The genius of Entourage has little to do with its endless offerings of beautiful women, fast cars, palatial digs, insider Hollywood references, and urgent non-conflicts about whether a movie titled Aquaman will open big. Even mamba-fanged agent Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven) is only a small part of what makes the series watchable. Critics may chatter about how the show indulges male "wish fulfillment," but what really endears Entourage to its audience is that it's a close study of an attainable male reality.
Every guy between the ages of 13 and 30 has got that one friend destined for greatness, either at the minor or major level. He doesn't have to be the next box-office draw, voice of his generation, or golden god of rock—a local lothario will do. For those of us sneered at by cruel nature, this person represents our only chance for sampling the run-off glory of vicarious accomplishment. Wingmen, moochers, and hangers-on—we're usually the guy's best friends, and we're remunerated for being just that. That this category had previously been neglected by popular culture is quite amazing. It's also why Entourage's most readily cited analog is misleading. Where women used to watch Sex and the City and ask themselves, "Which one am I most like?", men watch this show and ask themselves, "Who the hell is my Vince?"
As the title implies, Entourage is not about a movie star, but the satellites that orbit him. These three moochers—Drama, Turtle, and Eric—represent the specific types found in any group of heterosexual males who hang out together before they find live-in girlfriends or wives. The nominal lead of the series, Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier)—modeled on series producer Mark Wahlberg—is just charismatic and noble enough to prove that fame and fortune needn't come at the expense of forgetting the boys back home.
Chief among these is Vince's older brother Drama (Kevin Dillon). Pushing 35 and popping fistfuls of Propecia, Drama's the delusional tail-ender we've all met before, someone who can clear a room by reminiscing about his brief, long-ago rendezvous with near-success. In this case, it's a cult television series modeled on Hercules and Xena, but it might as well be the game-winning touchdown scored in high school. Drama doesn't joke when he promises to pay Vince back for a completely gratis existence: "It's on my tab, bro." Sure it is. His lack of shame or embarrassment makes him recognizable as a Jermaine Jackson or Roger Clinton: the sibling parasite. (Dillon himself is Drama's antithesis, a talented actor who managed to avoid inhabiting the shadow of elder brother Matt.)
Drama's subsistence is made even more plausible, however, by the fact that he responds to a feather's touch of ego reassurance. He believes success is always just a phone call away. That it never seems to arrive is the best part; he isn't going anywhere, and he's the only one who doesn't know it. Season 3's cliffhanger wasn't that Vince finally fired Ari but that Drama finally landed a job, a promising pilot scripted and directed by Ed Burns. If this opportunity fails to implode quickly next spring, then it means Entourage is effectively over. Drama is only believable when he hasn't even got autonomy over his erection on a movie-of-the-week soundstage. Without his perpetual need for a fraternal enabler, the show really will spiral off into hopeless fantasy.
The same holds true for Turtle (Jerry Ferrara), who had a brief run-in with independence as a budding rap mogul these past two seasons. (Hip-hop was invented with the hanger-on disposition in mind, so this plotline made perfect, temporary sense.) His role as complaisant freeloader on Vince's dime was smartly restored a few weeks ago, albeit with a consolation prize of $20,000 worth of custom-made sneakers. The writers must have figured that Turtle's round-the-clock jones for weed, Xbox, and porn does not a Suge Knight make, and that his true métier was in petty domestic administration and not-so-petty self-gratification. Turtle is the well-meaning friend you love too much not to provide with a sinecure during your salad years. Even when he sells property that doesn't belong to him in order to pay for designer pajamas to wear to the Playboy Mansion, you can't help but admire his ingenuity. As he more recently phrased it, "possession is two-fifths of the law"—a mantra for underperforming gofers the world over.
Then there's third and most complicated moocher, Eric (Kevin Connolly). The Hobhouse to Vince's Byron, Eric routinely rescues his friend from difficulties with girls, tabloids, and—infinitely more dangerous—fading celebrity. As Vince's manager, he scouts the projects (the latest was a Joey Ramone biopic) that will keep the advances coming in and la vita staying dolce for the entire group. Eric has the sneaking suspicion that his gains might be slightly undeserved, which is why he's a quick study in the ways of an oily, let's-do-lunch industry he plans to rule someday. (Comparisons of Entourage to David Mamet, or films like Wall Street and Boiler Room, aren't just based on pugnacious dialogue.) In a comedy dedicated to permanent adolescence, Eric's character is the only one with a real arc: His abandonment of the Chase duchy seems like Entourage's inevitable final episode.
In the meantime, this is how Ari defines Eric's sole responsibility:
The point is that [Vince] is an insecure fuck, like all beautiful-but-handed-everything-on-a-silver-platter people. He doesn't trust anyone in this world but you. You've been born into royalty, baby. You know it. Now you just gotta be thankful, and wear the crown.
"Let's hug it out, bitch" meets Machiavelli. It's not just that Entourage is a tribute to Y-chromosome sycophancy and cynicism. Its subjects manage to earn the attendant perks of both by being … loyal to one another. Turtle and Drama are too stunted to imagine life any other way; Eric is both genuine and shrewd; and Vince can afford to be magnanimous because convenience is his birthright. The decadent Hollywood setting only emphasizes the point that even in a town where everything's for sale, some friendships continue to elude the dotted line.