Avenue 5 creator Armando Iannucci on Season 2, a Veep crossover, and Star Wars
“In Avenue 5 there aren't any aliens,” Iannucci tells Inverse. “I just like the idea of watching a group rewrite the rules of society.
It took less than two minutes for Armando Iannucci to blow my mind.
Despite watching 17 episodes of Avenue 5, the sci-fi social satire from the man behind Veep and The Death of Stalin, I hadn’t realized what the title actually meant until I sat down with its creator for coffee on a rainy Monday in New York.
Of course, Avenue 5 is the name of the spacefaring cruise ship that veers off course, trapping its 6000 passengers onboard for years instead of months. But it’s also a subtle reference to the controversial politician who inspired Iannucci’s current HBO series: Donald Trump.
“It was partly called Avenue 5 because of Trump's quote about, I can shoot a guy in the face on Fifth Avenue and nothing would happen,” Iannucci tells me. As my eyes widen at the realization, he adds, “I really don't expect anyone to pick that up.”
Avenue 5 premiered in 2020 at the height of a global pandemic, inadvertently capturing the chaos of that moment and playing it back to us with a sci-fi twist. In one scene, passengers on the ship convince themselves it's all a simulation and they’re still on Earth, rushing through an airlock to their immediate death.
Iannucci compares that Season 1 moment to Covid deniers who convinced themselves the virus was a hoax, “ripping their masks off and demanding to go into shops.” He adds, “There was a strange kind of resonance going on there that you can't quite plan.”
With the gift of hindsight, the showrunner has crafted Avenue 5 Season 2 (airing now on HBO), which grapples directly with humanity’s response to a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic in hilariously meta ways, including a show within a show that dramatizes the events onboard (sometimes before they even happen).
Speaking to Inverse, Iannucci discusses the new season, whether Avenue 5 will ever crossover with Veep, and his Andor-inspired pitch for a Star Wars original series.
You’re known for political satire. What drew you to science fiction in the first place?
I've always been a huge sci-fi fan, and not just HG Wells and Asimov and so on. The reboot of Battlestar Galactica is one of my favorite shows.
But anyone who writes sci-fi will tell you: It's not about the future. It's not about other worlds. It's about here and now. It's just taking something about our behavior and turning it up a bit to see what happens. That's what appealed to me.
In Avenue 5 there aren't any aliens. There's no teleportation. I just like the idea of watching a group rewrite the rules of society.
Season 1 tackled topics like social media and Trump. What ideas are you focused on in Season 2?
We definitely want to look at people being immersed in media. When things are bad today, what do we do? We make content.
That's the idea of the show within the show. People seem to buy into the fictionalized versions of things that are happening in real life. That's almost more real to us. One of the effects of lockdown was we got through it by just immersing ourselves in streaming content as a way of kind of blocking out reality. So that was worth exploring.
I also wanted to make it a bit more claustrophobic. There are subtle things like corridors are a bit narrower and characters are broken up into more intimate groupings.
The show within a show concept is hilarious. Where did that come from?
It was these after-show breakdowns. I was on YouTube and I saw two presenters in a studio with microphones and guests analyzing each show, each episode. And sometimes their episode was longer than the actual episodes. And I thought: Who's watching this? Why is this happening? How does this happen for every show? How much money is spent on it?
It just really puzzled me as to the kind of resources that went into something like that, and that gave us the idea of doing a kind of show about the show. At one point, we even discussed whether we should see the after-show discussion of the show within the show. Maybe we'll get there.
I've just started watching Andor. It’s really interesting. It's very different. Even the music is different than usual Star Wars music. I like that idea of just starting fresh and not being obsessed with the Death Star.
Is there an Armando Iannucci comedy about politics in the Empire?
You know, I just finished doing a Spider-Man comic. I've always been a huge Marvel comics fan. And so they asked me for the 60th anniversary of Spider-Man to do a self-contained story. It's all about conspiracy theories. That was great fun.
So yeah, I think whatever it is, as long as it's an interesting new development rather than more of the same is how I see it. Andor is interesting in that it's decided to just park everything else.
Well, hopefully, someone at Lucasfilm will read this. Before I let you go, I have to ask about Veep. Will we ever get a Veep sequel?
Well, nobody dies, apart from when we flash forward. We're still all in touch and so on. I haven't thought about it, but I never really kill people off…
Could Veep cross over into Avenue 5? Is that a shared universe?
I don't know. That's one to think about. Maybe there’s a Selena Meyer presidential library somewhere out there in Avenue 5.
Avenue 5 Season 2 airs Mondays on HBO and HBO Max