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These buds are for you

Bummed out by a scathing review in the showbiz daily

Variety, rising Hollywood heartthrob Vince Chase is looking at potential balm

for his bruised ego: a Rolls-Royce with a price tag of $325,000.

"Whatcha thinking?" he asks Eric, a friend and confidant since grade school

in Queens who serves as his manager.

"I'm thinking it costs more than the houses we grew up in," says Eric.

"A [profane adjective] Subaru costs more than the houses we grew up in,"

chimes in Turtle, another member of Vince's posse.

For me, this exchange, from the second episode of "Entourage," is key to

appreciating the new HBO comedy, which, like its four main characters, can be

charming one moment, insufferable the next. Gorgeous and slightly dense Vince

(Adrian Grenier) and the longtime pals who run his errands, keep him "real" and

share his mansion and excess women - older brother "Drama" (Kevin Dillon), an

actor still trying to break out of direct-to-video flicks, former pizza-parlor

manager Eric (Kevin Connelly) and tireless party-animal Turtle (Jerry Ferrara)

- can all be shallow, self-indulgent and sexist. But there's a pathos about

these 20-somethings, individually and as a group, that's affecting.

They're not doing anything most guys wouldn't do if we were their age and

in their bacchanalian circumstances. They're working-class guys, "regular"

guys, living large - and largely by improv. They're poseurs, little guys

acting big, and occasionally they even realize it.

Although the entourage is Vince's, the show belongs more to Eric. He's the

shrewdest, the most grounded and self-aware of the four. Eric is the one Vince

trusts with his career, even though Eric's managerial experience is only as

deep as a pan of lasagna. Drama lives under the illusion that his day is coming

soon. Turtle is thrilled just to be along for the ride. But Eric's the one who

really has to put up a cool, competent front.

There's a marvelous sequence in episode two in which Vince and Eric meet

with Vince's agent, Ari (Jeremy Piven), who's furious that Eric told his friend

and employer to reject a $4-million offer to do a movie (summary blurb: "'Die

Hard' at Disneyland") because the script stunk.

"He passed on your next film, Vince," Ari fumes. "Guy doesn't want to make

money. You a communist? Or are you a socialist? Or didn't they teach you the

difference at Pepperoni U?"

"And what are you, a Rhodes scholar?" Eric fires back.

"No, just a lowly Harvard grad with an MBA from Michigan," Ari replies

snidely.

"Michigan, huh?" says Eric, determinedly unimpressed. "Good football team."

The dialogue in "Entourage" is quick, spiky and often profane. It almost

always feels naturally conversational and spontaneous. Credit the astutely cast

ensemble of actors, series creator Doug Ellin, whose credits include the

feature film "Kissing a Fool" and the sitcom "Life With Bonnie," and a writing

team that includes "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Seinfeld" veteran Larry Charles.

They obviously know Hollywood, and their love for its plastic fantastic

lowlifes and phony sincerity is as unmistakable and real as their disdain for

it. "Entourage" is almost as merciless satirically as "Action," the great Jay

Mohr comedy that Fox bailed on prematurely in 1999. The "almost" is probably

why "Entourage" is easier to like.

How good "Entourage" is isn't fully evident until episode two, due July 25,

but there's nothing "wrong" with Sunday's debut. It's just that this is

serialized comedy, like HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm," in which groundwork is

carefully laid for future payoffs.

HBO might have been wiser to show the first two half- hours together, but

regardless of the configuration, the (initially) eight-week series gets off to

a great start.

ENTOURAGE. A pretty-boy movie star and his most trusted buds from the old days

back East live a nouveau riche, Hollywood life in a smart, profane new comedy

series. Premieres Sunday night at 10 on HBO.

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