Review: Avenue 5 Shines As A Dark Sci-Fi Comedy With A Stellar Cast
While many beloved sci-fi properties feature comedic elements in them, it’s a bit more rare to see one emerge as a full-fledged comedy television show. They can exist, but most of them do so in the form of adult animated shows or, arguably, some of the Marvel movies. On the other hand, you have your popular sitcoms like Brooklyn 99 or The Office, which set the bar for the genre in that they’re hilariously funny, but never usually venture into odd settings, preferring to take place in regular workplaces. Avenue 5 is looking to do something different. By mixing genres that are traditionally kept separate, especially in a live action medium, they take a risk but chase the promise of something new that may draw audiences in. The series shows potential to be a smart satire, already beginning to poke fun at certain modern character stereotypes in a wacky setting. With a wise-cracking cast and morbidly funny worldview, Avenue 5 is not always perfect, but still a promising start to a unique series that could spread its wings if given time and space to grow.
The main plot of Avenue 5 is great in that it draws you in right from the time that you hear a description of the setup: a luxury space cruise has a trajectory-changing accident that extends the journey from a few weeks to at least 3 years. It’s a wonderful setup because so much can be done to expand on that simple yet interesting premise, which is especially helpful in comedies so that the characters can shine and earn a lot of laughs. Speaking of characters, Ryan Clark (Hugh Laurie) is our leading man as the captain of the ship Avenue 5, who seems to have everything under control but is quickly revealed to simply be an actor. Hired to play the part of an American captain and put the passengers’ minds at ease, Ryan finds himself in over his head when the head engineer is killed in the same accident that ruins the ship trajectory, leaving only him, a phony crew, and a small handful of real engineers to try and get everyone home without taking multiple years. Among the authentic engineers is Billy (Leonora Crichlow), who tries her best to help Ryan navigate calming a whole ship full of people who just got a major vacation extension against their will. Also there to “help” are Herman Judd (Josh Gad), the dim-witted and spoiled yet crafty company owner and his personal assistant Iris Kimura (Suzy Nakamura), who constantly has to reel Judd in and make even the most ridiculous things happen for him with her intimidating demeanor. Other members of the crew that aren’t actors are Matt Spencer (Zach Woods), a say-it-like-it-is type of guy who is ill-fitted for his customer service position on the ship, and Spike Martin (Ethan Phillips), a retired astronaut who seems to be the only person onboard that knows or cares anything about space. We also get to meet a few of the passengers with their own stories from the start, such as Mia (Jessica St. Clair) and Doug (Kyle Bornheimer), a couple who took this cruise as a last resort before divorce and are now trapped together for much longer than anticipated. There’s also Karen Kelly (Rebecca Front), a middle-aged “can-I-speak-to-your-manager” type (as her name would suggest) who becomes the unofficial speaker of the passengers and continuously snoops around for information on what’s really going on with the phony captain and new timeframe. We also often switch back to see how things are going back on Earth, where Avenue 5’s Mission Control leader Rav Mulcair (Nikki Amuka-Bird) tries fruitlessly to negotiate a rescue mission or find any possible way to get the cruise home faster. When put all together in a stressful, close-quarters situation, these characters show a great amount of potential for future interactions and comedic moments.
The episodes of Avenue 5 are short, clocking in at about 30 minutes each, which can be helpful in binging but also means that things can sometimes feel rushed. The writers throw a lot of jokes at you in quick succession during some scenes, so that some get a laugh and others may fall flat. This can also be attributed to how new the show is, it does still need time to try things out and find what really works for it. And to get there, some scenes will fall short, but they’ve definitely found approaches that are working to their advantage. The dark humor that builds to an outcome so terrible that you can’t help but laugh really makes the show stand out, never bringing it into “edgy” territory but keeping the audience on their toes. During one scene in particular that I will not spoil, Ryan and all of the passengers are having a funeral for a few passengers that died in the accident and it’s meant to end with their caskets being launched out into space forever. The scene is built up for awhile, with seemingly unrelated information being slowly given to audience so that by the time the scenes reaches its climax, you realize what’s about to happen and can only widen your eyes and say, “Oh no.” It’s a hilariously terrible scene that you have to see for yourself, but it really shows off what Avenue 5 is already good at. Another great feature is Hugh Laurie and Leonora Crichlow playing off of each other as they panic trying to fix things while keeping up a façade of stability and control in front of the rest of the ship. Josh Gad’s character has some funny moments, but would probably get a lot more laughs if he were taken further out of his comfort zone. He’s a self-centered, ignorant billionaire that relies on his right-hand woman for everything, so to take that away from him for awhile would be a neat setup to explore. The cast on their own merits, however, are all doing excellent and seem to be giving it their all. Hugh Laurie is always a great leading man, and all of the rest of the cast is telling both the jokes that land and the jokes that don’t with the same gusto, their delivery is almost never off. It’s also worth noting that the show features a fairly diverse cast without making it a big deal and constantly patting itself on the back for doing the right thing, which is really nice to see. The amount of major female characters is about equal to the amount of major male characters, and a majority of the leading women are of racial minorities as well. The cinematography is also great, especially for a comedy television show. The aesthetics of the ship are very bright, rounded, colorful, and futuristic in an almost retro way, like how a space cruise would’ve looked if it had some 1950’s design inspiration, icing on the cake of an enjoyable show.
Avenue 5 was created by Armando Iannucci, who audiences may recognize from his well-known work on the shows Veep and The Thick Of It. The same signature style of subtle, nihilistic British humor is present in a lot of his work, and Avenue 5 is no different. If the show can grow to embrace its strengths and learn from any mistakes made in the process of trying new things as it continues, it could easily become a hit with fans of both sci-fi and comedy. As of right now, it’s still budding, but definitely deserves to be watched for what it’s already achieved and what it will hopefully achieve in the future. It has laugh-out-loud moments and interesting characters that will get you hooked, and the shorter runtime is helpful if you don’t have a spare hour to watch shows often. Dark humor in of itself is very subjective and will immediately either grab or dissuade certain people, but if you know that that sort of thing is to your taste, then you’ll definitely enjoy what they do in that department. Overall, it’s a show worth keeping an eye on, as I could definitely imagine people on social media latching onto it and making it popular online as it goes on. Either way, I hope to see great things from this show moving forward, as it obviously has a talented cast and clever writers that could all make something impressive together given time.