This Avenue 5 review contains spoilers.
Avenue 5 Episode 5
The only character who is not allowed to stoop to toilet humor on Avenue 5, episode 5, “He’s Only There to Stop His Skeleton Falling Over,” is a standup comedian who can’t get laughs. And he’s got a captive audience. Jordan Hatwal can’t talk about it, but he’s stuck in a contract which got extended way past the flickering lights that tell him to get off the stage. Everyone on the ship’s already heard the jokes he rehearsed and he’s trying to keep it fresh, but he’s hobbled by the committee. Hatwal represents Avenue 5, but the ensemble hobbling just made the show engaging.
Once you cut through the shit, this is probably the most exciting episode we’ve gotten. We see individual heroics, acrobatic cowardice, mass hysteria and a walk in space. Avenue 5‘s been a luxury Disney ride promising to become an intergalactic roller coaster comedy since it ran off its track. But it hasn’t hit Warp One until tonight.
The best thing about doing standup in space is there is literally no pressure. But Iris (Suzy Nakamura) can put the squeeze on anyone. She makes the stand-up stand up during a table read and then skewers every joke. She can see the humor in comedy, but tragedy like erectile dysfunction and non-fatal hunting accidents are what really make her laugh. That and the silent chuckles she gets from immediately shuts down any material reference the ship’s tragedy in space.
For a person who really doesn’t know what he’s doing and admits he doesn’t know what he’s doing, Captain Ryan Clark is doing a great job. He is probably the most grounded individual on the spaceship. This is, of course, a hindrance when he steps outside the vessel. He is no Neil Armstrong and there is no floor to take a first step on. Hugh Laurie is hysterical, imploding behind closed eyes, and telling himself how to adjust his space suit via pre-recorded tapes. You can tell he didn’t pay attention to them even as he made them.
The spacewalk scene is pretty spectacular, made more so by the comic edge and bottomless drop. Not many people get to walk in space and even though Ryan wasn’t prepared for it and never trained for it, he is scared shitless doing it. So scared, it turns out, he doesn’t do it. But he’s the playing the part and he knows applause when he hears it. Spike Martin (Ethan Phillips) gets credit for talking him through the process of finding a big metal wheel to turn, but Billie McEvoy (Lenora Crichlow) doesn’t get credit for turning it. Drinking makes her blunt and opinionated, she warns the captain, and in her opinion, she’s more famous than the guy who shit his pants during the Super Bowl. Daniel Radcliffe was it?
“Somebody needs soap for the mouth, a hot toddy for the mood” and to clear her husband Frank’s name from hitting the button that caused the shitstorm, Karen (Rebecca Front) provocatively suggests to Captain Ryan, who is still high from his free-fall. Laurie seems to revel in the duality of his experience. He questions everything, wonders how anything works and if anybody knows why things work and reverts to ventriloquism but forgets how to work his hands.
Clark comes back to a double blow. On one hand, he’s hailed the conquering hero. He was there when Billie stopped the shit and gets a sock on the jaw for it. Then he gets hit with a trilateral divorce because everyone on earth sees him doing these dangerous things and his spouses (spice?) find it an inconvenience. He’s forced to squash it all in a little ball to be feted as Captain Courageous, the savior of the day, and advises Billie to do the same thing. Except no one recognizes she saved anyone, no matter how many times she says it.
The “halfway home” party promise was true when he said it, Matt (Zach Woods) promises, like wedding vows. And it is a good idea the keep it. It’s perfect for children, unless they have behavioral disorders, and besides, what else are they going to do with miles of streamers and 1,000 balloons? Iris once again brings up Herman Judd’s (Josh Gad) funeral.
The bridge actors come out of their shell during the party. It doesn’t help, they’re still actors. Colin is not a master of improvisation. He gets entangled with Mia (Jessica St. Clair) and Doug (Kyle Bornheimer) in a tryst everyone sees coming and just wants to stop. The hand model whose oxygen was restricted in early developmental years really gets her mitts in it tonight. With a little light improv she lets out a story about her and the captain and gives all the women on board a boarding pass. This is what sets Frank (Andy Buckley) off on what seems, at first, as an annoying side plot, but becomes something happily worse.
Judd is all over the place. Possibly, Iris says, due to neurodevelopmental problems. He makes sure to be gender inclusive when talking about much money people pay for fecal fetishes, he blames the standup for flushing all the good energy out of the room and into space, and tags the four people who died in the gravity flip on him. Then Judd, who is the CEO of the corporation which bears his name and has a vested interest in keeping things under control, eggs on a call to shit Frank out into space.
The mob rule scene is scarier than the spacewalk scene. People get ugly in a way you don’t see outside Black Friday shopping days. Shit still surrounds the ship, like the rings of Uranus, and while they partially obscure the orbiting coffins they don’t hid the ugliness of blame and vigilante justice. The comedian pleads for the crowd to “please stop murdering someone” and we half expect the security guards to shoot Frank out into space to suffocate and freeze until his eyes pop out. It takes the captain to step up and be impressive to stop it. The only thing that will save the people on board, besides a big rocket, is teamwork. Like the Egyptians building the pyramids or the bricks in a Mexican palace.
It finally gets to be too much for the head of ground control. Passive aggression finally wears thin for Rav. Nikki Amuka-Bird has been bottling up the frustration and soul-searing stress and finally vomits a governmental solution. She prepares to go corporate begging at the White House.
The White House is now in Buffalo, N.Y., and I’m interested to know how it got there. There has to be a backstory. Did Washington revert to its natural swamp state while New York City sank because of the change in climate? Avenue 5 already told us we lost the Pacific. We also know the horrible end Richard Branson came to. Armando Iannucci‘s works tend to play out with a frantically leisure pace. His characters verbally run laps on a claustrophobic wheel spiraling into dark and uneasy territory.
This is a comedy about futurism and Avenue 5 may teeter on the edge of a secret devastation. These people in the air have no idea how long it will take for them to get home. But, as things are changing, home itself may be a different place to land on. We already see some extreme darkness in the passengers, which is a comment on the basic de-evolution of human contact. The ground crew for the space travelers has hit Washington. I don’t think they’ll find a universally cooperative governmental body like Star Trek‘s Federation, but Veep‘s confederacy of dunces. “He’s Only There To Stop His Skeleton Falling Over” is the darkest episode of the series so far, and promise black holes to come.
Avenue 5‘s “He’s Only There To Stop His Skeleton Falling Over” aired on Feb. 16, on HBO.
Culture Editor Tony Sokol cut his teeth on the wire services and also wrote and produced New York City’s Vampyr Theatre and the rock opera AssassiNation: We Killed JFK. Read more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.