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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled Cracks splinter through its facade as iAvenue 5/i settles into its prolonged journey
Photo: Alex Bailey (HBO)
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One week into their prolonged journey and the facade is already starting to crumble. Karen may have found new purpose, and Billie and Iris remain steadfast, but most of the crew is already feeling the strain of their new reality. Ryan is downing wine with gusto, Matt has proven himself entirely useless, and poor Rav is starting to buckle under the weight of the near-constant demands on her. Even the hospitality staff is finding the fun in their situation—what is Judd going to do, fire them? At this rate, Avenue 5 is in for a rough three and a half years. Maybe they won’t need all 500 rescue ships after all.

While the plot does inch forward in “I’m A Hand Model,” it’s notable that three episodes in, the writers are still establishing their premise. After a lot of back and forth in the first two episodes, Cyrus and Billie settle on three and a half years for the new return date for the ship. Iris has been working on survival plans for the passengers and presents her findings to Judd, including answers for their inevitable potable water and food shortages. Judd details his plan to get the passengers back to Earth once they’re close enough, and Ryan bribes Karen with a fancy suite to take over for Matt as Passenger Liaison Officer. Now if only Mia and Doug would stop arguing, the show could move on to some new ideas and tensions.

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With Karen taking over as official passenger wrangler, Matt is re-positioned as a hanger-on and yes man to Judd. One of the biggest misses of the season so far, Matt works much better in this context. He’s a promising foil for Iris and adding him to Iris and Judd’s scenes gives Iris someone she can talk back to. His attempts to mediate between Mia, Doug, and now Rav have been another disappointing corner of the show, so hopefully the pairing with Judd will stick. As for Judd and Iris, they spend most of the episode casting vigil attendees. It’s a minor task, but they’re proactive and focused, and that does a lot to give their scenes momentum. Judd in particular is much more palatable when he’s actively contributing to something, rather than popping up just to be obnoxious.

There is one major new development, and as in the premiere, it’s saved for the end of the episode. Cyrus lets slip to Ryan that he’s not the only pretender aboard: The entire bridge crew are actors. This is at once utterly ridiculous and crushingly obvious. Of course they are, why wouldn’t they be? The bigger question is why Ryan reacts so dramatically to the news. Why is he surprised that Joe hired a phony bridge crew to go with his surrogate captain? And how did the entire engineering crew know that the people on the bridge were photogenic stand-ins, but no one, including Billie, had any clue Ryan was an actor?

Both this scene and the premiere’s still series-high reveal of Ryan’s identity are fun, but there are dramatic diminishing returns between the two. Creator Armando Iannucci may be planning to dive into a critique of the trappings of leadership and expertise, exploring who the general public—or aboard Avenue 5, the privileged—are willing to accept in which roles. For now though, this is just another twist for twist’s sake, complication rather than complexity. There’s been plenty of the former this season; we’re overdue a taste of the latter.

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Stray observations

  • I’m rooting for Rav, but I’m rooting harder for Susan, who appears to be quite happy with her life choices, working for NASA instead of Judd Galaxy.
  • I’m not particularly rooting for Ryan, and it’s unclear to me if I’m supposed to be. He’s positioned as the protagonist, but his behavior toward the bridge crew cast is far more Herman than heroic. It’s not their fault Joe didn’t fill him in. It’s unclear why Ryan’s immediate instinct is to keep Judd out of the loop, and there’s a lot of thematic meat to this decision. Hopefully future episodes will engage more meaningfully with these Ryan-Judd parallels.
  • New least favorite amenity on Avenue 5: Judd’s voice being piped into the spa treatments. Ugh.
  • The delay still isn’t working as a comedy beat. If the writers are committed to returning to it each episode, hopefully some new ideas will be forthcoming. Also, why is there no meaningful delay for Ryan when calling home to his husband and wife? The scene nods to it, but mostly sidesteps the issue. Shout-out to the prop department, though—the picture of the trio at their wedding is great.
  • It will be interesting to see how long it takes the passengers to sniff out that Karen is not One Of Them, now that she’s working with Ryan. Her, “This is how the other half lives” is telling.
  • I keep waiting for Jessica St. Clair and Kyle Bornheimer to make something more out of Mia and Doug. There’s only so much depth one can bring to The Bickersons, though, and every time the show seems poised to give either character any nuance, it backs away and goes broad instead. Also, Doug is supposed to be 36?
  • Finally, an episode with some memorable lines! I enjoyed Hugh Laurie throwing away, “Come in, my door is always broken” and Lenora Crichlow’s delighted response to Johan’s orbiting body parts, “Even you’ve got to admit that space is pretty fucking cool sometimes.” Yes it is, Billie, and so are you.
  • Two more fun lines: The entertainingly odd exchange between Ryan and Karen culminating in Rebecca Front’s, “I should make it clear that coitus is not on the menu” and Suzy Nakamura’s delivery of, “This is the first time 5000 human lives have been on the line. I think. Wait. No, yeah, it is.”
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