'Avenue 5' Uses Actual Science To Fuel Its Comedy (And Kills Off Richard Branson For A Gag) [TCA 2020]

Armando Iannucci is back on HBO, but this time, he's not making another political comedy. The Veep mastermind created the science fiction comedy Avenue 5. There series follows a deep space passenger flight in the future where something goes wrong and neither the captain (Hugh Laurie) nor the tech mogul (Josh Gad) who funded it are equipped to handle it. Iannucci revealed some Easter eggs during the panel, including a gag about the fate of Virgin magnate Richard Branson, and the science that leads to the comedy. Avenue 5 premieres Sunday, January 19 on HBO.

Avenue 5 kills Richard Branson

Avenue 5 is set a few decades into the future, so the 69-year-old Branson probably wouldn't have lived to see Avenue 5 take off. He didn't die of natural causes though, says Iannuci. Herman Judd (Gad) is sort of a take off of Branson type moguls."We discovered in a later episode Judd has a collection of valuable artifacts, historical artifacts, and it includes Richard Branson's beard," Iannucci said. "It's on a plinth and I won't spoil anything, but we reveal how Richard Branson died, which is not as you'd expect."

Very little has changed in the future of Avenue 5

Sci-fi may seem out of Iannucci's wheelhouse, but once you hear him describe it, Avenue 5 gets closer to Veep. Instead of the White House, he's finding comedy in the mundane situations of luxury travel."It's set only about 30 or 40 years in the future, and I wanted to deliberately not be futuristic," Iannucci said. "If you think about what life was like 40 years ago in 1980, not radically different. I mean, all the buildings look the same. Cars are roughly doing the same job. The only innovation has been the Wi-Fi and the fact that we stay on our phone. So I didn't wanna go mega futuristic with lots gadgets and robots and flying this and hover boots and stuff. Because also, other shows do that really well, I wanted to concentrate on the human element underneath it all. So I think the only major advance has been that we can fly further in space, and hopefully get back. Even though we have an enormous set, I've tried to keep it as intimate as possible because the comedy's really there in the small private moments."

Science is funny

In devising the near future technology that could allow deep space passenger travel, Iannucci had fun with real science. Iannucci and Laurie visited Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and they inspired the writer."Did you see the joy in my face when they actually described to me planning long-distance journeys to Mars," Iannucci said. "[The] ways to protect yourself from radiation poisoning is to pack the walls with human waste, since human waste forms a very good shield against radiation. So the space station is covered in human waste. Just the glee when we realized, oh great, what would happen if there was a leak? And so we packed that in, and the fact that you can't fly with lots of fuel because it's just inefficient, so you've got to rely on these very, very precise gravitational sling shots, which is really the cause of the problem. So I wanted to pack it with hard sci-fi, the laws of physics. We obey the laws of physics, apart from gravity. And then people like Josh get annoyed that they can't just throw money at the laws of physics to change them."