And Chase and his crew have beautifully played the balancing act of character and plot. I stopped watching the Showtime drama Brotherhood when I got sick of the “bad” characters’ arbitrary cruelty. The violence and the general bad behavior on The Sopranos has always served character. When a character on Brotherhood beats up a waiter, it’s just to show how mean and impulsive he is. Tony smashing a Bing bartender on the head with a telephone was a tragicomic culmination of events involving his aged mother (who, like the bartender, can’t figure out how to work a telephone). His behavior is inexcusable but understandable in terms of his character — an “acting out” that’s not hard to identify with.
The second episode of the new season comes as a relief, playing out some of the series’s more comic notes, revolving around nephew Christopher’s move away from drugs and further into the movie business (a mob-horror movie with a central character based on Tony). Maybe that will be Christopher’s legacy, maybe not. The feds are also on to Tony — that gun he dropped in the snow in 2004 has come back to haunt him. The plot of The Sopranos can resolve in any number of ways, but it has a chance to play its deeper hand, to transcend mob melodrama in favor of tragedy. When Tony sells out what’s left of Bobby Bacala’s innocence in an act of petty revenge, you know why there’s so much dread as he looks out at that lake. He’s been looking at his life, thinking what it all adds up to — all that murder and mayhem has been for something, right? He’s like a life-long workaholic in a very bad if profitable profession, finally free, in the clear, able to take a deeper appreciation of life. And what does he see? Nothing.
The emotional upheavals of The Sopranos have made the follow-up half-hour comedy Entourage (HBO, Sundays at 10:30 pm) a necessary decompressant. Here’s young pretty-boy movie star Vincent Chase (Andrian Grenier) and his crew of Queens homeboys living it up in Hollywood, hassling stardom, agents, girlfriends, and a celebrity fantasy lifestyle. Vince and his crew make for a great comedy ensemble. This season, the deadpan laugh lines from Kevin Dillon (the less-successful half-brother of Matt Dillon, here playing Johnny “Drama” Chase, the less successful half-brother of Grenier’s Vince) are essential.
TRUE LOVE: Ari (Jeremy Piven) and Lloyd (Rex Lee) have their finest half-hour in the new season of Entourage.
But here as in other seasons, Jeremy Piven, as crass Type-A-plus-personality super-agent Ari Gold, is the sparkplug who makes Entourage go. From the beginning, Piven has brought superior technique to zapping the show’s dialogue as if he were navigating Topanga Canyon at top speed in a Maserati. After blowing a deal for Vince last season, Ari is now like the estranged lover as his former star is squired by an attractive female agent (Carla Gugino). Of course, it’s only a matter of time before Ari and Vince get back together — they need each other. Or, at least, the show needs Ari. “A paint-drying Edith Wharton novel,” Ari sniffs at Amanda’s proffered deal. “All Edith Wharton movies are the same — he can’t fuck the girl for five years because . . . those were the times! Can Vince really relate to that?”
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