If you’ve streamed anything on HBO Max in the last six months (and I know you have), you’ve likely seen an ad or two for Avenue 5.
The first thing you, I or anyone else will notice is the stack of immediately recognizable stars:
- Hugh Laurie (House, The Night Manager)
- Josh Gad (Frozen, Beauty and the Beast)
- Zach Woods (Silicon Valley, The Office)
And the host of actors you know you’ve seen before but can’t place. You can tell that creator Armando Iannucci is from the UK because you’ve almost certainly seen half these actors in an episode of Doctor Who.
The eponymous Avenue 5 is a luxury spaceliner in a fleet of similar space cruisers owned by the babbling, egotistical man-child Herman Judd. A gravity malfunction knocks the liner off its course, extending the duration of the cruise by several years.
As the passengers begin to rail against their newfound prison in the stars, the captain and crew are revealed to be actors, lacking the technical knowledge or leadership skills to remedy any situation that befalls them.
Each episode presents new challenges and new developments in the characters’ relationships with each other.
The show is largely carried by its star power, which is kind of ironic given that this is a sci-fi show about a luxury spaceliner stuck in space.
Every single performance is impeccable, and Josh Gad and Rebecca Front emerge as the power hitters of the series.
Josh Gad, who has made his name as the go-to guy for chattering fools, plays Herman Judd. Gad walks a beautiful line between skewering and embodying Richard Branson, Elon Musk and the like with his psuedo-brilliance and egocentric worldview.
Front’s performance as the self-proclaimed leader of the passengers (aptly named Karen) is perfectly unsettling. Front plays up the smug self-importance with razor-sharpness.
If you close your eyes, you can almost picture her marching into a Target without a mask claiming she’s exempt.
Iannucci works magic with the characters’ relationships, and many of the characters age like wine from the pilot episode. Lenora Crichlow delivers a whopping performance as the foil to Hugh Laurie’s captain as his life and career fall apart. The chemistry between Crichlow and Laurie accurately conveys the personal challenges of being crammed into an inescapable space with someone for the foreseeable future.
My main issue with Avenue 5 is its milquetoast execution. This show seems to be little more than a sum of its cast.
The issues that the crew encounter — failed gravity, dead bodies floating past the windows, leaking oxygen — feel like tried-and-true sci-fi staples.
The show garners a smile, but never a true out-loud chuckle. Many of the jokes center on feces, cuckolding, nerdiness or general horniness. Iannucci is known for punchy, clever comedies like The Death of Stalin and Veep, so the lack of genuine comedy in Avenue 5 is puzzling.
The show leans heavily on its comedy-of-errors premise. Something bad happens, it gets resolved, something worse happens, it gets resolved, repeat ad nauseum.
In a binge-watching setting, it becomes an exercise in masochism, much like playing a Gears of War game or watching Silicon Valley.
The Final Verdict
For all my criticisms of it, I enjoyed watching Avenue 5.
However, I can’t help feeling that much of my enjoyment was flavored as expectation. Expectation that there was a hearty cackle or an original sci-fi problem waiting around the corner.
The show has been renewed for a second season, and I’m hoping that Iannucci was playing it conservative in season one for the sake of longevity.
Avenue 5 is Worth A Watch, But Not A Binge.
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