The Daily Stream: Avenue 5 Is An Absurd Delight

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Series: "Avenue 5"

Where You Can Stream It: HBO Max

The Pitch: Forty years in the future, leisure space travel is a thing. Billionaire Herman Judd (Josh Gad) is on board his interplanetary luxury cruise liner Avenue 5. They passengers are supposed to be on an eight-week cruise through space, headed by Captain Ryan Clark (Hugh Laurie). This ship has everything from spas to comedy clubs to an incredibly attractive bridge crew. 

On the way back to Earth, an accident kills a technician, and when the ship shudders, it throws the world's largest yoga class against one side, pushing Avenue 5 off course, and turning their eight-week trip into a 3.5-year odyssey. As all hell breaks loose, we learn that the super pretty bridge crew and Captain Ryan himself are all there for show. They're actors reciting lines, so Judd and the guests don't have to look at unattractive people. That guy that was killed? That was the real person captaining things. Second engineer Billie (Lenora Crichlow) seems to be the only person who knows anything about the ship and does her best to get them back on track. 

No one is getting this ship home, though. It's full of warring married couples, a stand-up comedian (Himesh Patel) who has to try to cheer up people who probably won't make it home, Judd's brutal assistant Iris (Suzy Nakamura), a creeper of a former astronaut named Spike (Ethan Phillips in some really great casting, considering his "Star Trek" pedigree), a complaining woman aptly named Karen (Rebecca Front), and customer relations head Matt (Zach Woods), who is a delightful mess.

Why it's essential viewing

It's a great premise, but that's just the hanger holding up the dress that is one of the weirdest and funniest shows I've ever seen. It's absurd in the best way. If you're a fan of "What We Do in the Shadows," you might have a feel for the style of humor. It's the best combination of dry British comedy with American bombastic performances. The combo is echoed in Hugh Laurie, who has to switch back and forth between his British accent to his put-on American one. That alone is worth the price of admission. 

When I say "absurd," I mean that wholeheartedly. For example, a leak in a tube full of poop ends up orbiting the ship, which is big enough to have its own gravitational pull. Do you know what else is orbiting? Coffins. Yes, when some passengers die, they're shoved out of the airlock in clear boxes. It doesn't go well, with arms and hands being broken off, floating past all the windows every few hours as well. People see religious symbols in the poop cloud, which has been lit up by Judd and covered with glitter. You see where I'm going with this. I tried explaining this series to someone, and I was laughing like a hyena while doing it. I'm sure they didn't understand a single word I said after "poop cloud." 

We're not only inside the ship, though. We follow Rav (Nikki Amuka-Bird), the head of Mission Control on Earth, who is dealing with a PR nightmare, and the fact that they have to borrow money from NASA or the government to get anyone home. Her dry delivery of lines is so good that it's like an acting class.

A glittering cloud of poop

There are so many ridiculous scenes here, and I don't want to give them away. This series manages to make you love characters who are so out there and ridiculous that by all rights, you shouldn't believe a word out of their mouths. Watching the insanely silly Matt try to become a therapist for the crew, saying the absolute worst things, is a wild ride. You would hate this person in real life, yet every scene he's in makes me adore him and laugh my head off. There is a brilliant discussion about isolation under all the goofy comedy.

The first season came out days before lockdown began. Every moment of what happens to a mob when they're locked away has been echoed this season, and it was done before we lost our collective minds in the real world. The religious fanaticism, the way some people you'd never notice rise to the top, and those in power completely fall apart. There's the mass hysteria, the person who says the whole situation is fake, and the people who follow her. It's even more entertaining to watch knowing that this reaction has played out in real life. (Entertaining because it shows the absurdity of our world, I mean.) Add in the little touches about the future, like a regular American President and a second President that is sort of an Alexa device, and you have a recipe for the weirdest comedy out there. (With the way our actual world is going, I wouldn't be surprised if any of the inventions come to pass.) Do give this a shot. It will make your day.

"Avenue 5" airs on HBO Max. Season 2 begins on October 10, 2022.