Despite being renowned for fast-lane glitz, “Entourage’s” new season gets off to a rather plodding start. Based on two episodes, HBO’s Hollywood-insider buffet initially lacks the sort of compelling big-picture storyline driving the narrative that the show developed to its advantage in more recent years. What’s left, then, are minor subplots involving the characters that are pleasant enough but clearly “B”-list material following the series’ concerted bid for the street cred associated with breaking into the ranks of TV comedy’s velvet-rope elite.
Last season was particularly interesting because it saw the program’s fictional movie star, Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier), struggle through bad career decisions, threatening to fray or at least redefine the relationships among his close-knit group of pals.
Now, with Vince back on top of the world, the focus has shifted mostly to the love life of his manager Eric (Kevin Connolly), who’s still understandably pining for old g.f. Sloan (Emmanuelle Chriqui). Meanwhile, super-agent Ari (Jeremy Piven) has to deal with management issues involving his assistant Lloyd (Rex Lee), who wants a promotion; and TV agent Andrew (Gary Cole), who presents his own unexpected headache.
The larger thread thus hinges on what happen to the old gang now that Vince isn’t the center of everyone’s universe — since Eric has an established management career, Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) has a steady girlfriend (real-life flame Jamie-Lynn Sigler), and Drama (Kevin Dillon) has a part in a hit TV series. So far, however, what the producers are calling the series’ evolution adds up to more snooze than snap.
Although not the show’s fault, the layoff between seasons has also made some of the usually dead-on pop-culture references feel awkwardly dated. Vince, for example, does “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno, and Andrew exults in an inside-baseball reference about having signed “My Name Is Earl” creator Greg Garcia — after the NBC comedy has in reality been canceled.
In the interim, “Entourage” gets by almost entirely on atmosphere, Piven’s live-wire charm and its small touches — from hiking in Runyon Canyon to the gaudiness of a lavish movie premiere — which remain impeccable. For awhile, though, the show dug beneath its well-polished surface by forcing Vince to become an active participant in his own career, instead of just sauntering through life.
In this case, the attempt to move forward actually feels like backsliding. Hopefully, I’ll be proven wrong as the episodes unfold, but until then, the producers should feel free to keep handy the episode where Drama tells Variety‘s TV critic to screw himself.