Boys in the 'Wood

The second season of HBO's sleeper hit Entourage adds more depth to its characters.

By Leo Charney
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted May. 31, 2006

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Marky dark: Adrian Grenier plays a fictional version of Wahlberg and Debi Mazar plays his publicist in Entourage.

Entourage: The Complete Second Season
A-
Includes: Featurette of Mark Wahlberg's interviews with cast and crew.
You'll Like It If You Like: Boys behaving badly, inside Hollywood stories, Adrian Grenier.

Let Showtime have Weeds and The L Word-HBO's sticking to its guys. The network has become an anthropological record of male
behavior, from The Sopranos' exhaustive tour of male failure and disappointment, to Larry David's cranky shtick, to the brutality of Deadwood's antiheroes.

Entourage, which started as an unpromising quasi-reality show based on Mark Wahlberg and his homies, is another example, having come into its own as a comic analysis of male vanity and competition. The show took off largely because of Jeremy Piven's classic embodiment of sharky Hollywood agent Ari Gold, who in this second season reveals new shadings of vulnerability and doubt.

In fact, in this season all characters open up depths of uncertainty and ambiguity that might surprise those who dismissed the first season as a frat-fest, with Queens-born movie star Vincent Chase (dark and brooding Adrian Grenier) chasing girls and good times in Hollywood with his "legend in his own mind" loser brother Johnny Drama (played by Matt Dillon's brother Kevin) and two hometown pals, hustler Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) and introverted "E" (Kevin Connolly).

In their DVD interviews with Wahlberg, the actors refer openly to how unpromising the show first seemed. It still hasn't developed into anything deep, but it's become something else: a vivisection of male behavior, in which almost every scene acts out some variation of pride, envy, aggression, insecurity or self-delusion.

The second season on this disc focuses mainly on three storylines: Vince's bid to play Aquaman in a James Cameron superhero epic and his ensuing romance with co-star Mandy Moore; Ari's thwarted effort to strike out on his own, away from his evil mentor (played by Malcolm McDowell in snarling Clockwork Orange mode); and E's struggles to break out of Vince's shadow.

Watching the half-hour episodes one after another on DVD brings out the continuity of the plots and characters, while making you wish the show, like Vince and his buddies, spent less time coasting along the surface. Maybe that's their task for next season, starting on HBO June 11.


High School Musical

Bluntly titled, Disney's High School Musical has introduced the traditional movie musical to a whole new generation. Widely watched on the Disney Channel, it's now spawned a No. 1 album, a fistful of hit singles and the fastest-selling TV movie DVD in history. It'll reportedly soon be remade for Bollywood and Latin America.

Like traditional musicals, HSM gives us a budding romance between two young people who can express their deep feelings only in song. Basketball star Troy meets shy smart girl Gabriella on vacation, only to discover-just like Danny and Sandy in Grease-she's a new transfer student at his school.

The two wind up starring in the school musical, to the dismay of both their friends (who then sing, "Stick to the stuff you know!"), as well as an obnoxious brother-and-sister duo used to having the musical leads to themselves. Sure enough, Gabriella and Troy's courage to break free of cliques persuades others to free their minds too: "I've got a confession/ My own secret obsession/ And it's making me lose control," sings Troy's best friend as he admits that he loves to ... bake.

It's easy to read this entire story as an allegory of high school self-discovery, especially when Gabriella says to her best friend, "Did you ever feel like there's this whole other person inside of you just looking for a way to come out?" (or when the showtune-singing brother says "Nice game!" to the dessert-baking basketball player with the "secret obsession").

HSM blithely has it both ways: Representing traditional musicals with the comical brother and sister characters and a pretentious teacher who calls theater "a temple of art" (in a terrible performance by former Chorus Line star Alyson Reed), while also modernizing the appeal and value of the musical all over again.

It's the same strategy employed by The Band Wagon and Singin' in the Rain in the '50s or Footloose in the '80s: connecting the musical to outsiders and rebels so it can seem hip. HSM may be unimaginable without American Idol, but it's still as corny and conventional as a turn-of-the-century operetta. B

Includes: Sing-along version, two featurettes, two music videos.

You'll Like It If You Like: Movie musicals, American Idol, teen romances.

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