One of the comic – and cosmic – series HBO has pinned its hopes on this year is Avenue 5, the story of a luxurious space cruiser suddenly cast into a desperate situation: due to a navigation error, the two-week voyage becomes one that lasts three years.
The plot revolves around Captain Ryan Clark – played by British actor Hugh Laurie – attempting to prevent mass hysteria breaking out among the passengers. However, his crew has an unfortunate tendency to make matters worse rather than look for solutions.
The pilot of this Anglo-American sitcom received rave reviews when it first aired, so expectations are high. It was created by Armando Iannucci, screenwriter and producer of another iconic HBO comedy series, Veep (a political satire that came to an end last year after seven seasons and numerous Emmy Awards).
Laurie – who also appeared intermittently on Veep – has now left behind the much loved character of Doctor House, who turned him into a star in the United States, and returned to his comedic roots.
The captain he plays is an elegant, kind and charming leader... until the problems begin. Then we discover that he is really a fraud and his role a purely decorative one, since the ship does not need a captain.
Also in the Avenue 5 cast is Josh Gad, who plays the billionaire owner of the space cruiser, a pedant who thinks he can change things out of willpower alone. It is a character some have likened to Elon Musk, the Tesla and SpaceX tycoon who is trying to make space tourism a reality.
In this series, set in the not too distant future, space tourism is already well established, and the affluent classes can afford to spend a few weeks travelling around the solar system in a luxurious environment that includes all the typical activities of a cruise ship: yoga classes, spa, gourmet buffets, observation platforms... However, after a serious error alters the ship’s trajectory, the trip becomes anything but relaxing and the plot is complicated by all manner of amazing and hilarious twists. One example is when the passengers have to use their own faeces to protect themselves from the radiation in space (which gives rise to a lot of jokes but is actually based on science).
Not quite so scientific is the scenery, the interiors of the Avenue 5 being white, gold and round, with large windows that allow views of space.
Other scenarios involve the customer service manager further worrying passengers rather than reassuring them, an alcoholic astronaut, clumsy engineers, and a whole host of angry passengers. In the meantime, Earth Command seeks NASA support for a rescue mission, with all sorts of nonsensical ideas to secure funding to pay for it.