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HBO’s ‘Avenue 5’ prepares for a solid takeoff in premiere episode

HBO’s ‘Avenue 5’ prepares for a solid takeoff in premiere episode

HBO’s ‘Avenue 5’ prepares for a solid takeoff in premiere episode
January 24
14:00 2020

The last four years of my TV and movie-watching life have revolved around HBO. More specifically, I’ve been a devotee of the darker and more cinematic work from HBO, as I’ve spent countless hours binging and re-binging shows like “Game of Thrones,”  “Westworld,” “True Detective” and “Sharp Objects.” I already felt uneasy about abandoning the heavier productions and venturing over to the more comedic side of HBO, so needless to say I was apprehensive about starting their new show “Avenue 5.” Following Monday night’s premiere, though, my initial skepticism morphed into pleasant surprise and a sense of hope for its future.

The show follows the passengers and crew on the Avenue 5 tourism spaceship, which is currently embarking on an eight-week vacation practically light years away from Earth. Short of the 26-second delay in communications between the ship and the station on Earth, Avenue 5 seems to be thriving, as the episode opens with those on board breaking the world (er, space) record for the largest space yoga class ever. But just a few short minutes in, gravity fails, sending the space yogis flying across the ship. It also sends Joe, the undercover ship captain who was trying to fix the communication delay outside the ship, into his very own screwdriver. The remainder of the episode follows the non-impaled crew members as they grapple with the death of Joe and a particularly terrible piece of news from Earth: the gravity shift knocked the ship off its trajectory, and the eight-week vacation will now take three years to return home from.

I’ll admit my hesitation for the show was a bit dramatic, as the cast of the show alone essentially confirmed it had to be at least somewhat good. Hugh Laurie plays the (fake) Captain Ryan Clark, who knows nothing about spaceships but is more charismatic than the late Joe and therefore was hired to pretend to be the captain. Colleagues Herman Judd, played by Josh Gad, and Iris Kimura, played by Suzy Nakamura, were unaware of Clark’s incompetence as captain until the end of the episode when Clark let his British accent slip. Jessica St. Clair plays Mia, who was ready to divorce her husband after the trip until she found out about the three-year delay.

My personal favorite from the premiere was Avenue 5’s head of passenger services Matt Spencer, played by Zach Woods. Woods did a hilarious job as Gabe Lewis in “The Office” and Jared Dunn in “Silicon Valley,” and so far he has been even more enjoyable as Matt, delivering most of the good one-liners in this episode. The most entertaining scenes were the ones in which Matt tried to console the frantic passengers over their three-year trap (“I am as ignorant as you,” he says to a confused passenger. “That sounds rude, I meant it to be self-deprecating.”) and seeing dead Joe floating through space (“If it’s any consolation, he had very few loved ones.”).

The first ten minutes were not particularly outstanding. The show almost seemed too out there and too colorful to have any real substance, and some of the initial jokes seemed airy and immature. But following the gravity flip, the show stabilized, and Laurie and Woods in particular allowed for some genuine audible laughter. Even Gad’s character — who is so outlandishly stupid that it’s hard to feel genuine humor instead of annoyance — had moments that made me laugh.

The chaotic nature of the first episode meant that the dialogue was all over the place — with more blurbs and snippets of dialogue than actual conversations — and these one-liners added vibrance to the show without overwhelming or confusing the narrative. While it wasn’t a flawless premiere, it was incredibly solid for a comedy, especially considering most favorites like “The Office,” “Parks and Recreation” and “Arrested Development” took episodes or even seasons to actually take off.

“Avenue 5” took my predisposed affinity for HBO’s complex drama and showed me their comedies can be worthwhile, too, and I’m actually looking forward to the following episodes. So long as they keep up the momentum, the premiere provided a solid start to launch them into the rest of the season.

Final rating: 3.8/5

Featured Illustration: Kylie Phillips

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Haley Arnold

Haley Arnold

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