This Avenue 5 review contains spoilers.
Avenue 5 Episode 7
The shit remains thick on Avenue 5, episode 7, “Are You a Spider, Matt,” but the cold shell softens. The cynicism at the heart of the series finally succumbs to the lack of a worthy target. Up to this point, the science fiction comedy has been building the dark menace of corporate incompetence to what looked like some kind of cannibalistic parable of greed’s short sighted menace. Now we find it’s only the condiments which will be missing.
After narrowly averting a passenger mutiny, the crew placates the guests like an awkward marriage of inconvenience. Sure, they’re stuck in space but they can still swim like mermaids, drink like beasts (though not very light beer, which hurts less going in than coming out, when it feels like actual fire), and marvel at the illuminated circle of turds. But there is still the question of jettisoning 500 guests into space to lighten the load.
We get some promise early in the episode when Frank Kelly (Andy Buckley), who until fairly recently was persona non grata for pushing the button which dumped the sewage, get a religious epiphany staring into it. He sees the face of Pope John Paul II, the non-Nazi one who apologized for all the historically bad stuff the church did. In a scenario where guests might have to be shot into space, religious fanaticism can hurry the descent into barbarism the series desperately needs. When Frank points out that “good people can see the pope” and starts ascribing Xanax miracles to him, it becomes an outright tease. But we don’t get the payoff. The Pope appears every 90 seconds but its rotation doesn’t become increasingly ominous. It is ultimately used for an inspirational speech which inspires everyone but Billie McEvoy (Lenora Crichlow), who says science does not need faith, it just is.
Karen (Rebecca Front) is reduced to an eye-rolling despot deposed by her husband’s muted zealotry. Mia’s (Jessica St. Clair) fling with the acting navigator is basically unnecessary filler which doesn’t even bother her estranged husband Frank Kelly (Andy Buckley). There is some pleasure in hearing Captain Ryan Clark (Hugh Laurie) explain what joy is to Iris (Suzy Nakamura), who is apparently too young to remember it. The ship’s virtual golf course is vaguely funny. Players can swing like a young Judy Garland and send the ball somewhere over the rainbow or put like an old drug addicted Garland. It’s so pathetic, Herman Judd (Josh Gad) tees off in red shoes.
The head of Judd Corporation shrinks in the face of fear and finally gets walloped but we don’t really care. He hasn’t earned any emotional investment. We don’t particularly like him so getting to see him get his ass kicked verbally should be more rewarding. But it’s nothing more than a pissing match between two rich people.
Harrison Ames is a $3 trillion man who openly calls his fellow travelers 10th class passengers and poor. He’s a caricature tailor made to hate, which usually works wonders in an Armando Iannucci series, where insults become individual works of art. But Ames’ wit is limited calling Judd “Fudd,” and not even having the commitment to reference a mansion or a yacht. He does get in some weird violent sexual innuendo threats but is really only threatening because he is reputed to be litigious, and a lawsuit would scuttle the rescue.
Comebacks are more important than solutions on the ship and Judd spends most of the episode trying to come up with good ones. Matt (Zach Woods) turns out to be so talented at it he inadvertently reveals Judd was chemically castrated by his own body. Pressure is what creates diamonds and Ames has the crew in a Kung Fu grip. Captain Ryan, who is served with divorce proceedings by an onboard attorney, tries to mine a dinner-at-the-captain’s table for some legal appeasement and is denied because he’s uninteresting.
Billy is basically Avenue 5‘s Scotty and, like Star Trek‘s enterprising engineer, she attempts to flout the law of physics. The ship will have to be docked in three years and it takes five years to learn how to do it. The Captain, who has the only imprints to work it, is only an actor, and has no years of training and no chance of learning in time. She is supportive for less than a minute before she abandons any pretense. The captain doesn’t deserve to be propped up. Neither does the comedian, who actually does catch Billy’s fleeting attention, although not her funny bone.
She usually avoids the lounge because the carpets are sticky and so are the people, but it’s a quick way to engineering and the chance meeting turns into an actual connection. It is not exactly fun but it happens. Billy the engineer knows comedy is tragedy but time, but cannot grasp even the most basic mechanics beyond that. When she laughs we see how alien she really is. She laughs at explanations of why something is not a punch-line, even though she does recognize some of the feces in the audience. Meanwhile, all eyes are on mission control.
Rav “the Merciless” Mills is being called the queen of death on earth where she has her own protesters. The head of mission control is not in control of the mission and public opinion is getting dangerous. First she tells her assistant to reassemble himself in coordinates as far from earth as possible and then she decides to solve the problem herself. She boards the space shuttle which is carrying medical supplies and food seasonings to Avenue 5 so she can sneak Judd back to earth so she can use his face as a glass shield. Nikki Amuka-Bird finally has the chance to raise her voice in the role which has had the most responsibility, or at least blame.
Avenue 5 throws in some details about the world we will be living in. We know it is set at about the time Tobey Maguire dies. The menu of the future on earth is pretty distressing. Either the food chain irreparably snapped or all cuisine will be ironically named by morbid hipsters.
The day is once again saved by Billy who once again gives away the accolades. After the near-catastrophic promises of the rising action of Avenue 5, “Are You a Spider, Matt” is a letdown. While the mission still has a good chance to turn into a complete disaster, the solutions are already anti-climactic.