea­tured promi­nently in the open­ing cred­its, but doesn’t show up in the episodes made avail­able for preview. The rest of the gang’s here, how­ever, in­clud­ing Jerry Fer­rara as the servile Tur­tle (who maxes out credit cards plan­ning Vince’s birth­day party tonight), Kevin Con­nolly as Vince’s man­ager, Eric, and Kevin Dil­lon go­ing way over the top as Drama, too much of a buf­foon and too clearly in­tended as Mr. Comic Re­lief. Dil­lon’s scenes are lop­sided be­cause he plays Drama so broadly and trans­par­ently.

Rex Lee has lov­ably hi­lar­i­ous mo­ments as Ari’s gay boy Fri­day, Lloyd, whom Ari, in one of many weak mo­ments, uses as bait to lure a fat and bald ho­mo­sex­ual writer to the agency (Ari’s act of con­tri­tion is a truly golden mo­ment in the his­tory of the se­ries). Perry Reeves as Ari’s wise wife has a higher profile than in pre­vi­ous sea­sons and makes the char­ac­ter deep and dis­tinc­tive. Such glit­tery guest stars as the age­less Bev­erly D’An­gelo, ob­nox­ious Pauly Shore and flinty Nora Dunn show up as well.

Vince and his three close pals are “the boys from Queens,” liv­ing the good life with the zest and aban­don that come with know­ing it may all end to­mor­row. They’re de­plorable, un­par­don­able, shame­ful — and why can’t you and I be just like them? Since Vince is be­tween films, sup­pos­edly read­ing scripts as he con­sid­ers his next project, the boys have vir­tu­ally noth­ing to do; they fill time with trips to the race­track, throw­ing that ex­trav­a­gant birth­day party (in­ge­niously fi­nanced), visit­ing a park for dogs and their own­ers, and din­ing — make that eat­ing — at L.A.’s wettest wa­ter­ing holes.

There’s an in­no­cent irony, then, to Vince’s dec­la­ra­tion that “we need a nice vacation.” Vacation? From what? But off they go to Mex­ico, leav­ing be­hind Ari and Lloyd, who dance for joy, lit­er­ally, over the sign­ing of a new client in the agency’s stylishly ster­ile of­fices.

More than once some­one will say, in a cliche that was surely pop­u­lar­ized in Los An­ge­les, “It’s all good.” So it seems (ex­cept for Dil­lon) with “En­tourage,” down to the small­est de­tails of la dolce vita in Bev­erly Hills, Bel Air and Mal­ibu. The boys make the most of su­per­fi­cial plea­sure, turn­ing friv­o­lous lux­u­ries into ne­ces­si­ties of life and trap­ping those of us who can only sit and watch some­where be­tween shame­less envy and churl­ish jeal­ousy. If it’s not all good, it’s be­cause some of it is great.

BY CLAUDETTE BARIUS

Jeremy Piven as Ari, a tal­ent agent sep­a­rated from his star this sea­son.

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