By Jodi Walker
January 26, 2020 at 11:33 PM EST
Credit: Alex Bailey/HBO

Avenue 5

S1 E2
  • TV Show
  • HBO

Is there any better metaphor for the Avenue 5 space ship, the aptitude of its crew, and its likely doomed fate (in what could be as little as six months or as much as three years depending which engineer you ask and what kind of trousers they’re wearing) than a dead man in a golden coffin orbiting the ship, viewable to every single passenger through a giant window every hour on the hour.

The Avenue 5 space ship is a luxury cruise to hell, and Avenue 5 the TV show is proving to hit hardest when it’s leaning fully into that chaos pending doom: people screaming over each other with worse and worse ideas; what should have been a peaceful send-off into space turning into a zombie apocalypse; gravity just…periodically disappearing.

Avenue 5’s second episode takes the stress of finding out that the ship and its passengers have missed their ride back to earth and multiplies it by adding little bits of hope for some new, less dire path forward…only to have that hope crushed over and over like a crate of chicken under the weight of Herman Judd because no single person in charge of this ship seems capable of communicating in a way that is understandable to the human ear.

Mia and Doug may have a nightmare marriage, but at least they’re on the same page about their disgust for one another. And Karen may be… well, a plain ol’ nightmare in an athleisure tracksuit just waiting to go viral on YouTube for doing something awful, but at least she’s productive in times of crisis. Whereas no single crew member of the Avenue 5 seems to be able to put one foot in front of the other, let alone communicate in a way that doesn’t constantly remind everyone that they’re in the worst hands possible for the next three years. For the passengers of Avenue 5, their ineptitude is annoying and, y’know, probably fatal — for us, it’s just fun!

The episode opens with Captain Clark trying to explain the current situation to Avenue 5’s thousands of passengers as “hitting a patch of choppy space,” while Karen points out that there’s a giant projection reading “1036 DAYS TO HOME!” just to his left. So the Captain passes the explanation baton over to Billie, someone who really should not be trusted to assure an angry mob that everything is going to be alright. That’s mostly because, as the only one on board with any actual knowledge of how to navigate space — other than the former astronaut played by Ethan Phillips, who’s got a worrisome hostile energy building up — Billie understands that there’s not much assurance to offer. Which is why she winds up patronizingly offering to explain the current situation to them by drawing it on the wall in crayon.

Unfortunately, some people aren’t so realistic. Enter Cyrus, another engineer with a penchant for shorts and trying to show up Billie, who tells Captain Clark that he’s come up with a route to get them back to Earth in six months. Being a bit of a dolt who’s desperate for good news, Captain Clark doesn’t recognize Cyrus’s self-description as “an improviser, a maverick, and also a musician” as a signal that he’s full of s—, and gives the six-month update to Karen…who then tells the entire ship. So no one is even excited when Captain Clark announces the new (probably wrong) timeline to them because they thought he had even better, newer news.

Captain Clark also makes the mistake of telling Judd that there’s now a plan to get back to Earth in six months because Judd — being a definite dolt and also a penny-pincher, apparently — then dials into Rav’s meeting with NASA to tell them off: “Zip your lips and open your ears because I’m gonna lay down some big words.”

Those big words are that Avenue 5 doesn’t need to pay NASA an estimated price that Rav (still a perfectly wound ball of posh anxiety) previously mistook for a phone number because they’ve solved the problem on their own. And also that he’s going to eat a protein ball while he waits to hear their reply on the 26-second delay.

Their reply is, of course: go space-f— yourself.

So, to recap: NASA is out on helping Avenue 5 get back to Earth, they’re now following an algorithm for their return that has been vetted by no one but a man who wears shorts at his job, and there is a dead body orbiting their ship because no one would listen to Billie when she tried to tell them that Mr. Judd’s was too heavy to shoot outside of their ship’s gravitational pull. And now, as she tells Captain Clark, “the three injured passengers are no longer injured … because they’re dead.”

As the new dead bodies are being put into ultra-lightweight plastic coffins, Iris and Captain Clark find themselves in what appears to be the ship’s chapel at their lowest points yet. It’s important to note that Iris’ funeral wear includes a leather corset because Iris is as fabulous as she is terrifying. Case in point: she tells Captain Clark a long story about how her grandfather was the only person who ever understood her; one day they went out together on a rowboat where he had a heart attack and died, and she knew she had to get him back to shore, so she just kept telling herself, “Pull through, Iris, pull through.”

And she finds herself saying the same thing now: pull through, Iris, pull through. “Except now, I’m not alone — I’m with you,” she tells Captain Clark. “Oh no, wait,” she continues: “That’s not a uniform, it’s a costume because you’re not a captain, you’re a giant s—-y fraud.

Then they launch the three caskets into space just as Mission Control conveniently forgets to tell them they’re adjusting the gravity, the lightweight caskets hit the doorframe on the way out, and the passengers watch in horror as the corpses start floating freely out into space. Judd, who was in the kitchen explaining to the Captain that he has a greater social media presence than NASA anyway, radios to Iris that she needs to come find him: “I’m in chickens.”

“Pull through Iris, pull through,” Iris whispers to herself, looking out at a horizon full of space zombies.


I did not mention Matt singing a jazzy rendition of David Bowie’s “Starman” at Engineer Joe’s funeral which was, of course, perfect and entirely inappropriate.

Billie about Judd: “He’s like — y’know, the best analogy I can think of is he’s like an idiot in charge of a space ship, but that’s not an analogy, that is just a fact.”

Proof positive: “Rav, what are NASA saying…is NASA saying? Is it ‘is’ or ‘are’? What is they saying — no that sounds all wrong, I sound like an idiot!”

Matt saying, “Classic Jesus — you mess with his money, he fucks you right up,” is as hilarious out of context as it is in (Judd saying he will return like an angry Jesus to reign down blood, filth, and terror on all those who have betrayed him.”

The future is now: “No more will we be treated like cattle, if anyone can remember them.” “Do you remember when the Pacific went toxic? This is as big as that.”

It’s early days, but I think, “Alright, our work here is done…poorly” will prove a defining Avenue 5 line.

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Avenue 5

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  • Sundays at 10:00 PM
  • HBO