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CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK

Hollywood without the rough edges

September 10, 2004|Paul Brownfield | Times Staff Writer

The HBO series "Entourage" is doing for Hollywood what "Pretty Woman" did for prostitution. The show, whose first season ends at 10 Sunday night amid marginal ratings overshadowed by its press, is all about the unchecked flow of money and other goodies -- home theater systems, weed, cars, skinny women -- to a hot young actor out of Queens and his hometown posse.

The boys (and they are boys, because this is a show about young Hollywood) don't question the celebrity welfare, they inhale it as deeply and unquestioningly as a hit from a bong.

Nothing bad ever happens to them. "Entourage" presents Hollywood as a place that doles out only lollipops and never threatens to steal your money or your craft or your soul.

Money is important in "Entourage," but not craft and soul. Craft and soul are not in play. This is the post-perverse, defanged Hollywood, Hollywood after the snake-pit metaphors have retired and no longer define the place, as they did from "Sunset Boulevard" all the way up to "The Player" and "Swingers." Hollywood, post-Heidi Fleiss' list. I think that list was shocking, but I can no longer remember.

On "Entourage," the cautionary narrative is no longer ingrained in the portrayal of Hollywood. It's on a wall somewhere, or in a library, unread and irrelevant. There is no more snake pit, no more rubes -- just one big country of Hollywood insiders, people who know what it means when they read that Tom Cruise has fired his publicist or Courtney Love's in rehab again.

Television, which has a much faster pop culture metabolism than the movies, has caught onto this first. And so we have the new demystified Hollywood of "Entourage" (and, to a lesser extent, NBC's "Joey," set in Hollywood in the gentle way that "Babe: Pig in the City" was set in The City). E! Entertainment Television, which has done much in its proud history of bottom-feeding to emasculate Hollywood's dark side, is now desperately seeking you for its "Are You a True Hollywood Story?" contest: "Celebs aren't the only ones who struggle, who show courage, who find love and redemption," it says on the website. "Now, E! is searching beyond Hollywood for one fan's inspiring life story and will tell it to millions."

There is no "beyond Hollywood" on "Entourage" -- there's only what these four dudes want and then get, without taking risks or facing consequences. "I don't know about the afterlife, but this life is sweet," says the one named Turtle, articulating the show's ethos. Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) and the one named Drama (Kevin Dillon) and the one named Eric (Kevin Connolly) are staring at a gaggle of women backstage at a taping of "Jimmy Kimmel Live." The one named Vince (Adrian Grenier), the budding movie star, is off having sex in the dressing room of an actress he once had sex with and is having sex with again.

All of this makes "Entourage" highly entertaining and kind of maddening. Entertaining because it gets a subset of L.A. -- entitled young Hollywood -- so right, and maddening because it refuses to acknowledge the more complicated reality behind the lies it tells. This may no longer include innocence lost or artistic ideals betrayed, but surely encompasses unpleasant business like date rape or embarrassing, alcoholic parents, possibly with criminal records.

In this sense, "Entourage" is like "Pretty Woman," in the way it cleans up such a dirty world.

I suppose individual episodes have what can be construed as conflicts. Drama, Vince's older brother, faces having to take catering jobs if he can't jump-start his pathetic acting career (oh, sweet Jesus, no, not a catering job, why must Hollywood turn our young men and women into caterers!).

And Eric, Vince's best friend, is struggling to be taken seriously as Vince's manager. He's the show's conflicted one -- its thinker, its flip-flopper. I have seen his face register skepticism and doubt. He gets emotionally involved with the women he sleeps with. And his mettle is forever being tested by Vince's shark agent Ari (Jeremy Piven).

But then in episode six, miraculously, Eric tells off Ari, who's pushing Vince to do a studio blockbuster, maybe about American Taliban John Walker Lindh. But Eric and Vince want a deal already for this indie script called "Queens Boulevard." "Stop the agenting (garbage)," Eric tells Ari, and in the elevator Vince, grinning from ear to ear, tells the posse: "He had Ari freaking. I thought he was going to cry."

Vince -- the one with the face, the one whose career is presumably at stake -- is what a publicist would call "amazingly centered," which in actual life usually means "he's spent $300,000 this month on life coaches, electric guitars and Jamba Juice, and I don't know how to stop him."

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