It's a typical morning in the elaborate mansion that Vince Chase -- Hollywood's newest "It" Guy -- is renting for himself and his posse in HBO's new half-hour sitcom "Entourage," which premieres tonight at 10. His buddy Turtle is coming in with his dry cleaning. Eric is reading his scripts because, yawn, Vince just can't be bothered. Big brother Johnny, who likes to go by the nickname Drama, is cooking up an elaborate egg dish with soy milk, ever wary of poor Vince's lactose intolerance.
Why are these three schlubs catering to their friend at the table? That's easy: It's a fame thing, baby. Hang with Vince, who was once just another one of your boys back in Queens, and you get access to the cool cars, the great digs, the fanciest gadgets, the hottest parties.
And the sexual leftovers, of course. Take Turtle, for example. He's round, he's tactless, he says, "How ya doin'?" way too much and he thinks the proper accouterments of fame are a day-glo yellow Hummer and an attack dog. But in one early episode, he's got a hot babe in a bikini agreeing to go to bed with him. His pickup line?
"Make out with me. I'll show you where Vince eats breakfast."
Executive-produced by Mark Wahlberg, the show has a grand time satirizing much of Hollywood's ridiculousness and pretensions, and does so with an extra dose of cringe-inducing embarrassment, given Wahlberg's willingness to mine even the most crass of his young-Hollywood experiences.
Vince's posse is based on Wahlberg's friends from Boston, who came along for the ride as he went, starting out as Marky Mark, from pop star to underwear model to, eventually, more established actor in films like "The Perfect Storm." At this point, though, the show's characters are clearly still in their "Marky Mark" stage, with Vince just breaking out as a star and his friends still going gaga over all the toys -- and babes -- that come with the territory.
Though nowhere near the same level as the HBO quartet that preceded them -- those priceless women from the now-defunct "Sex and the City" -- the cast and the show do entertain. You can watch it because you're a part of the ever-growing Us Weekly culture ("Behind the scenes with Britney!") that can't get enough of what has been declared "inside Hollywood." You can also watch it because you'd love to strip that culture down to its ugly underwear.
Vince, played by Adrian Grenier, is a vapid pretty boy who can't make a decision to save his life, changes women like T-shirts and lives by his "no breakup" motto: "Why hurt someone when you can let it drag on forever?" But, oh, does he have the face, and the smile, and the world is ready to just eat him up.
His "entourage" includes his big brother, Drama, a bit-part actor whose big career moment came years ago, when he had a temporary role on "Melrose Place." Drama is nakedly jealous of his little bro's success while simultaneously trying to parlay it into his own career-advancer. The role is played by Kevin Dillon, brother of Matt, which in a twisted way makes the character all the more believable: Every time Drama puts on his nervous, cool-guy, leather-jacket act, he all but screams "poor man's Matt Dillon."
Turtle, played by Jerry Ferrara, is the show's biggest caricature -- a backward-hat-wearing street kid from Queens who is the official posse doormat, reduced to status of shopper, chauffeur and all-around errand boy. He's the one who most enjoys the toys that come with entourage status, and he is blatant in what he's after. At one point, Turtle has this exchange with Eric (Kevin Connolly):
Eric: "Could you get laid without Vince? That's the question."
Turtle: "Do I care? That's the answer."
Eric, however, does care, and that makes him the one guy on the show who isn't ready to go totally over to the dark side. He's the show's moral center, the one with the heart, the one who broke the posse's "no girlfriends, no commitments" rule and, in the opening few episodes, has just gotten his heart squashed by a woman his friends are happy to see go. He's also the one who desperately wants Vince to make career decisions based on the quality of the role, not just $$$ signs, and thus runs afoul of Vince's hardball agent, Ari (Jeremy Piven).
Piven is the best performer in the bunch, as a bullying, womanizing, in-your-face guy who doesn't care about art or morals and resides just on the other side of sleazy, in the neighborhood of slick. He has the designer suits and the Harvard degree to dress up his killer nature, but he is who he is. He wants the paycheck, and when Eric talks Vince out of signing a $4 million deal for a "Die Hard Does Disneyland"-style adventure flick, Ari goes for the jugular, referring to Eric as "pizza boy." The remark angers Eric, a onetime Sbarro manager. After all, he worries that his whittled-down existence would reveal little more than a friend with a hand out, more elevated than the pool boy, perhaps, but ultimately less honorable.
The show's willingness to exploit the degradation of Hollywood culture along with its excess and vapidness is what gives it a little more heft. But there's still plenty of the other stuff: a money manager gone mad over $2,500 bills for vitamins, a pop princess who claims she's saving it for marriage, a rooftop game of golf that involves trying to drive the ball over Pierce Brosnan's house without dinging Ed Begley's.
There are shades of "Swingers" -- that 1996 indie hit starring Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn -- all over this show, but it gives up much of what "Swingers" had in heart in exchange for heavier satire. Think "Swingers" if Vaughn finally did make it big and the other guys gave up their dreams and just went along for the ride.