While "Entourage" is a show about four close buddies, the HBO series gets much of its charm from what is arguably the group's fifth member: the city of Los Angeles.
El Lay's status at the center of the U.S. entertainment industry means lots of shows nominally take place here. But few — if any — shows approach the city with such precision and affection for its restaurants, shops and other neighborhood institutions.
"The show is an attempt to be as realistic as possible," said show creator and executive producer Doug Ellin. "We use the locations that we actually use in real life, the restaurants we eat at, the bars we go to."
It might seem a stretch to credit "Entourage" (which begins a new season Sunday at 10 p.m. EDT) for its realism. Episode plots are like wish-fulfillment dreams of fine food, afternoon weed sessions, narrow-waisted nymphs and endlessly indulgent pals to share it all with.
Still, it depicts the Los Angeles with far more verisimilitude than the myriad programs that portray it as an endless sunny wonderland, like the perennially syndicated "Beverly Hills: 90210," or as a generic urban dystopia, like the FX Network's "The Shield."
Other programs feature known Southern California landmarks, like CBS's "Shark," which places scenes in Los Angeles' Byzantine-domed City Hall, and ABC's "Brothers and Sisters" and NBC's "Raines," which both feature Venice Beach.
But "Entourage" sets its episodes in more varied — but no less specific — spots, like Hollywood's Arclight Cinemas, where movie star Vincent's first big film premieres, or Jerry's Famous Deli, the venerable lunch spot where the boys dine with Mandy Moore.
Many of the real-life locations are posh locales, out of the average Angeleno's reach. Vincent's agent Ari meets with the star's buddy-turned-manager Eric at Koi, the pricey sushi restaurant and celebrity haunt. Eric makes a reservation for himself and his girlfriend at Beverly Hills' Peninsula Hotel, where rooms start around $500 a night.
Other spots that the boys frequent, like the Shelter Supper Club nightspot, are off-limits for all but Hollywood's most gilded youth.
But most locations are the sorts of everyday neighborhood joints that Los Angelenos get to know and love. They grab dogs at Pink's flamboyant hot dog stand, line up for limited edition kicks at the sneaker boutique Undefeated and browse at Book Soup, ground zero for Southern California bibliophiles.
They quip that the best bagels in town are at Canter's Deli on historically Jewish Fairfax Ave. because the street has different water than the rest of the city. "The Jews import it from Borough Park," insists Vincent's brother, Johnny Drama.
Other scenes nod knowingly at Southern California's cultural geography, such as when Drama resists a trip into the San Fernando Valley suburbs to see Vincent's film open in a multiplex because of the intense summer heat. In another scene, Drama and Turtle drive to south Los Angeles to meet an aspiring rapper and are told by the young hip-hop artist's mother that he was at work at a garage on "Ro-dee-o Drive."
Johnny attempts to correct her, "Ma'am, it's pronounced Row-day-o".
"South of Jefferson, it's Row-dee-o," she responds, citing the boulevard that forms a northern border for the city's lower-working-class flatlands.
The show's knowing references to real-life Los Angeles gives it a cultural resonance that other shows lack, said writer Adrienne Crew, a devoted watcher of the show who grew up in Los Angeles and is working on a novel that takes place in the city in the 1980s.
"The writing is very accurate, very smart, very insider," she said. "Its sensibility is definitely on top of what is happening now."