ENTOURAGE (TV SERIES) – Blu-ray review

For the longest time, the so-called problems “Entourage” characters dealt with on-screen were so far fetched to the average non-movie star viewer that in some cases it was difficult to relate. Guys with deep pockets, giant houses, fancy cars and beautiful women surrounding them had to deal with not getting exactly what they wanted when they wanted it, especially as it related to roles in movies or on television. But now, we see everyone essentially go off the deep end with substance abuse, betrayal and high-priced obsession.

HBO’s popular series hits Blu-ray disc with its seventh season just weeks before the eighth and final year shows up on the network. Rumors about a possible full-length movie are still swirling, but whether or not “Entourage” can get to that point might all depend on how season eight finishes off what season seven started.

“Entourage” follows Vince Chase (Adrian Grenier) as he navigates Hollywood’s maze toward being a successful actor. Vince’s pals have his back, and as the series regularly points out, this is a good thing for his line of work. Originally from Queens, he’s lured his foundation to southern California, including his manager Eric (Kevin Connolly), or E. A businessman on the outside with uncharacteristic loyalty to his work and the people he interacts with, E deals with Vince’s older half-brother Johnny “Drama” Chase (Kevin Dillon), who forever seeks to jump-start a semi-washed up acting career. There’s also Sal (Jerry Ferrara), better known as Turtle, the quirky kid who drives a really shiny black Cadillac Escalade. Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven) rounds things out as the loud mouth who likes yelling at everyone, yet keeps his friends and clients in close contact.

These eclectic characters are a diverse group on their own, but when together, sparks can fly. “Entourage” occasionally illustrates the best and worst circumstances that can go down when business crosses over into family and personal affairs. So often during an episode everyone seeks their own identity, yet all are drawn back to the initial click. Despite the fame and good fortune at their fingertips, family matters quite a bit to these guys.

At its beginning, “Entourage” was pretty much all about Vince. The series shifted to various plots about his friends and their affairs, but season seven brings things back to Vince in multiple ways. He’s asked to do a dangerous driving stunt on a movie he stars in, and to show E, Turtle and Drama that he’s not a wimp, Vince nearly kills himself performing the stunt. Feeling on top of the world, Vince looks for new thrills with E’s associate Scott Lavin (Scott Caan), starts dating porn star Sasha Grey and takes up more and heavier drug use.

Meanwhile, Drama still can’t find a television series that will pick him up. He spends the bulk of season seven arguing with Lloyd (Rex Lee) about different opportunities that fell through. Turtle is trying to do his own thing apart from his friends. His business, where sexy women pick up clients from the airport and drive them to their destinations, begins to flat line rapidly, so a former employee who he likes, Alex (Dania Ramirez), proposes an opportunity to get into a friend’s family tequila business. As for E, he worries about Vince and tries to juggle work with a bumpy engagement to Sloan (Emmanuelle Chriqui), whose godfather happens to own the firm where E is employed. Ari’s marriage goes down the toilet as his new role running the largest acting agency in the world throws dozens of curve balls his way, including vengeance from more than a few former employees.

Always known for its guest stars, “Entourage” doesn’t disappoint with season seven. Stan Lee, Maria Menounos, John Cleese, Nick Cassavetes, Jonathan Kletz, Jessica Simpson, John Stamos, Bob Saget, Aaron Sorkin, Eminem, Mike Tyson, Mark Cuban, Minka Kelly, Autumn Reeser, Christina Aguilera, Kevin Love, Jordan Farmar, Ryan Howard and other recognizable faces grace “Entourage” with their presence. In many cases, these individuals play themselves, and if they’re even half as over the top in reality as they appear during “Entourage,” I shudder to think how close the series actually is to a day in the Hollywood life.

The real question viewers need to ponder is whether or not this series can do the serious and emotionally charged perspectives it introduces during season seven. Watching Vince spiral downward with addiction, Ari crash and burn with his marriage and Turtle (yeah, Turtle) be the savvy businessman for once are all unconventional. Are the characters deep enough to uphold a serious side despite the loud, funny and frequently outlandish personas we know them for best?

There’s no way to deny that “Entourage” is still entertaining and fun to watch. At under 30 minutes per episode, it’s a fun way to indulge and live vicariously through a group of friends who have it all but still come up wanting. When I finish an episode, I’m reminded of how lousy a celebrity I would be because my life, unlike Vince’s, doesn’t involve the trouble induced by his personal and professional endeavors. And maybe watching those with privilege have it hard indirectly makes me appreciate what I do, and don’t, really have.

But, I digress. The series appears to slow down in season seven, but effectively sets the stage for season eight. Whether or not the newer episodes that come out are enough to bring the entire show full circle, however, is up in the air.

HBO’s transfer to Blu-ray is strong, as always. The 1.78:1 1080p High Definition image is awfully clear as it traces the guys through southern California’s unrelenting sunshine. Bright colors are dominant, especially in scenes where natural light is heavily implemented. Darks hold their own too, and even though a little grain makes an appearance in what seems like every one out of three transitions between scenes, the transfer remains high quality.

Season seven’s insults, profanity and arguing are all loud and clear thanks to the English 5.1 DTS-High Definition Master Audio soundtrack. “Entourage” uses lots of contemporary music throughout an episode, and it all sounds sharp on Blu-ray. Spoken words and lines delivered are also solid to take in, even though probably half of the conversations in season seven take place over the phone. Natural background noise has a strong role, especially in the scenes where the guys host parties, play ping pong or cruse the Los Angeles streets. Other audio options include a French DTS Digital Surround 5.1 and a Spanish DTS Digital Surround 2.0. Subtitle selections are English, French, Spanish, Norwegian and Swedish.

This offering feels consistent with previous seasons as two featurettes (one behind the scenes and one profiling Grey’s life in and out of porn) lead the way, followed closely behind by three audio commentaries with the main actors and creator/executive producer Doug Ellin and executive producer Ally Musika.

A Final Word:
The stage is set for this popular and unique series to take its final season to a different level. Given how well it’s done up to this point, there’s little reason to think it won’t get there. But given how much wondering about season eight was induced by season seven, it’s a fair assessment to evaluate this installment as a step down from a previous high.