For seven seasons, HBO’s “Veep” brilliantly skewered politics and politicians. It was, arguably, one of the greatest TV satires ever.
And its creator, Armando Iannucci, has returned to HBO to create more satire. “Avenue 5” (Sunday, 8 p.m.) is an outlandish, over-the-top, voyage-gone-wrong aboard an outer-space luxury liner several decades in the future. It takes aim at … well, I’m not altogether sure what it’s aiming at.
The show is set 40 years from now, when interplanetary tourism is the equivalent of taking a cruise today. The glamorous new ship Avenue 5 sets out with 5,000 passengers and 1,500 crew on what’s supposed to be an eight-week tour around Saturn, but things go terribly wrong. And the crew — commanded by befuddled Capt. Ryan Clark (Hugh Laurie) — doesn’t have a clue how to fix things.
And we’re talking serious problems. Like — a few people die.
Adding to the idiocy is billionaire Herman Judd (Josh Gad), a moron who owns the company that owns the ship. Every idea he has is stupid; it’s up to his assistant, Iris Kimura (Suzy Nakamura), to try to rein him in.
We’re introduced to a foul-mouthed, no-nonsense ship’s engineer (Lenora Crichlow); a self-centered cruise director (Zach Woods); and the frustrated chief of mission control (Nikki Amuka-Bird) back on Earth.
And we meet a few of the passengers, including a toxic couple (Jessica St. Clair and Kyle Bornheimer); a woman (Rebecca Front) who appoints herself spokesperson for the passengers; and a retired astronaut (Ethan Phillips) prone to embellishing his accomplishments.
Iannucci came up with all of this because, as he sees it, “There’s an air of uncertainty and unpredictability and anger and anxiety and a sense of foreboding doom about the climate and nobody’s really doing anything about it” in the world today. “And just that sense of the madness of crowds, really, populism and how crowds can take on a life of their own. So I just wanted to tap into that.
“But I also love sci-fi.”
I’ve seen four episodes of the show and I’m not sure what Iannucci was talking about. And, while there’s a lot of science-fictiony stuff in “Avenue 5,” it’s not really a science fiction show. It’s sort of a workplace comedy, sort of a social commentary.
As Iannucci struggled to describe his own show, he pointed to an “unspoken character” — the 5,000 passengers “who kind of take on a personality of their own as the season progresses.” And the gradual realization by crew members and owners “that there are 5,000 people around you who could rip you apart if the real news got out about what’s really the state of things on board.”
We do find out, but no spoilers here.
Should you watch “Avenue 5”? If I based a recommendation on just the first couple of episodes, I’d tell you not to bother. Having seen four, I’m somewhat more optimistic — again, no spoilers — but I have no way of knowing if subsequent episodes will be worth watching. (That’s pretty much the way TV criticism works.)
The only other thing I can tell you is that “Veep” didn’t really get good until its second season. Just sayin’ ...