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Avenue 5 sputters along when it should be picking up steam

Illustration for article titled iAvenue 5/i sputters along when it should be picking up steam
Photo: Alex Bailey (HBO)
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The premiere of Avenue 5 had a lot of legwork to do, introducing its large cast and sending its more lavish S. S. Minnow off course. Now that the core ensemble are established and the stakes of the situation are clear—over 5,000 passengers and crew are stranded in space, their eight week pleasure cruise now a leaderless three year marathon—the show can get started. Unfortunately, “And Then He’s Gonna Shoot Off…” well, doesn’t. Rather than picking up steam and exploring the complications its premise presents, the writers continue to center on squabbling passengers and the same broad thematic swipes that failed to land any meaningful punches in the premiere.


The episode picks up right where the premiere left off, with Ryan addressing the passengers. He and Billie attempt to explain their situation to everyone, but busybody Karen has already spread the word of their new return date. Tensions are high and it quickly becomes clear that while Ryan may not know anything useful about how to captain Avenue 5, he is much more equipped to deal with the passengers than Billie.


In the conference room, Judd and Iris get an update from Rav at mission control, and they don’t like what they hear. NASA has come up with ideas to help rescue the passengers earlier than their current three year trajectory, but Judd Galaxy will have to “contribute financially” to offset the expense to NASA. What is the state of the Earth such that the expense of saving 5000 lives is tabulated before the rescue effort even begins? While the audience ponders the dystopian present that awaits the passengers when they return home, the episode cuts to Rav at mission control. Judd may not like having to reimburse NASA, but Judd Galaxy can’t afford to let Avenue 5 take the long way ‘round either, as that will bankrupt the company four times over.

Conveniently, one of Billie’s fellow engineers pops up with a fix. Though Billie, Rav, and the woman from NASA we’re introduced to later don’t see how it’s possible, Cyrus claims he can get the ship home in six months. Cocky and fast-talking, Cyrus feels lifted from an entirely different show. Neil Casey is a fun burst of energy as Cyrus, but his bravado is an indication of more troubles ahead for the ship. If Cyrus actually had a viable solution, he’d be able to explain it to Billie and the others and they’d verify it. Instead he’s secretive, and rather than being skeptical, Ryan jumps at Cyrus’ solution, telling first Karen then Judd and Iris that they’ll be home safe and sound in six months. This doesn’t bode well for Ryan or the show’s tonal balance. Judd and Iris’ willingness to unquestioningly embrace this good news should be tempered by doubt from Billie and Ryan. Instead, Billie is the sole voice of concern and Ryan proves himself yet another posturing fool on a ship full of them.


Ryan may be best kept far from the decision-making process, but at least he’s still holding things together with the passengers. He gives a solid, captain-y speech at Joe’s funeral, which begins as a somber affair before Judd’s posturing and Matt’s questionable vocals—he sings Bowie’s “Starman”—send it off the rails. Billie tries to warn Ryan that Judd’s too-heavy coffin won’t be able to escape the gravitational pull of the ship, but in his second brilliant move of the day, Ryan brushes her off. The casket winds up orbiting the ship, likely to be a background presence for the remainder of the season.

Judd doesn’t let the unsettling sight the circling Joe get him down. He’s still riding high off of Cyrus’ new projection, so he tells NASA to shove their rescue and its price tag. This goes over as expected with Billie and Ryan, but neither are willing or able to rein him in, a problem that will inevitably escalate as the series continues. Meanwhile, technical issues with the ship botch the second funeral of the day, that of three passengers injured during the premiere’s gravity flip. Now Joe has three creepy friends with him out in space: Mary, Mary, and Johan. Any goodwill engendered among the passengers from the new, earlier arrival date is overshadowed by the sight of the “space zombies,” as Frank dubs them, and the episode ends with Karen stirring up support among her fellow travelers. She will need to be dealt with, and soon, if Ryan wants to maintain control on the ship. After his choices this episode, though, bring on the revolution! It’s hard to imagine there isn’t some other person on the ship who’d make a better captain.


Billie remains the sole voice of reason, which results in a few fun scenes for Lenora Crichlow. Billie’s frustrated interactions with the passengers and Judd are satisfying and well played, and the sooner she figures out just how little Ryan understands, the better. Karen may not be all that interesting, but Rebecca Front’s immaculate delivery of lines like, “You corrected me very slowly if I may say so,” is delightful. While the writing feels very committed to the idea that the entire crew, aside from Billie, is useless, Iris does get a few moments to shine. Suzy Nakamura nails each of them, as expected, and the standout scene of the episode is a dramatic, quiet exchange between Nakamura and Hugh Laurie. Iris’ reserve and grit are underscored as Iris tells Ryan about the death of her grandfather, opening up just a bit to better convey how little she thinks of him. The subtler she’s allowed to be, the better Iris is, and that holds true for the show in general. Hopefully the show will adjust, and soon.

Stray observations

  • Matt, Mia and Doug, and Spike get subplots this episode, but they’re forgettable at best and irritating at worst. Surely something is coming soon that will justify Spike’s inclusion, right?
  • Always happy to see Neil Casey pop up. Avenue 5 is turning into a Playing House reunion, and I am here for it.
  • The show is funnier the darker it gets. Some highlights this episode: Iris’ slight pause when asked whether she wants Judd dead, Judd threatening the oxygen supply, NASA’s inability to (legally) put a value on human life, and Ryan’s desire to jettison Karen in an escape pod and, “set the fucking thing on fire”.
  • Why does Ryan oversee Joe’s funeral, but not those of the passengers? Also, how does a ship three weeks in to a space cruise have that much non-refrigerated fresh food around? Avenue 5 is not asking the questions that immediately spring to mind for a ship of this sort being stuck out in space. They have food for at most eight weeks, maybe a bit more for emergencies. How do they plan to feed 5000 people for three more years? How much potable water do they have? I will happily accept a hand-wave solution, like a Star Trek-style replicator system, but at least some acknowledgment that Avenue 5 was not built for this kind of voyage would be appreciated.

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