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Flunkies go to Hollywood in HBO's 'Entourage'

It's not breaking news that Hollywood is a shark tank and that all of its Great Whites are fitted with porcelain veneers. And it won't make headlines that the Leonardo DiCaprios of this world have diamonds on the soles of their vintage Nikes -- and as many models on their arms as the 1970s Rolling Stones. Satirizing the lunacy of La-La Land has long been a mainstream sport, even before Robert Altman's memorable skewering of the major studios with "The Player" in 1992. Even "Singin' in the Rain" didn't pull its cynical punches when it came out in 1952.

So don't expect "Entourage" to open any new doors of perception as it chronicles the absurd LA adventures of a Next Big Thing and his three best buddies. The new HBO comedy, which premieres Sunday at 10 p.m., is a familiar sendup of Hollywood hedonism -- addictive fun if you like to laugh at and drool over vapid excess, but not the kind of ground-breaking material we've come to hope for from HBO. As it sets its four Peter Pans loose in a Neverland of fame-addicted babes and make-or-break Variety reviews, it travels along very well-trod territory indeed. All the characters have been seen on TV before on the likes of "The Larry Sanders Show" and "Action," not least of all the piggy agent (Jeremy Piven), who spits out lines like "It's `Die Hard' at Disneyland, what's not to love?"

"Entourage" is executive produced by Mark Wahlberg, who's telling the press that the stories are loosely based on his experiences with his Boston friends in LA. But the "It" actor on the series, Vince Chase (Adrian Grenier), isn't quite a Wahlberg stand-in. He's more like a WB actor wearing CK in a GQ fashion spread, if that's not redundant. Grenier's Vince has none of Wahlberg's street charisma; he's a teen-idol pretty boy, with big brown hair, bushy eyebrows, and piercing blue eyes. The girls see him and melt, which allows him to say little and preserve his man-of-mystery aura. His regal passivity is comical as his high-strung "people" bring him scripts, money, and women.

On the hot list after a few movies, Vince has brought his old-school buddies from Queens to LA to hang out with him in a mansion, play pinball, smoke joints, and cruise the town in shiny new cars. They're his entourage. His half-brother Johnny (Kevin Dillon) is a Grade-B actor who's always in Vince's shadow. Dillon, who has had his own experience in his brother Matt's shadow, plays -- and overplays -- Johnny like an ego-damaged dummy. The chubby and juvenile Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) is Vince's errand boy, and he shamelessly uses his access to reel in voluptuous one-night stands for himself. Eric (Kevin Connolly) is the grounded one, serving as Vince's trusted manager and fall guy. He's the one responsible for dealing with Ari, the aggressive agent, so Vince can maintain his mellow.

And thus the funky bunch make their way from red-carpeted premieres to Jessica Alba's pool party, always with an eye for conquest. "Entourage" only partially realizes that it's about the glee of male exploitation, which is too bad. A few comeuppances would serve the guys right and save the show from looking as unconsciously sexist as its characters. As it stands, the scripts pander too much to the sensibility they should be mocking -- that Hollywood is a playland for big boys with an eye for scrawny women. "Entourage" doesn't need to become moralistic or politically correct, just self-aware. If the writers took another step back from their immature characters, the show's satirical edge might be sharper.

True to the Hollywood satire genre, "Entourage" is scattered with cameo appearances by famous people playing themselves. Alba's on board, and so is Jimmy Kimmel, who invites Vince on to his talk show in the third episode. That half-hour plays out like an episode of "The Larry Sanders Show," except without the comic glory of Larry's ego. Still, these cameos add to the show's realism, if that word can be used in reference to such a surreal place on earth.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com.

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