Avenue 5 captures its own essence perfectly during a scene in a comedy club when a stand up comedian is bombing on stage and getting heckled by his own audience. At that moment, I thought, “That’s it… That’s this show!” It’s trying its best with what it has, but very little of it lands and it just stands there looking sad.
Avenue 5 is about an outer space cruise ship called, appropriately enough, Avenue 5. Hugh Laurie plays the captain and, when the ship suffers a gravity malfunction and is thrown off course so that a three week cruise is stretched out into three and a half years, he must deal with an insane business owner and a ship full of entitled rich people. Oh, and he’s not really a captain… he’s an actor hired to be the public face of the ship.
I caught up with this show via HBO Go now that all eight episodes are streaming. I love comedy and I love science fiction comedy and have a high tolerance for it even when it’s not that good. Avenue 5 is not that good… even the paltry 30 minute episodes feel like they’re an hour long.
Hugh Laurie is a lot of fun to watch, but honestly, Avenue 5 is a ship of comedians with no straight man (or woman). The result is a series that, while it has some wonderful ideas like the crew having to deal with a ring of sewage circling the ship, the execution leaves a lot to be desired. Jokes bomb, but the show just keeps poking them with a stick hoping that they will be funny. Stories that you think are going places go nowhere. Characters who are a certain way at the beginning of the show are the same way at the end… they don’t learn, they don’t change, and they don’t grow.
I understand that character development is secondary in some comedies, but comedy should be of the highest priority and Avenue 5 fails in that regard as well. I don’t remember laughing out loud once during this show. I might have smiled once or twice, but jokes about a squabbling married couple or Josh Gad trying to ham up some manufactured eccentricness only go so far… like a few inches and this show is trying to make them last miles.
There’s also a certain nihilism and cruelty to some of these jokes and situations. Granted, and again… I don’t necessarily mind nihilism, but without the appropriate humor, it just becomes mean. Watching people throw themselves out an airlock in the final episode, for example, isn’t funny… it doesn’t become funnier when the son that the dead people left at home in a coma, comes out of it at that moment and sends a message asking where his mom and dad is.
As if that isn’t enough, the season ends in a very strange place. Not a cliffhanger, not a tease… it just stops like even the show got tired of itself.
I’m probably going to give this series another chance when it comes back for a second season, but my expectations are already low as it is. This show needs more funny and it needs it now.