HBO’s ‘Avenue 5’ Season 2 Heads Directly For The Sun (REVIEW)

After two-and-a-half years, HBO’s Avenue 5 has finally returned for its second season. Season 1 debuted at the start of 2020, as the most underrated comedy of the new decade, its finale airing a week before the COVID-19 pandemic caused a global shutdown. While other shows filmed through the pandemic, Avenue 5 Season 2’s shoot was halted several times, thanks to half its cast residing in the US and the other half in the UK. In addition, several cast members and half its writing staff are over fifty, the red flag age range of concern at least at the start of the pandemic (we quickly learned that COVID-19 doesn’t care about your age). So, for the sake of keeping everyone safe and healthy, HBO allowed Avenue 5 Season 2 to take its time. Which, if you had the brilliance of Armando Iannucci back on your network after a few years away, you would be foolish not to do.

The premise of the series’ freshman season is simple. 40 years from now, luxury space travel is a commodity, and the Avenue 5 cruise liner sets sail on what’s meant to be a two-month journey. When the ship is knocked off of its original course due to a glitch in its antigravity system, their new path will get them home a lot later than planned – three years later, to be exact – and chaos rightfully ensues. Things escalate throughout Avenue 5 Season 1, with passengers and crew both unraveling. In the Season 1 finale, when the crew is trying to get rid of as much weight as possible by releasing it through one of their airlocks – in the process (hopefully) getting them back on their original trajectory – the plan instead backfires, setting the ship back even further than before.

Avenue 5 Season 2 opens five months after that finale, showing us what everyone’s been up to since Karen Kelly (Rebecca Front) veered them off course and turned their six-month delay into an eight-year delay. The passengers, though think they’re only four weeks from returning home, because Faux Captain Ryan (Hugh Laurie) has yet to actually tell them the truth. Nope – he’s been gallivanting about the ship with his new girlfriend, Elena (Leila Farzad), a woman in the middle of a divorce who also has two kids and on whom Captain Ryan has at least fifteen years.

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Hugh Laurie as Ryan Clark and Leila Farzad as Elena in Avenue 5. (COURTESY: HBO)

Frank (Andy Buckley) has a cooking show where he makes food out of everyday items, like Jell-O in a shower cap. Have you ever heard stories about prison meals? Frank’s cooking show is essentially the same exact vibe, except their prison is the luxury cruise ship that’s going steadily to shit. The passengers love Frank’s show, though, because there’s nothing else for them to care about. Speaking of prisoners, Frank has also kept Karen captive in their room because she doesn’t know that no one knows they’re stuck in space for eight years. It’s turned the posh queen from Season 1 into an absolutely depressed slob for Avenue 5 Season 2, which, valid.

Meanwhile, Rav (Nikki Amuka-Bird) has been adjusting to her life on the ship after accidentally getting stuck there, dealing with no longer being in charge at their NASA equivalent. Matt (Zach Woods) is remains an insufferable nihilist; Billie (Lenora Chriclow) continues to be the only one with any idea what’s actually going on. Judd (Josh Gad) is still trying to adjust to no longer having Iris (Suzy Nakamura) at his beck and call, and Iris herself has to adjust to being back on Earth, where she’s doing interviews with a Youtube channel hosted by Dawn Djopi (the reliably over-the-top Lucy Punch).

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Suzy Nakamura as Iris and Lucy Punch as Dawn Djopi in Avenue 5. (COURTESY: HBO)

And people on Earth are finding out what’s happening on the ship not only via Iris, but also because of a new drama series based on the ship getting stuck in space, one that’s entitled Avenue 5. So it’s a truly Reboot-esque meta moment for this show’s sophomore outing. But the move is also strong narrative decision for Avenue 5 Season 2; it’s an interesting and playful way of letting everyone back home on the show’s version of Earth (along with us, the actual viewers at home on actual Earth) see what everyone on the ship has been to and how they’ve been handling the aforementioned shit-going.

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Daisy May Cooper, David Fynn, Julian Ovenden, and Julianna Korkawa as the cast of the faux Avenue 5. (COURTESY: HBO)

As the Season 2 continues, Avenue 5 ups its own chaos in ways that outstrip Season 1, and its characters, who no longer have the patience for civility, continue unraveling in the insanity of it all. If you thought the airlock scene in Season 1 showed how stupid people could be, rest assured that that’s nothing compared to Avenue 5 Season 2’s arc. This year the show is a mix of Lord of the Flies and VEEP – especially once the crew devises a plan to get at least half the ship’s passengers back to Earth. The other half? They can quite literally get fucked. Every day on the Avenue 5 is a battle for survival, whether that means making sure the eels they using for food stay alive and reproduce enough to keep everybody fed or trying to avoid flying directly into the goddamn sun. The people onboard the ship even go so far as to have an election for their new supreme leader. The vibe for Avenue 5 Season 2 is Just Trying To Get By, One Day At A Time, when everything is terrible all of the time. If that sounds familiar, it’s by design – yet Avenue 5 somehow makes us grateful that as bad as things can be in reality, at least we’re not stuck on a space cruiser for (at least) the next eight years.

This show got mixed reviews upon its debut and I don’t see that changing for Avenue 5 Season 2. It’s not a show for everyone. And that’s okay! What it is is a show that deserves a third-season renewal. Even after two full seasons, Avenue 5‘s story is nowhere near finished. And I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Avenue 5 is one of the few series currently airing where most of the female characters a) have full personalities, b) don’t fall flat on-screen, and c) are played by women of color.

Rating: 8/10

New episodes of Avenue 5 premiere on Mondays at 10pm on HBO and HBO Max.

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