Since the 1990s, Armando Iannucci has written some of television’s and movie’s most biting satires. The Scottish writer has been especially proficient in political comedies with In the Loop, Veep, and The Death of Stalin being some of his most well regarded works. While familiar to his fans, Iannucci’s latest show is a departure from what people may be used to.
Avenue 5 is a science fiction comedy from HBO. The show is set in future aboard the titular ship. The craft was built with a billionaire’s money and while the journey is a lavish vacation, it is not out of the ordinary. The vessel is on a routine cruise that is scheduled to take just a few weeks. A malfunction adds a few years to the trip, however.
The first episode of the show introduces viewers to the cast and premise. The captain (Hugh Laurie) is courageous and motivational, the owner is oblivious to everything and places a premium on cost (Josh Gad), many of the passengers do not seem happy to be there even before being blown off course. All the while is the inescapable fact the ship does not have enough resources to get back to Earth.
It is a standard series premiere. Television debuts are able to stand out by drawing their audiences in to the story they are telling. Avenue 5 does a great job of this. The premise alone is intriguing. Those aboard the ship have a limited supply of food. They are trapped in space with a finite amount of time. What takes the show to the next level are its strong characters. The show is filled with great performances. Laurie is magnificent as the charismatic captain while Gad is hilarious as the megalomaniacal billionaire. Rebecca Front stands out in her role as a passenger that must be heard.
Avenue 5 does a great job of mixing its humor up. There is the biting wit that is to be expected, but the show also includes a fair amount of slapstick. The sci fi setting is rife with sight gags and physical humor and the writers take full advantage. The willingness to change styles prevents things from getting too predictable or boring.
Despite the out of this world location, many of the themes are grounded in reality. Captain Clark represents the spirit of putting your best face on in front of a crowd. The only time he is willing to show uncertainty is behind closed doors. Karen is an example of someone trying to get things done by appealing to the majority’s worst fears. She feels the best way to enact change is to be loud and obnoxious. Billie McEvoy has concerns, fears, and ideas that are more genuine. She wants to help the passengers, but also wants to be completely transparent – even if that means telling some ugly truths.
Avenue 5 also sees many of the political machinations that can be found in Iannucci’s works. Factions are beginning to form and there are also those who are playing all sides. The contained world of the spaceship runs on who you know and quid pro quo decision making. It is somewhere between what is seen in a person’s everyday world and the hypersensitized game played in political offices around the world.
It is taken for granted that HBO will deliver excellent television. The feeling is heightened when the creative force is Armando Iannucci. Avenue 5 lives up to all expectations. The setting may be different, but the strong writing and interesting stories will be found. Well written comedy and strong performances make the show a welcome addition to HBO’s Sunday lineup.