‘Entourage’: The Guilt/Pleasure Index

Ari (Jeremy Piven) and Lloyd (Rex Lee)Courtesy of HBO

Oh, Entourage — is there any show on TV that offers guiltier pleasures or more pleasurable guilt? On the one hand, you’ve got a sun-kissed half-hour of virtuosic tirades, nose-against-the-glass L.A. voyeurism, and endless juvenile wish fulfillment. On the other hand, you’ve got stubbornly simplistic story arcs, lazily underwritten jokes, and endless juvenile wish fulfillment. No wonder it's the one show we can’t stop watching-slash-can’t stop hating ourselves for watching!

Episode: “Manic Monday”

Pleasure: It figures that, after last week’s limp offering — in which Vince and E squabbled about a couples’ weekend in wine country and Turtle and Drama scoped out a dog park — the show should return to our scrutiny with a near-classic installment. This episode was almost all pleasure, no guilt: Jeremy Piven was at his volcanic best, the Turtle & Drama Traveling Comedy Sideshow was thankfully reigned in, and the show’s Random Chick Ogling was kept to a minimum. Of particular note this week: Piven’s encore-worthy meltdown at his marriage counselor’s office (if you have the episode TiVo-ed, watch it again just for the way he uses his hands), ending with a bizarre, Popeye-style salute. We always expect Piven’s gyrations to degrade into late-period Pacino hamminess, yet he manages to keep Ari’s outbursts entertaining but never absurd. Plus: Speaking of gyrations, how great was it to watch Vince squirm under interrogation from his new agent Amanda (Carla Gugino)? The show hands Vince too much too easily, especially now that he’s a star. It’s refreshing for once to see Adrian Grenier do something other than smile and bat those feathery lashes.

Guilt: Well, so much for the squirming. Turns out Vince’s hot, emasculating agent really just wants to bang his brains out. This is typical Entourage, in the worst way: Rather than tease out the sexual-tension subplot, the show brings it too quickly to climax, with a far-fetched porn-fantasy resolution. (Similarly, it looks like Ari’s presto-change-o on the golf course is the end of the whole “Ari Goes Soft” storyline. Damn you, writing staff! You could have milked that for a whole season, not just half an episode.) Maybe it’s just as well: Gugino, while cute, hasn’t shown the requisite venom to make Ari versus Amanda an interesting duel. Beverly D’Angelo, however, makes for a steely adversary — but, sadly, the show quickly converted her into Ari’s ally. This is the problem with Entourage’s relentless Hollywood sunshine: No one can stay mad at anyone for too long. This show needs a little more bite and a little less hugging it out. —Adam Sternbergh