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Josh Reviews Avenue 5 Season One

Avenue 5 is a sci-fi comedy series created by Veep creator Armando Iannucci.  Set sometime in the future, the show depicts the fallout from an accident aboard the Avenue 5, a space-ship cruise-ship, that turns their five-week cruise into a years-long journey.

I loved Veep and I love sci-fi, so a sci-fi comedy from the creator of Veep was of course something I wanted to see.  The series is funny and I enjoyed watching it.  But it’s not nearly as funny as I’d expected, based on Mr. Iannucci’s involvement and the spectacular cast (that includes Hugh Laurie, Josh Gad, Zach Woods, and many more terrific comedic performers).

Each and every episode made me laugh.  Is that enough to recommend this short (nine half-hour episodes) first season?  Perhaps.  And yet, in almost every episode there was also something that felt somewhat off about the storytelling, as if the many great components of this show weren’t quite clicking together.  A few examples: In the first episode, for quite a while I thought Josh Gad was playing some sort of rock and roll star, a pampered and privileged celebrity aboard the Avenue 5, when in fact he was playing the cruise-line’s owner.  It feels to me like the storytelling should have made that much clearer; and that the show should have given us a reason why the company’s super-rich owner was traveling on board this cruise ship.  Here’s another example: it feels to me like the show should have been able to get a lot more comedic mileage out of the idea that the ships’ head of customer relations, played by Zach Woods, would have a meltdown after the accident hits and his carefully-run cruise ship collapses into chaos.  But that doesn’t really happen, because that character is played as an unhinged loon right from the beginning of the first episode, when we see him being very rude and impatient with the (admittedly demanding and obnoxious) passengers.  So there’s no arc.  Mr. Woods is funny, as always, but it feels like a missed opportunity.

Also, I know the show is a comedy, but it feels like there are too many plot questions the show doesn’t bother to address.  How is it that there is only one engineer on the entire ship (Joe, who meets an untimely demise a few minutes into the first episode) who seems to know anything about how to actually run the ship?  (OK, two engineers: Lenora Crichlow’s Billie is also competent.)  The show could have intended to made an Idiocracy-like point about no one in the near future knowing anything about anything (or how Wall-E, which has a similar premise regarding trouble on an idyllic, futuristic cruiseliner-like ship, showed how the humans on board had devolved).  But if that was the intention here, it never quite lands.  It feels more like plot-holes that the writers couldn’t be bothered to address.  I mean, the show never really actually explains what the heck happened to cause the accident — that causes all the trouble that follows — in the first place!  It’s crazy to me that the initial inciting incident of the series is never really explained.  (Something went wrong with the gravity?  How?  Why??)

The cast is terrific.  I think the main reason to watch this show is to watch these actors having fun.  Hugh Laurie is, as always, a magnetic personality on screen.  He’s compelling as Ryan Clark, the handsome captain of the Avenue 5 who, we discover, is hiding a large secret.  Josh Gad is fun as the self-centered, super-rich Herman Judd, the owner of the Avenue 5.  Suzy Nakamura (who was Sam Seaborn’s assistant Cathy on The West Wing!!) plays Iris, Mr. Judd’s unflappable assistant.  Ms. Nakamura is hilarious — her Suzy was by far the stand-out character on the show for me.  Her deadpan line-deliver was always funny, and there was great comedic energy in her relationship with Josh Gad’s Judd.  I’ve already mentioned Zach Woods, who plays the ship’s extremely high-strung head of customer relations.  The character is certainly right in the center of Mr. Woods’ comedic sweet spot.  I loved seeing Ethan Phillips (Benson, and he played Neelix on Star Trek Voyager; a role that I felt wasted his charisma and comedic talents) back on a big-time TV show, here playing washed-up former astronaut Spike.  Rebecca Front is funny as the take-charge disgruntled passenger Karen, and Andy Buckley (who played David Wallace on The Office) is very funny as her loser-ish husband Frank.  Jessica St. Clair (Bridesmaids, Wanderlust) and Kyle Bornheimer (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Agent Carter, Better Call Saul) are a lot of fun together as an extremely unhappy married couple trapped together.  Nikki Amuka-Bird plays Rav Mulcair, the out-of-her-depth head of Mission Control.  Himesh Patel plays Jordan Hatwal, the mediocre stand-up comedian on the ship now forced to continue performing stand-up for the increasingly desperate passengers.  Lenora Crichlow (Black Mirror) is very likable and naturalistic as the engineer Billie, who seems to be the one normal(ish), half-way competent person in the midst of all these loons.

(Having just recently started watching The Leftovers, I was also delighted to see Paterson Joseph, who plays Holy Wayne, pop up here as a wealthy rival of Josh Gadd’s Mr. Judd!)

That’s a terrific ensemble!  I can’t help but feel that a show starring all of those talented individuals should be funnier.

I will say that the show, and the characters, grew on me over the nine episodes.  There were some funny moments.  I enjoyed the carefully paced-out revelations regarding the fakery and incompetency of most/all of the people who were supposed to be running the ship.  I enjoyed the running visual joke of all of the increasingly terrible stuff orbiting the ship, trapped by its gravity.

But Avenue 5 isn’t a show that ever felt to me like it quite come to life.  I don’t think the disparate elements ever quite came together in the magical way that is necessary for a TV show to be great.

The show has been renewed for a second season.  I might continue to watch, to see if they’re able to make any improvements/adjustments… on the other hand, this might be a show I’ll decide I’ve given enough of a chance, with so much other great TV out there.

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