TV TATTLE

HBO's Avenue 5 may end up becoming a great show, but it starts off looking like an unwieldy mess

  • "There are many surprises contained within Avenue 5, HBO’s new sci-fi comedy about a space cruise to Saturn that goes awry," Alan Sepinwall says of Veep creator Armando Iannucci's HBO space comedy. "Some of these are good, and it would ruin many of the show’s jokes to reveal them here. But the biggest surprise is a disappointing one: that Veep creator Armando Iannucci’s first TV series since he left behind Selina Meyer is kind of an unwieldy mess. The good surprises may eventually solve the bad one, but it’s hard to tell based on the four episodes provided for review." Sepinwall adds: "Comedies take time to reach their full potential, even ones from brilliant creators like Iannucci. Veep arguably didn’t come into its own until its second season (when Selina became more crucially involved in her president’s administration, and Ben and Kent were added as additional foils for her). The way Avenue 5‘s mysteries gradually unfold makes it hard to suggest waiting for a key episode down the line. (The fourth installment is by far the best, but it also depends on having seen how the captain gets to the emotional place he’s in.) This means the show will require patience — more than one might have hoped for from Iannucci’s reunion with HBO (he left Veep after Season Five), but about right for many series from lesser mortals."

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    • Avenue 5 does show potential, taking time to find its rhythm: "As Avenue 5 progresses, the writers become increasingly adept at putting (Hugh Laurie's) Ryan in tense situations that reveal further layers of his character, as well as the world he inhabits," says Angelica Jade Bastién. "Part of the fun in watching Avenue 5 is piecing together its gleaming, technologically advanced vision of the near future. While we aren’t given an exact year this is all taking place, the show scatters puzzle pieces throughout its world that give us a broader picture of these characters’ circumstances...even with some early stumbles, Avenue 5 offers such a rich view of the future and such dynamic predicaments that I feel compelled to go along for the ride."
    • Avenue 5 is Veep in space, which doesn't mean it's great: "The Veep elements—unmistakable from the opening moments, when a soon-to-be-ex-wife screams at her husband across a dining room that he can find a chair 'at the bottom of the swimming pool on Deck F*ck You!'—doubtlessly come from that show's creator, Armando Iannucci, who's also the executive producer of Avenue 5," says Glenn Garvin. "Like Veep and Ianucci's other trademark production, The Death of Stalin, Avenue 5 has a big cast, an even bigger collection of subplots, and a penchant for loopy humor that doesn't always land well."
    • It's difficult to see what, exactly, Armando Iannucci is satirizing here: "The politics and commerce of the future are, if anything, underused as targets," says Daniel Fienberg. "Maybe it's the hospitality industry being mocked. Or maybe it's better to look at Avenue 5 as simply Iannucci having fun with a new and not very subtext-rich disaster scenario, resulting in something clever if not particularly smart."
    • Avenue 5 does offer some above average laughs despite not being in the same league as Veep: "Coming right on the heels of Veep, one of the best shows of the past decade, Avenue 5 is almost inevitably a bit of a disappointment," says Kristen Baldwin. "The show feels like a funnier spiritual sibling of Other Space, Paul Feig’s cult sci-fi comedy; it even stars Space’s Neil Casey as Spencer, a cocky, cargo shorts-wearing engineer who helps Billie keep the ship running. But putting aside any expectations for another serving of Iannucci’s savage satire, Avenue 5 is still a sharply-written comedy with a strong cast and an enjoyable mix of highbrow punchlines, broad physical comedy, and silly sight gags, one involving a radiation shield of human excrement."
    • Avenue 5 is breezy and snarky, espcially in the way it mocks hard science: "Part of the fun of Avenue 5 is ... the fun of (Tom Godwin’s 1954 short story) The Cold Equations: getting to watch hard-science truths dismantle the frankly silly genre pulp stories in which people maneuver spaceships like cars, and hop about the galaxy as if it’s their backyard," says Noah Berlatsky. "Suspending disbelief for those kinds of jaunts is entertaining. But it’s also entertaining to stop suspending disbelief just for a bit, and watch Rebecca Front as passenger Karen Kelly explode (not literally!) in magnificent indignation because space-time won’t do what she wants, the way it does for, say, William Shatner."
    • The biggest problem with Avenue 5 is that, ultimately, it’s just fine altogether: "Going into the series hoping for it to be like Veep or The Thick of It will lead to disappointment straight away," says LaToya Ferguson. "But that’s also because it’s clear that Iannucci is going for something completely different: He’s not just making a space epic comedy, he’s making a space epic. You technically can’t do the former without doing the latter, and because of that, the series understandably has to approach the comedy in a different way than expected. At least to begin. There is a lot of setup—which also makes the fact that the lines about this future world are as seamless as they are impressive—because unlike the inner workings of British or American politics, this isn’t an actual real-world scenario (as close as it might be to one sooner rather than later). Simultaneously, the series is also tasked with deconstructing the set-up of that casual space cruise, which, again is not based on a real-world scenario."
    • Avenue 5 gets sharper with each episode sent to critics, which bodes well for what lies ahead: "Veep became the perfect satire for a particularly incompetent moment in American politics," says Judy Berman. "Yet in many ways, Avenue 5 presents a bigger challenge for Iannucci and his writers. Their cast of characters is huge, every room on the vast spaceship they’ve dreamed up has its own function and vibe, they can’t rely on current pop-culture references for jokes and they have to imagine what Earth is like two generations on—a task that yields silly hairstyles and a few small, clever surprises. Iannucci may still be finding his space legs, but I, for one, would follow his sense of humor to the ends of the known universe."
    • Avenue 5 feels much more like an acquired taste than Veep did
    • The real fun of Avenue 5 is in its absolute lack of authority figures to command respect
    • Josh Gad's character was developed with Elizabeth Holmes as an inspiration
    • Armando Iannucci wanted to ditch political satire: “I knew after doing ten years of Veep and The Thick of It, I knew I didn’t want to do another political show,” he said. “There’s an air of uncertainty (in the world)… and a sense of foreboding doom and no one is doing anything about it. The madness of crowds and populism, I wanted to tap into that. But I also love sci-fi, so I thought ‘wouldn’t it be good to put this pressure cooker into space.'"
    • Iannucci expects the Veep comparisons through the early episodes: “I’m sure people will spend the first few episodes wondering if it is going to be like Veep," he says. "With anything it always takes a little while with people not to come in with the last thing in their head. The rapid fire insults of Veep grew because of the setting it inhabited, it was a frenetic, cutthroat world, but this is about survival and people discovering who they are and whether they have anything worthwhile to contribute to the common good, or whether they’re just here for the ride and they’ll be first out of the air lock if things get desperate.”

    TOPICS: Avenue 5, HBO, Armando Iannucci, Hugh Laurie, Josh Gad




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