This Avenue 5 review contains spoilers.
Avenue 5 Episode 8
Avenue 5‘s “This is Physically Hurting Me,” finds a new way to exploit the lowest common denominator. It begins with the privileged class working together to rid themselves of material objects which must be jettisoned into space to save their lives. It devolves into a mass delusion which thins the herd. The cynical disbelief of human nature turns the humor as black as a starless night.
The episode is dark even while the guests are at their most altruistic, which Matt (Zach Woods) says is like in an estate sale when you’re not dead. While most of the passengers are deciding which shoes to give up, Frank (Andy Buckley) jokes that his wife Karen (Rebecca Front), the most entitled of the ship’s VIP class, has been trying to toss him into the cosmic garbage chute. The guests take it seriously. Kids start giving up their pets. It gets early light humor when Billie McEvoy (Lenora Crichlow) is training Captain Ryan Clark (Hugh Laurie) on how to dock the craft when it gets close enough to earth for a rescue mission. But it’s not that light. While merely adjusting the seat is too much for the actor playing a captain, Billie rounds off how many thousands of passengers will die. The best gag comes when Ryan actually realizes there is a clearly labeled button to press and whatever confidence Billie had in him deflates. She doesn’t know if she can trust him to push buttons at all.
Herman Judd (Josh Gad) is defined by distractions. He is both easily distracted and fully committed to how masterfully he can mislead others. He’s planning on making the ultimate sacrifice for his guests, crew and staff. He’s going to jump ship. We can’t really blame Judd for being so scattered and yet so compulsively self-serving. He’s written three autobiographies and just keeping up with his life’s canon is confusing. He says he only has two emotions, elation and genius, but neither serves him. We wonder how he came to head a company like Judd Corporation in the first place, and it’s scary that this could be what the greatest financial minds of the future will look like. Herman would almost be relatable if he didn’t put air quotes around “people” when he speaks, or treat his most trusted assistant as if she were hypothetically nonexistent.
For much of the episode, Iris (Suzy Nakamura) is the butt of a running gag where Judd talks about her like she’s not there. But she makes her presence known dramatically tonight. Harrison Ames tells Judd he “can’t wait to see him led away in shackles” and boasts he would be able to get passengers home before their kids die of old age. Iris looks into his eyes and burns his mind through his eye sockets. She does this again when she nonchalantly throws the Captain under the bus. Matt is beginning to have doubts, both about himself and about everyone and everything around him. He lets out that he doesn’t want to be stuck on a ship with a junkie actor running things and Iris lets the skipper go down before the ship. “He’d slit his Nana‘s throat for half an Advil,” she offers as a final denouncement.
I was very excited when Judd threatens Ryan with a court-martial and space prison. I had visions of Star Trek‘s “The Menagerie,” when Spock goes on trial for repurposing a pilot. Instead it seems “Captain Opioid” is an android, and under his wig is a microchip. And then the fourth wall shatters because he’s not. He’s not even an actor playing a robot with a silicon hairpiece. Spike, a real astronaut who was hired to lend a legitimacy to the trip it didn’t deserve, is given the captaincy when all he wants is a drink. “I will get you that Bloody Mary, I swear this on the blood of Mary,” Matt promises. But Spike tumbles on to the truth behind the glitzy façade.
If anyone can get to the bottom of a spectacular fraud, it’s a VFX specialist who knows a reality competition show when she sees one. The situation become surrealistically worse as everyone believes her. She doesn’t even believe herself at one point but continues to teeter back and forth between real and virtual realities because she’s too much of an expert to be wrong. She compares herself to Billie, an engineer, at one point. Everyone on the ship is self-important, including Billie. She may not get the credit she deserves for the countless times she’s saved the day, but it really is not for lack of trying. Everything everyone ultimately does comes from her and they hate being reminded.
The passengers are being stupid, even by rich people standards, and they’ll never know because you don’t talk to rich people like that. The Captain unsuccessfully tries to explain this while Billie decides if she gets back to earth, she’s just going to hang out with pigs and dolphins. This is a little bit of science trivia, as each of these creatures is measurably more intelligent than humans, who prove themselves to be only about as smart as the average lemming.
The final sequences are about as cynical as television series can get. The formula of Avenue 5 seems to be to allow the situation to fall into complete chaos and then lick the wounds and count the losses. But, while it is shocking to watch the guests succumb to the icy nothingness of space, we are hardly surprised or moved. If they want Jesus to take them into the great Green Room in the sky, who wants to argue? As unique as the characterizations each actor brings to their role, all of the characters have an annoying sameness. While the characters on Armando Iannucci’s Veep and in his Death of Stalin shared overriding traits, they remained distinct.
Rav (Nikki Amuka-Bird) spends the episode trying to squeak her way onto the return trip rather than fend for herself on the Avenue 5. She gets to know the pilot, who has logged a lot of trips and lets her know he thinks mission control is a shit show. There are only two seats in the shuttle. One is his and the only way she and Judd can come back together is if one eats the other. That would make for an interesting reality competition show but Rav isn’t that hungry a character. She’s already suspended her animation and preparing mentally to stay awake for it.
“This is Physically Hurting Me” is savage. It wracks up a body count of seven people and each of the bodies bash the shuttle as it makes its approach. As the series gets ready to dock the final episode of the season, we sincerely wonder if there will be survivors when the final credits roll. As suspenseful as it is growing, it comes with little cost as part of me wants to see Avenue 5 make history as the first comedy to kill off its cast at the end of the first season.