REVIEWED: SEASON 1 (EPISODES 1-3) | WHERE TO WATCH: SKY GO, NOWTV
Armando Iannucci can easily be described as one of the greatest living satirists. With works such as The Death of Stalin and Veep to his credit, it’s fair to say that we were excited to learn that Iannucci had created a sci-fi series, a genre that many have failed to master.
His new show blends the vitriolic ‘idiots doing a crucial job’ vibe of In the Thick of It with one of the world’s most depressing works of science fiction, Aniara; Harry Martinson’s tale of a space-borne passenger ship knocked off course and doomed to roam the cosmos. The result is something truly unique. It’s consistently funny and also filled with impending dread; cheerfully dark and ridiculous and yet all the while very, very believable.
Avenue 5 is set in the near future where space-travel is quite common. Massive luxury passenger liners ply the solar system, ferrying holidaymakers across the void. When the show opens, it’s a ‘space’ version of the sort of thing we’ve seen on real-world cruise ships; cheesy entertainment, shops, more shops, and yoga.
Hugh Laurie plays Captain Clark, a charismatic figure who looks and talks like the sort of leader you get in a Hollywood movie. He fits in perfectly with the flashy looking bridge and digital displays that cover every surface of this hi-tech looking craft. That is until the wheels come off. The ship is knocked off course and is plunged into space, looking to take years rather than weeks to complete the journey. No one in charge is equipped to deal with the situation, and the black humour comes flooding in.
Laurie is, of course, a comic actor first and foremost, and his timing is exquisite. He’s joined by an equally stellar performance from Josh Gad as Herman Judd, an egocentric ‘tech-bro’ billionaire, who’s wealth clearly comes from ruthlessness and conniving, though he claims it’s through his own genius. Lenora Crichlow plays Billie, the flawed ‘person who has a clue’. The supporting cast are all strong, though it’s Laurie and Crichlow who drive much of the humour.
All of the hallmarks of an Iannucci show are here. We have people bickering over tiny pointless things, we have petty people hiding vital things, and everyone is an irredeemable idiot one way or another. Things can only get darker and more amusing. Both sci-fi and black comedy are hard to master, but Avenue 5 looks on course to match John Carpenter’s Dark Star in terms of impact and humour. It may not be a laugh riot, but it may well be brilliant.