Avenue 5 1.09: Eight Arms But No Hands
All along, the scariest thought that Avenue 5 has asked us to ponder isn't the prospect of spending years in the close company of narcissists that you hate. It's the absence of leadership - or any intelligence to speak of - in the face of an overwhelming disaster that few of us have the capacity to deal with. Armando Iannucci's projects ask us what happens if there are no grown-ups in the room - and frequently show us the unpleasant aftermath. Events in the real world, which don't require a recap, have added a bitter taste to the comedy of this series.
We join the ship this week with our core group frantically trying to reach Matt in order to convince him not to kill himself. After last week’s events, he’s changed the airlock password and gone into hiding, racked with guilt. Ryan assembles teams to look for Matt together, including Spike and Doug (“Aw yeah, boys on tour!”). Ryan shows real leadership in coordinating the effort, and it almost seems like he’s finally turning a corner and accepting his role as the closest thing to an authority figure on the ship. Every nook and cranny of the ship is explored, and it’s a great opportunity for some characters who never get to interact to share some screen time.
Rav and the supply shuttle finally arrive onboard. After boarding, and learning about the airlock deaths, she immediately asks whether it was the responsibility of the crew that the passengers ejected themselves. Her follow-up, “would you be willing to swear to that in a court of law?”, is perfectly pitched. She sets out to find Judd and give him a piece of her mind.
It turns out Matt’s alive and well: he’s simply dividing his time between snacking and shrieking. He reveals he’s switched the airlock passcodes to 0005 - something that no irrationally thinking person would ever guess. With that, Karen’s efforts to load the airlocks and jettison some dead weight resumes.
The final scenes of the season play out in the cargo dock where the supply ship sits idling, the pilot’s finger poised over the auto-launch button. If you'd guessed that a mass scramble for the idle seat on the pod would inevitably ensue, ten points. Rav misses out on a return journey and is rewarded for her spontaneity by being forced to join the remaining passengers on Avenue 5, but at least she gets to slap Judd twice.
After a very long and undignified argument over who gets to take the vacant seat, Ryan's patience finally snaps, and we get to hear Hugh Laurie’s excellent Basil Fawlty impression. His patience has finally snapped, "like a 100-year-old breadstick", and he's forced to step up and show some initiative (but not before trying to claim the seat for himself). It turns out that the only pair of hands that can pilot the ship back to Earth is him. Literally - Cyrus has been into space to retrieve the hands and head of Captain Joe, for authentication, but they're... no longer useful. Eventually, the passenger heading back to Earth turns out to be Iris, quite by accident. Just like that, Judd loses his assistant, best friend, and chief enabler.
"It’s a bag with some of my friend in it”
Finally, Karen shares the good news that the excess cargo has been ejected from the airlocks of the ship. Unfortunately, they're the wrong airlocks - rather than the rear of the ship, the surplus has been ejected from the side airlocks, and Billie informs us that the ship has now been knocked wildly off course. Cyrus helpfully calculates that the journey back to Earth will now take eight years. Cries of ‘side-shitter’ greet Karen’s error, and she begs Frank to do something equally stupid to take the heat off her.
After nearly a week of self-quarantine, it just isn’t quite as funny as it should be. When Matt cries “that’s longer than The Beatles were together! That’s longer than the Seven Years War!”, you really feel it. At least they have each other: it’s going to be a fun eight years.
Overall I've been delighted with the debut run of Avenue 5, a comedy that more frequently made me smile rather than laugh out loud, but always raised the bar in terms of ambition and sheer commitment to bleakness. In many ways, it's the platonic ideal of a British-American sitcom: sitting perfectly in the overlap between cosmic nihilism and total lunacy. Not all of the reviews have been so positive, but I'm inclined to stick around for the new season, which will arrive... at some point in the future.
Total body count for the season: 11! Not bad going, but there’s a ton more ways to die in space: we didn't even get to see any cannibalism. We'll see how the voyagers fare on Season 2.