Screenwriter Armando Iannucci (The Thick of It, I’m Alan Partridge, Veep) has been unleashed in space in the new HBO comedy Avenue 5.
Hugh Laurie is Ryan Clark, captain of the Avenue 5 spaceship, an astro-cruise liner that’s about to hit its own Titanic on its maiden cruise. A major malfunction sends the vessel off course by some 3 years, triggering passenger fury and crew conflict.
While Captain Clark attempts to restore order he is up against misinformation, frayed tempers and the tantrums of the ship’s petulant young billionaire owner Herman Judd (Josh Gad). Judd’s PA Iris (Suzy Nakamura) is also one of many cynical characters, lashing out in a time of disaster.
Advised by engineer Billie (Lenora Crichlow), Clark hopes to placate the angry passengers, but first there’s a funeral to conduct and Head of Passenger Services Matt (Zach Woods) is offering no assist.
Back on Earth Mission Control, led by Rav (Nikki Amuka-Bird) is also hamstrung by a constant 26 second delay in communications which makes conversation utterly inept.
“This may be the worst disaster since Google folded.”
Meanwhile the passengers are joining forces like a class action lawsuit, under outraged traveller Karen Kelly (Rebecca Front).
It is Captain Clark we follow through the chaos of the opening episode, yet he is also hiding his own secret, which I won’t spoil here.
In trademark sardonic Iannucci style, this veers from black comedy to the absurd and back again, punctuated by incisive potshots at society, authority, and technology. Many of the characters are abrasive or deliberately unlikeable, yet I don’t get the feeling they will necessarily stay that way and we may warm to the obnoxious.
The set is more Love Boat that USS Enterprise and could possibly double for an episode of Solid Gold -yes there are lots of extras.
The scenes staged on Earth at Mission Control also adopt something of a documentary approach, with lots of hand-held camera work, contrasting the interstellar comic scenes.
Hugh Laurie, occasionally channeling Basil Fawlty, strides through this material with ease, which makes it all the more enjoyable. But, like the Avenue 5 itself, it’s also hard to see where this is going. In this sense the viewer is a bit like a passenger… rudderless, sometimes angry, trying to hold onto story gravity.
Space dramas often claim niche audiences and space comedies even more so. Avenue 5 is unlikely to change that equation, but with Armando Iannucci and Hugh Laurie at the helm you’re in pretty safe hands.
Avenue 5 airs 8:30pm Tuesdays on FOX Showcase.