Roush Review: Space Disaster Played for Laughs on 'Avenue 5'

AVENUE 5
Review
HBO

Gilligan would be right at home on Avenue 5, the most ill-fated cruise ship of fools since the SS Minnow. At least that vessel had an actual captain.

Another difference being that Avenue 5 is an outer-space luxury cruise liner — imagine the Queen Mary crossed with the Enterprise — whose maiden voyage around Saturn goes disastrously off course, stranding its thousands of passengers and hapless crew for months, maybe years. It's like The Poseidon Adventure, if played for laughs.

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Veep's Armando Iannucci is at ease with bumbling bureaucrats and venal idiots, and in Avenue 5, he has created a splendidly silly vehicle of knockabout farce among the stars. Instead of the Professor and Mary Ann, the ship carries a belligerent and pushy malcontent (Rebecca Front) who sees through the desperate crew's prevarications — not that difficult when a dead body can be seen drifting outside the ship in full view — and an estranged couple (Kyle Bornheimer and Jessica St. Clair) whose relationship is further strained by the cosmic limbo.

(Credit: HBO)

The real fun of Avenue 5 is in its absolute lack of authority figures to command respect. "Maybe I should learn about this stuff — space and so on," muses the captain-in-uniform-only Ryan Clark (a furiously frantic Hugh Laurie), whose very accent is unstable. Further disoriented when he discovers how many on the bridge are also phony, Clark is ill equipped to handle life-and-death space crises or even the daily gripes of the ship's aggressively disgruntled clientele.

While overwhelmed engineer Billie McEvoy (Being Human's Lenora Crichlow) tries to maintain order and common sense amid mechanical and even scatological mishaps, the most hilarious fly in the high-tech ointment is the neurotic head of customer relations, Matt Spencer (Silicon Valley's priceless Zach Woods). Instead of coddling the rattled and alarmed passengers, he makes it worse when he quickly succumbs to his more nihilistic tendencies: "What's any of it mean? This is fate, and it's free-styling with us!"

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Even so, these boobs are heroes compared to the ship's spoiled and clueless owner, Herman Judd (Josh Gad in an unflattering blond mop), coddled by a brittle exec (Suzy Nakamura) who assures him that "A problem is just a solution without a solution."

On second thought, booking passage on the Minnow doesn't sound so bad.

Avenue 5, Series Premiere, Sunday, January 19, 10/9c, HBO