Plot: Set 40 years in the future, Avenue 5’s eight-week journey around Saturn is underway and its systems are optimal. But when the ship suddenly encounters technical difficulties, it’s up to Captain Ryan Clark and his crew to calm the disgruntled passengers and find a way to deal with unexpected events onboard – though they may or may not be equipped for the task.
Review: If you are a fan of the series Veep, odds are you are already anticipating Avenue 5. Hailing from creator Armando Iannucci, Avenue 5 shares a similar sense of humor as his previous series and is just as satirical. Moving from the world of politics he explored on Veep and his prior BBC series In The Loop, Avenue 5 is nowhere nearly as focused as those shows which means it takes a couple of episodes before this story finds it's footing. When it does, you will find yourself laughing out loud but maybe not nearly as much as with Veep. Still, this is a funny series with a lot of potential.
Set in the near future on a space cruise meant to last two months, an accident occurs that will put the passengers and crew of the Avenue 5 on a three year journey around the solar system. In many ways, this is a disaster movie with comedic implications that also has the opportunity to satirize everything from class structure, economics, hospitality, and more. Think of Avenue 5 as a cross between the Buy-N-Large ship from Pixar's WALL-E with the confines of THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE. That may not sound hilarious at first, but this is Armando Iannucci we are talking about.
Obviously, things go wrong when your trip into the vacuum of space is extended from months to years and the impact is almost immediate (literally). While the first half of the season premiere is slow going, it truiy takes about three episodes before Avenue 5 starts to find it's footing. Led by Veep's Hugh Laurie as Captain Ryan Clark, the cast are all comedy veterans including Suzy Nakamura (Silicon Valley), Rebecca Front (The Thick of It), Zach Woods (Silicon Valley), and Josh Gad. Gad plays Herman Judd, the billionaire owner of the Avenue 5 and dives deep into his role as a self absorbed CEO. Between Gad and Laurie, we have some great comedy here which is accentuated by the supporting players.
The cast also includes Himesh Patel (YESTERDAY), Ethan Phillips (Neelix from Star Trek Voyager) and Lenora Crichlow as Billie. As the second engineer, Crichlow primarily plays things straight which allows the rest of the cast to play characters crumbling under the stress of their disastrous voyage. Each episode builds upon the tension faced by the ship as well as their mission control on Earth headed by Nikki Amuka-Bird as Rav Mulcair. In traditional sitcom fashion, each episode pits the crew against new obstacles but the serial storyline remains the central focus of the story and there are plenty of twists to each character revealed as the the story moves forward that add to the debacle that is Avenue 5.
While the episodes made available for review had incomplete special effects, those that were promise to be very different than what you would expect to see on series like Star Trek or even The Orville. Seth MacFarlane's scifi series is closer in tone and style to The Next Generation while Avenue 5 is not afraid to give us lots of piss and shit and dead bodies, literally. I found myself laughing quite a bit through this show and enjoyed the insults, a trademark of any Iannucci series, but it still feels a bit uneven. That being said, I really like this cast and HBO is in need of a new comedy series in the wake of Silicon Valley ending in 2019.
Avenue 5 doesn't have the rapid fire delivery of jokes that made Veep so fun to watch. While Veep's humor was so vulgar and fast-paced that it often felt unscripted, Avenue 5 never hits the same stride. Once the set up of the series is out of the way, the show begins to speed up the jokes with the third and fourth episodes really showing what the story has to offer. There is enough space humor here to appease scifi fans and enough scatalogical jokes and off color humor to warrant this series airing on HBO, but it doesn't quite hit the potential that I would have expected from Armando Iannucci. That doesn't mean it isn't good, it just isn't good enough quite yet but it certainly has the potential to be a break out hit.
Avenue 5 premieres January 19th on HBO.