Armando Iannucci’s sci-fi comedy gets off to a great start in “I Was Flying”, and promises better to come.
This recap of Avenue 5 Season 1, Episode 1, “I Was Flying”, contains spoilers.
Hugh Laurie and Josh Gad helm Armando Iannucci’s sci-fi comedy Avenue 5 (HBO), as, respectively, the for-show captain of its eponymous deep-space luxury-cruise vessel, Ryan Clark, and the pampered man-child mogul who owns it, Herman Judd. You can probably guess who plays who, but likely not where the show is going, since its pilot episode, “I Was Flying”, sees the crew and passengers knocked off-course by a gravity accident that ups the length of the journey from a few weeks to a few years.
It’s a silly setup right in Iannucci’s wheelhouse, and the creative team — add in Simon Blackwell and Tony Roche of The Thick of It — are well-suited to the task at hand. Avenue 5 Episode 1 was written and directed by Iannucci and has the lofty task of introducing the large cast of characters, their various dynamics, the ship, the stakes, and the comedic style, all in a 30-minute pilot. Despite a few missteps, mostly in the blunt-force effect of some gags, “I Was Flying” is a surprising success; an acerbic indictment of feckless humanity, crammed aboard a floating luxury prison which nobody seems to understand.
This cynical view of the powerful and privileged and the try-hards that scuffle over the crumbs from their table is par for the course for the creator of Veep, and Avenue 5 retains that show’s disdain for so-called professionals who are really just fatuous buffoons clambering over whoever they can. The difference here is that buffoonery leads to more catastrophic outcomes; a minor tweak of trajectory extends the voyage by years and results in at least one death, and that’s just the start.
This caustic, unsentimental tone was right up my street and has the net benefit of allowing you to latch onto the characters who seem moderately capable, such as the ship’s engineer Billie (Lenora Crichlow), and Suzy Nakamura’s frantic assistant, Iris. A running gag about a communications lag between Avenue 5 and Mission Control on Earth reliably tees up jokes that the past-it-all Rav (Nikki Amuka-Bird), who’s in charge there, can knock out of the park. Laurie is an increasingly fun presence as the “captain” who gradually slips into more and more quintessential Englishness, and while Josh Gad’s typically one-note spoiled moron is an obvious weak point, he works as an excuse for other characters to say and do funny things at his expense.
Some of the weaknesses of Avenue 5 Season 1, Episode 1 are inevitably symptoms of a utilitarian pilot episode, and hopefully qualify as teething troubles that’ll be less of an issue in subsequent episodes. But beyond these minor nitpicks, “I Was Flying” suggests a great show will emerge before the voyage is over.