One of the fun things about writing a free-floating column is that I get to indulge my passions and write about them. My only (all but unspoken) charge in my duties is that what I write about in some way relates to the philosophical and political underpinnings of this journal -- progressive populism.
So now that it has come time for me to praise the HBO series Entourage, some of you may wonder how that fits into my leftist viewpoint (not that everything we consume from popular culture need be, and how boring life would be if one does limit our experience of the world by our beliefs). After all, it's a show that seems at first blush to glorify Hollywood glitz. Its milieu by and large is mansions, expensive cars, chic restaurants and nightclubs in the big-money world of the entertainment business.
Now I could use the argument that since the American public is fascinated with celebrity, that alone imbues Entourage with populist interest. But I'd feel like a straw man making that argument, even if it can be made.
But the average American does factor into why I feel the show has significance to why Entourage fits right into this publication. The "entourage" that the title refers to may roam Tinseltown, but they're four guys from Queens with middle/working class. And that is the glue that binds them and, I believe, gives hot young movie star Vincent Chase (played by Adam Grenier with a sweet, languid charm) his moral and ethical grounding.
So while it seems like Chase is just being a typically nouveau riche Hollywood kid by employing his pals, housing them in his Los Angeles mansion and buying them expensive cars, clothes and other goodies, as the series unfolds, it's more a case of bringing his crew upwardly mobile with him -- or in short, loyalty to his average guy roots and pals.
He stands by his buddy Eric as his manager, tries to help his brother Johnny Drama find acting work and helps Turtle in his quest -- albeit cut short -- to manage a rapper. And when another old friend from Queens, Dom, shows up after getting out of jail for a crime where he covered for Chase, Vince gives him a job too. And then eases him out when it's clear that Dom remains a criminal.
But even more important is Chase's strong sense of integrity. He defies the head of Warner Bros. because he feels the executive lied to him. He slams another studio when it colorizes his black & white art film, Queens Boulevard. And when his agent Ari Gold lies to producer Bob Ryan (wonderfully played by Martin Landau, one of many veteran actors who grace the show), Vinnie fires Gold. Which is how season three recently ended.
Critics have made much of Jeremy Piven's brilliant portrayal of the over-amped agent Gold -- I'd love to find an Ari Gold myself to represent my screenwriting career -- but it's Vincent Chase who is the dramatic center of Entourage. And what makes him that is the fact that he's a first-class mensch in a town where souls are for sale, and his isn't.
The right wing may crow about how they are the guardians of morals and ethics. But it's actually the left where true morality -- defined here as simply as possible as how one treats others -- is in fact defended. And Vincent Chase is a moralist who stands up for the right thing and a populist who doesn't feel himself above his fans -- witness his visit to a party in the Valley on the night of his Aquaman premiere early in the second season -- and doesn't forget that he's a kid from the streets of Queens who got some good breaks. So while the show seems draped in glitz, at its heart Entourage is centered around a character who won't let the Tinseltown tinsel and greenbacks turn his head.
In itself, that's reason enough to admire the series. But then there's the fact that Entourage is funny, insightful, delightfully entertaining and of course satisfies that pervasive American lust to glimpse into the rarefied world of celebrity. It's also a buddy story par excellence -- in which kudos must go to Kevin Dillon for playing the brother of a far more successful actor, a role he also occupies in real life -- that takes the viewer along as part of the crew.
And again, as I have said many times before here, it's yet another example of how quality television fiction sometimes approximates reality -- albeit perhaps an idealized version of such -- far more than so-called reality shows, which, if a few recent minutes watching the latest Survivor are any indication, continues to be downright bizarre. It's also, underneath the glitter and conspicuous consumption -- an ongoing morality tale set in the most amoral American community outside of the nation's plagued capital. So when it returns in the new year, I'd suggest that, like me, you join the Entourage for one of TV's best rides.
Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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