Recommendation: While it’s not a home run like season one of Veep, it’s still built a solid base for season two. And it might just be the perfect show to distract for the current world climate. 8/10.
IMDB Synopsis: The troubled crew of Avenue 5, a space cruise ship filled with spoiled, rich, snotty space tourists, must try and keep everyone calm after their ship gets thrown off course into space and ends up needing three years to return to Earth.
Space travel has never been less glamorous or more comically fraught than in Armando Iannucci’s new show, Avenue 5. If you’re familiar with Iannucci’s brand of dry, sharp, sarcastic, foul-mouthed comedy, then think of Avenue 5 as less caustic than Veep, but much more relatable than The Death of Stalin. The HBO comedy features a well known cast—Hugh Laurie, Josh Gad, Zach Woods—but Avenue 5 is an all-hands-on-deck comedy with incredible supporting performances. Despite being set in well-tread territory—outer space—Avenue 5 doesn’t take itself too seriously, in typical Iannucci absurdist fashion, pulling back just a bit.
Set in the near future (~40 years) on a Judd Space Travel luxury ship, the Avenue 5, the show takes no time introducing the ridiculous characters whose archetypes border on caricature: The all-bravado BS captain Ryan Clark (Laurie), the ignorant mega-rich owner Herman Judd (Gad), the extremely Type-A assistant Iris Kimura (Suzy Nakamura), the laid-back-but-over-her-head engineer Billie McEvoy (Lenora Crichlow), the creepy introvert customer relations rep Matt Spencer (Zach Woods), and a host of others that you’ll come to know and love/hate/cringe at over the nine-episode arc. Pushed off course at launch, the central conceit of the show is that the ship will take three years, not eight weeks, to return to Earth. Essentially, the show is a bottle series where the crew must navigate unruly passengers, technical difficulties in space, and their own sanity.
Set in the near future, the showrunner smartly doesn’t get bogged down (or lean too heavily on) future tech like robots or the nitty gritty physics of space travel. It augments the setups with the space/near future setting to great affect: A 30-second delay when communicating with missions control leads to delightfully disastrous results, for instance. And rather than grand, sweeping operas or intense, heart-of-darkness themes that occupy most other shows in space like the wonderful The Expanse or cult-classic Firefly, Avenue 5 is better in the small, human moments. Allowing the characters room to grow as they navigate the trying and uncertain times aboard the ship.
Of course, it’s not to say that Avenue 5 is a complete hit. Sometimes it seems like the show is pulling its punches, afraid to fully wade into the profane or that the chemistry isn’t quite there yet with some of the characters. But it’s got an incredible first season to build off of (HBO ordered a second season), and in time, could develop a Veep-like reputation and fan base. But despite the small shortcomings, Avenue 5 is a hilarious, at times preposterous, comedy that is a welcome respite from our current times (even if only for 30 minutes).
MVP: The show does focus on Hugh Laurie’s Captain Clark, but the low key MVP might be Zach Woods with his off-brand dark and dry humor.
Creator: Armando Iannucci
Studio: HBO // Release date: January 19, 2020 (premiere)