What a difference a few weeks makes, eh? When Amando Iannucci's new comedy series Avenue 5 premiered back in mid-January, viewers and critics reacted with bafflement and confusion. The show stars Hugh Laurie as the hapless captain of a luxury space cruiser that gets thrown off course. Instead of a six-month jaunt through the galaxy, the Avenue 5 is now going to take years to return to Earth. That means a whole bunch of rich idiots and hapless crew members are stuck with each other. There is no way this will end well.
Iannucci has form with social and political satire that show people at their absolute worst. He's responsible for The Thick of It and Veep as well as the viciously brilliant The Death of Stalin. Avenue 5 takes a broader approach in a shaggy Science Fiction kind of way. I've described it to people as "Fyre Festival in space". This is the type of comedy where everyone is a horrible arsehole. It offers no comfort beyond the meanest, darkest laughs. It says Capitalism has broken society and we're all doomed.
Back in February, the show seemed to score obvious points. But now in the Coronavirus pandemic where the whole world has shut down and we're all forced to self-isolate, it takes on new meaning and resonance. It really is the dark comedy for our current crisis.
"Avenue 5": A Ship of Fools
The ship and its passengers are all stuck together and mere steps away from killing each other. Hugh Laurie's Captain Ryan isn't really a starship captain, but an actor hired to reassure the passengers. His crew of pretty bridge officers are also actors while the real crew toils in squalor in the bowels of the ship. Herman Judd (Josh Gad), the billionaire owner of the Avenue 5, is a narcissistic techbro manbaby backed up by his scarily hardboiled assistant Iris (Suzy Nakamura). Officious control freak passenger Karen (Rebecca Front) is every service crew member's nightmare. Nihilistic Head of Customer Services Matt (Zach Woods) is possibly five steps away from suicide. Only engineer Billie McEvoy (Leonora Critchlow) and her team know exactly how bad things are.
These awful people are all trapped on this ship with over a thousand braying, entitled passengers. They could go Lord of the Flies at any moment. People are already dead. More people will die through sheer stupidity. The show is an ode to the stupidity of the mob.
And they are us. We'd like to imagine we'll be stoical and tough survivors like in The Walking Dead, but the reality is probably closer to these jerks. Everyone will panic, believe the first line of bollocks anyone spouts that suggests an easy way out, and be the first to die.
To binge watch the first season of Avenue 5 now feels much more cathartic. It's about a whole bunch of people stuck in isolation with each other and being horrible about it. They're horrible to each other. It's all Capitalism's fault. Capitalism has made selfish idiots of us all. This show makes perfect sense now.
What's there left to do in the Apocalypse but to laugh?