October 8, 2022

Stellar Spacecom “Avenue 5” Returns in Spectacular Fashion (Review)

At the very start of the pandemic, many of us turned to television and film for both the entertainment value and a reprieve from potential boredom. Luckily, Hollywood is always in constant operation, and there was a whole mess of content filmed before the shutdown that was just waiting to be released. But what about the films and series released at the very start of COVID-19’s rampage upon the world? Does anyone remember Bad Boys for Life, Dolittle or Birds of Prey, regardless of quality?

Image courtesy of Warner Bros

Television was even worse off. The season finale of
Avenue 5, a space-set comedy series created by master of satire Armando Iannucci (The Thick of It, The Death of Stalin), aired on March 15, 2020, just three days after worldwide cancellations and closures led to an unprecedented global lockdown. “Fell under the radar” doesn’t even begin to cover it, especially when everyone’s minds were everywhere else (remember, this was about a week before everyone became absolutely obsessed with Tiger King).

This is all to say that, after several delays, the second season of Avenue 5 is upon us and (just like in 2020) nobody is talking about it. It picks up almost directly after its predecessor, which followed the crew and passengers of the titular interplanetary cruise ship that gets knocked slightly off-course by an artificial gravity mishap — the only problem is, that minuscule shift added three years to the travel back to home planet Earth. Season Two covers the aftermath, in which five extra years of travel time were accidentally added by an impulsive waste jettison.

The main cast has since been released from their contracts, so theoretically this season will be the show’s last. While unfortunate for fans of the show (like me!), it helps Avenue 5 avoid a lapse into the idea scrap pile, and ensures that the series can end on a high note.

And what a high note it is; this season is easily better than its predecessor. Armando Iannucci is the type of creative mind who is always learning from his varied experience and improving his own work, and that is exactly what makes Avenue 5 a masterclass in re-contextualized political satire. It remains dryly funny, once again proving that Iannucci’s work brings out the best in some truly brilliant comedic minds that you might not otherwise expect greatness from. Hugh Laurie is once again the standout, playing Avenue 5’s Captain, Ryan Clark, actually an actor hired to fill the position and act as an integral role model for the crew and the passengers. Josh Gad and Zach Woods are also especially hilarious — Gad plays Herman Judd, the entitled billionaire owner of Avenue 5, and Woods is Matt Spencer, the nihilistic Head of Customer Relations aboard the vessel.

Image courtesy of Warner Bros

Most importantly, Avenue 5 is a fascinating examination of human nature, and as the main characters continue to put out fires (both literal and metaphorical), we see how these exaggerated caricatures would react in a situation like the one they are presented with. It’s not meant to be realistic, but it is meant to be revealing, making us laugh while simultaneously asking us how we would react in the same situation. It also asks us to re-examine what we look to for entertainment, as one of the season’s overarching plots concerns an in-universe streaming show about the Avenue 5, starring insanely handsome actors as the characters we’ve come to know and love. It’s just the cherry on top of a bizarre but immaculately-constructed satire.

Every episode of Avenue 5 Season Two is an unexpected, hilarious, and (best of all) contained scenario to deal with. The excellently-developed character dynamics change day-to-day, and the performers sell every second of every increasingly wild situation. Also, due to its nature as an HBO series, it’s completely unfiltered, opening the floodgates for as much colorful language and hilariously bleak comedy as they can muster.

Image courtesy of Warner Bros

Take note, execs —
this is how you make a uniquely styled sitcom that has the (artificial) gravity to make people want to keep watching. My one hope is that this season is able to make the splash that this series deserves, and that it isn’t left marooned in the vacuum of space yet again.

The second season of Avenue 5 premieres on HBO and HBO Max this Monday at 10pm.

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