'Avenue 5' is "Lord of the Flies in space." Or maybe it's "Fyre Fest."
HBO's new show uses a far-out setting to satire our increasingly-online lives.
"There's always a story about some cruise ship that degenerated into chaos," Zach Woods tells Inverse, describing HBO's newest comedy series, Avenue 5.
The new science-fiction comedy from Veep creator Armando Iannucci boasts a strong ensemble including Hugh Laurie's heroic Captain Ryan, Josh Gad's billionaire idiot entrepreneur Herman Judd, Zach Woods's nihilistic passenger concierge, Lenora Crichlow's expert engineer Billie McEvoy, Rebecca Front's brash know-it-all passenger Karen Kelly, and Ethan Phillips's has-been D-list astronaut Spike Martin.
With this oddball group, the comedy possibilities are already endless. But what happens when you throw them onto a cruise ship light-years from earth with 5,000 passengers on board and then extend the trip from a couple of months to three years? As Zach Woods so eloquently puts it: Chaos.
"It is very Lord of the Flies, but in space." — Josh Gad
For Frozen actor Josh Gad, Avenue 5 is "a show about the frog in boiling water," the idea that if society devolves slowly enough, we won’t notice until it’s too late.
"It's the breakdown of society in a bubble," he says. "It is very Lord of the Flies, but in space. I love that the show really explores what happens when a class system is no longer significant. When there is no more social hierarchy. When the value of currency is no longer relevant."
The throughline of HBO's new comedy is the crumbling of societal structures and humanity's response amid the calamity.
"What happens once it's an even playing field?" Gad says, noting how unqualified his character is to run a massive space cruise. Judd may have been the one who jotted down "space cruise" on a post-it in the first place, but how far can he coast on the fraudulent notion of his brilliance?
For all intents and purposes, Avenue 5 is a comedy. But some basic science fiction parameters open up new opportunities for satire. And let's be clear here, even though it takes place 40 years in the future and in space, Iannuci’s new show is pure social satire.
"I was looking at just group dynamics at the moment in the last three or four years," Iannucci tells *Inverse*. "Social media has become very aggressive and loud with people wanting to get in their own groups and avoid other groups. And people have been voting in crazier and crazier ways. But also, there's this sense of an impending apocalypse that we're all aware of, but nobody quite wants to do anything about it. We just want to hope it goes away."
There's a numbness that’s encompassed a large portion of society, what with the constant inundation of the 24-hour news cycle, the permeation of cancel culture, the ongoing attack on facts, and the rise “fake news” both as a real issue in the age of social media and a weaponized used deny the truth. We’ve been through a decade of dramatic societal upheaval, and the comedy world has changed as a result. Iannucci famously left Veep after Season 4 (David Mandel of Curb Your Enthusiasm took over). Years later he doubled down on the decision, saying, “I don’t know how I’d respond to America now.”
That’s not lost on Josh Gad, and it’s one of the reasons he thinks Avenue 5 is the perfect show for this moment.
"It is increasingly harder to satirize a world that doesn't necessarily lend itself to satire because the current events are so batshit crazy," Gad says. "By separating it, not only through the distance of geography but the distance of time, it gives you an opportunity to explore and exploit current events without actually having to do it in real-time."
"I called it the Fyre Festival in space." — Armando Iannucci
The satirical elements explored throughout Avenue 5 come at you in layers. On the surface, the show documents a wacky, dysfunctional cruise through space. But that facade quickly peels away to expose some grim themes about humanity's need for structure as this tiny society is literally flipped upside down.
"I called it the Fyre Festival in space," Iannucci says. "It's like this, 'I haven't thought it through' thing. It's fine if it lasts three weeks, but if it doesn't, for some reason, then what happens? We don't really have a Plan B. So it's that."
Avenue 5 premieres Sunday, January 19 at 10 p.m. on HBO.