Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Should I PlagueWatch It?: Avenue 5

If there's one thing I do a lot of, it's binge-watch television. And that is a skill that is suddenly in high demand, as we all hunker down indoors (you are doing that, right?) and hope that the 'rona doesn't take us.

So -- in what may but hopefully won't(?) become an ongoing series -- I'll offer you some quick thoughts on some of the shows I am, or have just recently finished, watching with an eye towards answering the question: Should I PlagueWatch it? First up: HBO's Avenue 5.

So first -- this a show with a stellar comedic cast, many of whom turn in standout performances. Hugh Laurie is great and it's a ton of fun watching him switch accents from scene to scene or even sentence to sentence. Zach Woods brings great Jared-from-Silicon-Valley energy (Advertising the bar on-ship: "Do you like to drink? I know my dad did."). Suzy Nakamura scratches an I-didn't-know-I-had-it-but-makes-sense itch for "what if Melinda May from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was every bit as scary, but entirely in the service of being an enabling corporate sycophant?"  And new-to-me Lenora Crichlow is perhaps my absolute favorite as the only truly competent member of the crew (who nonetheless is by no means perfect).

I also like that the stakes are weirdly kept pretty low given the core premise (a space cruise ship is knocked off course and a two month cruise now is projected to last several years). It's only vaguely alluded to but the ship appears to be somewhat self-sustaining with respect to supplies, so the main "threats" are panic and idiocy among the crew and passengers. Which certainly quickly becomes threatening, but it's a comedic threat, not an existential "death inevitably bores down upon us" type of threat. I prefer that greatly.

That said, given the comedic talent on the show and the great individual performances, the whole does feel like less than the sum of its parts. Many of the individual episode plots never quite gel, and so one ends up watching for one-off moments of great comedy rather than an overarching story. Meanwhile, quite a few of the characters are (intentionally) very grating, and there isn't a ton of effort expended on why they're indulged so much. We've seen Josh Gad's character (the pampered idiot rich kid owner of the cruise line) a million times before, and -- no disrespect to Gad's performance -- I've never once found it anything but aggravating.

It's also fair to wonder whether "we're trapped indefinitely in a defined enclosed space with a vague but certainly real threat of doom hovering around us" is the vibe you want to run with at this particular moment in time.

Still, it's a relatively quick nine episode season, so it's an easy binge. Overall, I give it a qualified recommendation -- not a must-see, but can definitely fill a gap in your schedule if you're running low on more satisfying fare.

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