Avenue 5: 1.03 I’m A Hand Model
What makes a leader? Avenue 5 suggests that it might be the person best able to tell frightened people what they want to hear - or just the person who looks the part. This week’s instalment, I’m A Hand Model, highlights the deep feeling of helplessness which has gripped most of the people aboard the titular spaceship, and the sense that - with nobody on board being well-equipped to deal with the situation - there’s a vacuum in which anyone might step up and seize power.
After the grim news that their voyage has been delayed, the ship’s passengers are starting to chafe at the deteriorating standards of service. One guest finds gum on their pillow. Mia and Doug are given a towel shaped into, rather than a swan, something that looks like a puckered anus. At dinner, Karen’s husband receives chicken, rather than sausage - as the server suggests, “maybe eat it with your eyes closed”.
Mia and Doug are still having “loud and sexually graphic arguments”, as Matt delicately puts it, and he initiates a disastrous attempt to let their anger free, “like a beautiful poison butterfly”. Matt, with his very vaguely defined responsibilities, is basically a cartoon character, joining Iris and Judd in their conference room and continuing to antagonise the passengers with his ineptitude. There’s a barely-contained glee in his eyes as he encourages the worst impulses of everybody around him, and he’s quickly becoming Avenue 5’s breakout character.
We get a quick update on the ship’s dwindling chances of rescue and survival, learning that while the ship’s food supplies are running out, there is an abundance of self--grown fungi - which is apparently “like eating a lightly seasoned mattress”. Meanwhile Iris continues to try to implement Judd’s half-baked schemes, as the possibility of NASA stepping in seems as remote as Earth itself. In an eerily plausible scene, the two of them manufacture a vigil back on Earth for the trapped passengers to help gain sympathy - choosing the most photogenic from a group of actors to make up their fake crowd. I’m sure it’s not a coincidence that this is exactly how Clark came to be Avenue 5’s captain.
It’s fascinating to see Avenue 5’s futuristic side come out to play, rather than the holiday-from-hell angle which drives most of the comedy. We learn that Susan, NASA’s representative, fought in the “Huawei Wars”, and that Karen’s fish back on Earth once boiled in their pond during a post-climate change heatwave. On a lighter note, we learn that Clark has not just one spouse waiting for him at home, but two - this being the near future, it’s not treated as unusual in any way. It’s just twice as many people to hassle Clark about his habit of self-medicating with Bloody Marys. Between Avenue 5 and The Politician, 2020 may yet be the year of polyamorous marriages on the small screen.
In one of this week’s stranger moments, we meet a stand-up played by Yesterday’s Himesh Patel - whose set is interrupted by a frozen limb floating past the window behind him. I have to assume that Patel will return - and if not, this scene surely exists as an elaborate tribute to the greatest Eastenders storyline of all time.
Clark: Come in. My door is always broken.
Clark, at his wits end, tries to make a deal with the meddlesome Karen - appointing her Passenger Liaison Officer, in charge of placating the baying mob. She of course jumps at the chance, but not before a half-drunk Clark lets slip that he’s not a captain, and not even American. “In the last ten seconds you just changed continents and careers”, says a gobsmacked Karen. In giving Karen a title and a fancy new suite, Clark assumes he has bought her complicity in his deception - a fatal error of judgement.
When Clark tasks Karen with breaking the news to the passengers that their journey time has now been extended to three years and six months, Karen seizes the opportunity to bolster her own credibility, claiming that she actually managed to force the crew to speed up their journey from five years. As one passenger points out, this makes absolutely no sense - but it works. It’s a creepy, almost Trump-esque moment. Are we watching the start of a rebellion aboard the ship? We're now at the point where Avenue 5's drama is starting to supersede the comedy.
Episode three saves one final, ironic surprise for last. Finally, the case of the oddly attractive bridge crew is solved - Clark finds out that his staff are also actors, hired to look pretty and pretend to press buttons. Daisy May Cooper, from This Country and also Armando Iannucci’s David Copperfield, seems to be the most capable crew member and has the responsibility of adjusting the mood lighting. Why a team of actors? As Billie observes, “Judd wanted hot crew, and there’s just no intersection in that venn diagram”, so an executive decision was made. The real crew are hidden beneath a trap door in the floor. How would a leader react in this situation? Clark closes the trap door, welcomes another tour group of passengers to the bridge, and keeps the charade going.