Cover art by Nate Taylor, @natentaylor on Instagram
by Frankie Fanelli
I think that HBO’s Avenue 5 could best be described as a “space comedy.” Set in the far distant future on a space cruise around Saturn gone awry, a colorful band of characters that work as crew on the ship find themselves in some chaotic and entertaining adventures.
The Avenue 5, a state of the art space cruise liner, is making a smooth and luxurious journey around Saturn, and is headed by charming and suave captain Ryan Clark (Hugh Laurie). Joining him on the voyage are Herman Judd (Josh Gad), the unbelievable stupid billionare benefactor who owns the ship and whose assistant Iris (Suzy Nakamura) is the only one who keeps all of his bumbling actions and awful ideas from sending the ship, crew, and guests spiraling into (even more) chaos and confusion. As the events of the pilot episode unfold we get to meet the other characters that makeup the ship’s team, including the Matt the cynical customer service agent, ship technician Billie (Lenora Crichlow), a whole smattering of the more important passengers like grouchy couple Doug and Mia (Kyle Bornheimer and Jessica St. Clair), pushy Karen (Rebecca Front), and Spike (Ethan Phillips), an ex-astronaut famed for being the first canadian on the moon. And if that character list doesn’t tell you what kind of show this is than I don’t know what will.
The cast and crew, though entertaining, become more and more obviously ill-prepared to run a ship as the first few episodes progress. As the cruiseliner begins to malfunction and the passengers on board begin approaching the team with issues and malfunctions of their own, the ship and everyone on board begin descending into barely-controlled chaos. The show is a comedy, and while it definitely delivers some chuckles and laughable moments, most of the entertainment is delivered through the characters’ quippy and outright outrageous dialogue. In the show, profanities are used often and it helps to bolster the comedic factor of the show, a style we’re used to from Avenue 5’s showrunner Armando Ianucci, the same man who invented Veep.
Though the show steadily builds its comedic punch as the plot develops, it also definitely seems to go through some periods where the characters almost appear to lose steam. Minimally funny gags are dragged throughout the whole first few episodes, including one about how long it takes mission control on earth to receive transmissions from the ship, allowing chaos to fester and boil over before the technicians on earth have any idea something has gone wrong.
All that being said, it’s not uncommon for comedies to take their time to build up and reach their crux of sidesplitting entertainment, even from industry seasoned visionaries like Iannucci. So while some viewers may have to be patient in order for the show to hit their humor sweet spot, based on the content of the first few episodes and everything they promise from the cast and production team, it’s sure to get there.