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Reviewed by Jason Zingale
s it possible to have too much of a good thing? That certainly seems to be the case with HBO’s flagship program, “Entourage.” After airing the second half of season three and all of season four over the course of just six months, fatigue was the least of most fans’ worries. Instead, it was the sudden realization that the quality of the series was in a slow decline. In the case of the fourth season, for every great episode there was a bad one just around the corner, and though it isn’t quite as maddening as I remember the second time around, it’s still a step down from past years. Be grateful that the writers’ strike lasted as long as it did, then, because even though “Entourage” is still better than most of what’s on TV, the show will need to get its act together if it hopes to reclaim any hint of its former glory.
The fourth season finds Vincent Chase and Co. deep in production on “Medellin,” but with Billy Walsh (Rhys Coiro) behind the camera, the collaborative environment has been turned into a dictatorship. After beating up his DP over creative differences, Walsh decides to shoot the movie himself. To make matters worse, he convinces Eric (Kevin Connolly) to pony up the cash to fly Stephen Gaghan down to Columbia to re-write the ending, only to do it himself by the time Gaghan has arrived. Though Vince (Adrian Grenier) and the rest of the guys are worried that Walsh’s increased responsibility has clouded his original vision for the film, it only takes one look at some dailies to convince them otherwise. When they return home from vacation eager to see an early cut of the film, however, they’re surprised to hear that it isn’t ready. Then, when they finally do get a chance to see it, Eric suggests that it may need some work, only to have Walsh inform him that he’s already submitted “Medellin” to the Cannes Film Festival. Worried that the film will get rejected in its current form, Eric attempts to unload the project before it premieres, but when a leaked trailer on YouTube creates early buzz, “Medellin” becomes the most anticipated film of the festival.
As a result, Vincent Chase becomes a hot commodity once again. To make the most of the “Medellin” hype, Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven) convinces Warner Brothers' new VP of production, Dana Gordon, to assign his “dream team” (Vince, Walsh and Eric) to the high-profile adaptation of the mountain climber memoir Lost in the Clouds. When Walsh turns in a script for a sci-fi thriller instead, however, his first order of business is casting Eric’s new client, Anna Faris, as Vince’s co-star.
Though the “Medellin” subplot has played a role in the series since season two, this is the first year it’s been front and center. Unfortunately, by making it the main storyline, it prevents most (if not all) of the characters from making any kind of real progress. Eric and Walsh are at each other’s necks for a majority of the episodes, while Vince tries to keep the peace, and Drama and Turtle are relegated (once again) to playing the comic relief – despite the fact that Drama has finally made it big thanks to the success of his show, “Five Towns.” So instead of showing Drama on the job, or letting Turtle try his hand at hip-hop management again, the audience is stuck watching them run around town buying trucker hats from medical weed facilities and playing dress up with a particularly kinky Craglister. Is it funny? You bet, but isn’t it time the writers developed these characters a little more? Why bother giving Drama a taste of success if the audience doesn’t get to enjoy it with him?
Jeremy Piven, meanwhile, is left to do what he does best. Though Ari’s arc this season isn’t the best material the actor has had to work with, he still delivers his share of classic moments. At the top of that list is his heartbreaking plea to an academy headmaster (Dan Castellaneta) to grant his son admission into private school. It’s not the first time we’ve seen Ari break down emotionally, but it’s an award-worthy performance. Additionally, Piven’s own supporting cast members (including Perrey Reeves as his wife and Rex Lee as his assistant) prove once again why they’re such an essential part of the show. Lee is criminally underused as usual, but Reeves gets a fun subplot that finds her returning to the set of “The Young & the Restless” for a cameo – much to the dismay of Ari, who plots to ruin the shoot when he discovers her storyline involves the seduction of a younger man.
As usual, the season is loaded to the gills with great guest stars, but with the exception of Castellaneta and Stephen Tobolowsky as the mayor of Beverly Hills, they’re mostly just cameos. Peter Jackson offers Vince a job with his new video game company, Kayne West gives the crew a ride to Cannes, Mary J. Blige stirs up trouble at Ari’s agency, and Michael Anthony Hall pisses off the balcony during a party in Vince’s hotel room. The only really great cameo of the season is M. Night Shyamalan, who delivers his new script to Ari at a cemetery, only to make him re-read it the following day (while he waits in his office) after changing the entire third act. Still, if “Entourage” had to depend solely on its guests stars to keep things interesting, it wouldn’t be the show it is today. Thankfully, the core cast has great chemistry no matter what the quality of the material, and when all is said and done, that’s exactly why “Entourage” is still one of the top shows on television.
Special Features: HBO continues to under-perform with their DVD releases, but the three-disc box set for season four is better than the typical fare. For starters, the included audio commentaries – only three, for the episodes “Welcome to the Jungle,” “The Day Fu*kers” and “The Cannes Kids” – have been upgraded to include Adrian Grenier and Eric Connolly, while the addition of the “Medellin” trailer is a nice touch. Rounding out the set is a featurette on the making-of the first episode, a short profile on Luke Ellin (who plays Ari’s son on the show), season recaps, and the 2007 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival panel moderated by Elvis Mitchell.