Characterize Ari Gold as “evil” and devoted fans of HBO's "Entourage" would probably throw you a bewildered look, or maybe even toss a latte in your face.
After all, Ari is a riot. As the high-powered dervish with the cell phone epoxied to his ear and the name “Lloyd!” always at the tip of his tongue, the Hollywood agent's manic button is permanently pushed, leading to hilarious exchanges and outrageous predicaments that showcase the excellence of the show's writing and the sublime work of the heretofore underappreciated Jeremy Piven.
But “Entourage” works so deliciously because it is, at its core, an ongoing good-versus-evil story. And although Ari himself might not appear to be inherently evil, he represents the concept. In this case, the Devil wears Hugo Boss and Bruno Magli.
If actor Vince (Adrian Grenier) bent to the will of Ari, he would be doing “Aquaman II,” “Aquaman III: Revenge of the Plankton” and “Bride of Aquaman,” each time taking home a fatter paycheck and each time selling a little more of his soul and integrity. If Ari had his way, Vince would not only endorse the cartoonishly colorized version of “Queens Boulevard,” he’d shill for a Burger King tie-in.
If Vince had not attained the kind of star power that enables him to repeatedly remind his agent that Ari works for him rather than the other way around, Eric (Kevin Connolly) would have been cut out long ago. If Ari had his druthers, he would never allow the words “Johnny Drama” (Kevin Dillon) to be uttered in his presence, let alone help the guy find work. And Turtle (Jerry Ferrara)? Ari would bluntly advise him that his best shot at managing rappers is to hang around the parking lot at the Grammys and leave his business cards on limo windshields.
As fiendishly funny as he may be, Ari is the personification of the lust for money and power that lingers over Hollywood like smog. Left to his own devices, Ari would milk the client and ship the entourage back to Queens.
In this corner, representing ‘good’
Fortunately, the "Entourage" themselves serve as the counterweight.
Loyalty is as difficult to find in Hollywood these days as a $300,000 house. It's always been the “Where’s Waldo?” of the entertainment business, but especially lately, as giant corporations take over studios and attempt to run them with savage bottom-line efficiency.
Vince, Eric, Drama and Turtle form a pleasing anomaly: friends who stick together even though outside forces conspire to pull them apart. Friendship and loyalty are still valued highly by most folks, and when such devotion appears in a fictional context, it creates loyalty in return from viewers.
Shows as disparate as “Friends” and “The Sopranos” are appealing because the bond of loyalty is strong. Fans knew that if something happened to Phoebe or Ross, the other friends would rally in support. Should someone attack Silvio, you can be sure Tony would fire back.
In “Entourage,” the rewards of fame and success enable the guys to enjoy a lifestyle that most twentysomethings can only fantasize about. But those rewards also present pitfalls. The pressure to maintain a Hollywood standard of living occasionally tests their friendship, but ultimately, Vince and his buds always choose each other.
The ties were severely tested this season when Dom (Domenick Lombardozzi), an old friend from the neighborhood and just out of jail, arrived to join the group. He was viewed as trouble by the other three, but Vince put his foot down on the side of loyalty — because Dom once took a legal rap for Vince — and the others eventually acquiesced. Although Dom turned out to be less than forthright, Vince still sent him off amicably with a golden parachute.
Ironically, at the end of season two, when Ari was fired by his agency, the only way he would survive is if Vince extended that sense of loyalty beyond his homeboys to his ruthless agent. And he did. But if it had been Vince’s career that had spiraled downward and hit bottom, how long do you think it would take before Ari stopped taking his phone calls? Answer: About as long as it takes for Drama to blow an audition.
This wasn’t the first time Vince had stuck by Ari. In season one, Vince was being courted by a young rival agent, Josh Weinstein, when Ari was having trouble closing the deal for “Queens Boulevard.” Ultimately, Vince remained with Ari, even though he and Eric weren’t happy with the way he was handling things. Why? Because “Entourage” executive producer and creator Doug Ellin and his staff have created a character whose nature runs contrary to everything that Hollywood is about, who has been relatively uncorrupted by stardom, and they’ve surrounded him with three like-minded sidekicks.
In their Hollywood, loyalty prevails. In their Hollywood, Vince and the boys are better than Ari.
That’s not to say Ari is completely bereft of goodness. He loves his wife and daughter. He seems to have a grudging affection for Lloyd, although it’s deep, deep down there, embedded in the fires of hell. He respects Eric, which is about the most anyone could hope for in that relationship. And he can occasionally bond with the fellas like a normal person, as he did Sunday night during a jaunt to Las Vegas.
Yet he is still Satan’s front man. If it were up to Ari, Vince would have taken the $12.5 million from Alan Gray (Paul Ben-Victor) to do “Aquaman II” instead of telling the studio boss to stick it because he didn’t like being strong-armed in the negotiations. If Ari had his way, Vince would never have publicly rebuked the studio heads who ruined “Queens Boulevard” while standing by tortured indie director Billy Walsh.
In Hollywood fiction, good once again triumphs over evil. In Hollywood reality, the battle continues with no end in sight, and the outlook is not nearly as rosy.
Michael Ventre is a frequent contributor to MSNBC.com. He lives in Los Angeles.