The HBOMax sci-fi comedy plows through socio-political satire at warp speed in its second season.
The first season of Avenue 5 premiered in January 2020. The comedic show about a large group of people stuck in the same location for an extended period of time seemed to resonate with audiences who suddenly found themselves in a somewhat similar situation with the emergence of COVID-19. The show’s second season was delayed due to the pandemic and logistical scheduling hurdles of corralling its stacked roster of talent. Nevertheless, show creator Armando Iannucci and company persisted, and 2+ years later, we’re treated to another season of clever space satire in the second season of Avenue 5.
Avenue 5 follows a luxury space cruise ship that was disastrously rerouted in season one, an-eight week vacation turning into an eight-year journey to get back to Earth. Season two picks up five months after season’s one finale. Ceremonial Captain Ryan Clark (Hugh Laurie) is still in over his head, juggling a new girlfriend, who might be harboring secrets of her own. The spacecraft’s owner, Judd (Josh Gad) tries to fit in with the everyday cruise ship folks, but can’t seem to shed his privileged and rich-boy persona. Karen (Rebecca Front) has been hiding in her room with her dimwitted husband Frank (Andy Buckley), who’s become a ship star with his DIY cooking show (he shows guests how to make food with common items found in their rooms). Ship engineer Billie (Lenora Crichlow) is trying to keep everything running as smoothly as possible. Iris (Suzy Nakamura) is back on Earth, trying to help the ship from afar. Rav (Nikki Amuka-Bird) is developing some harrowing plans for survival aboard the ship. Her decisions might mean the eccentric head of customer service, Matt (Zach Woods), has his work cut out for him.
The first season of Avenue 5 was more focused on the titular ship in space, while season 2 lets viewers catch more glimpses into life back on Earth. Iris’s command center is taken over by the office of “TotoPotus,” aka “the office of the other President,” which was formed after the third attack on Congress. The leadership is helmed legacy CEOs from Meta, Amazon, and SpaceX, all working with a quantum computer. Iris tries to sound the alarm on the popular morning show “Upbeat Dawnbeat.” Hosted by Dawn Djopi (Lucy Punch), “Upbeat Dawnbeat” feels as if Twitter were a morning show, Iris’s pleas for help interrupted with tacky viral challenges and social-media shout-outs.
The real Avenue 5 ship’s drama is overshadowed by the now popular TV series also called “Avenue 5,” featuring a bunch of glam actors acting in highly dramatized scenes loosely based on real events from the ship. Earth seems more invested in the characters on a television show than in the actual lives of the passengers aboard the real ship. With all the drama on Earth, one might be tempted to stay on the disastrous spaceship instead.
One of Avenue 5’s strengths is its ability to satire our current socio-political landscape. At one point, the ship decides to hold an election for “Supreme Leader,” as they don’t trust the current leadership. The election is a mess; at one point, the character “Captain Ryan” in the television show “Avenue 5” leads in the polls. From there it’s a slippery slope to a fascist dictatorship, libertarian uprisings, and citizens more obsessed with pop culture than impending doom. Avenue 5 may be set decades in the future, but Iannucci and his company of writers seem to have looked to recent elections for inspiration in their second season.
The one point of criticism with Avenue 5, is that sometimes the chaos is so jammed packed into the half-hour comedy, it’s a bit of an overload. If you layer chaos on chaos, with little respite, then it loses its danger. If everything is chaos, then nothing is unusual, and sometimes the comedy gets lost in the mess. Viewers might start to feel like Iris on “Upbeat Dawnbeat,” annoyed at the constant interruptions.
That being said, the elements that do break through the chaos are the cast. One could write a dissertation on the stacked talent in this series. Everyone from series leads to supporting characters alike nail the dry delivery of jokes. While the dialogue lends itself to the same sort of acidic comedy as Iannucci’s other series, The Thick of It and Veep, there’s a certain buoyancy in the performances of the cast. Perhaps the space setting lends to the playfulness of the cast – they’re all free of the gravitational pull of grounded comedy.
Season 2 of Avenue 5 is now playing on HBO Max.