January 26, 2020

HBO “Avenue 5” review: “Spaceballs” without the comedy

hbo-avenue-5-review
Credit: HBO

Avenue 5 combines Armando Iannucci (Veep), HBO, and Hugh Laurie (House) into a science fiction series this stream-addict couldn’t wait to review. Unfortunately, Avenue 5 takes a big wrong turn into Kill-ville.

Two things to know about this review:

  1. We aim to be 100% spoiler-free.
  2. This review is based on the first episode only.

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Iannucci is lost in space

Armando Iannucci, creator of the highly regarded and truly hilarious Veep, has punched himself in the nuts with Avenue 5. The writing is bad, the setup is uninteresting, and the acting is uninspired. All-in-all, Avenue 5 would be better crash landing in Episode 2 and putting everyone out of their misery.

As a fan of many of this show’s ingredients — HBO, Hugh Laurie, Iannucci himself, et al — the only logical conclusion this reviewer can give is that he’s trying to derail his credibility, This is the guy who co-wrote and directed The Death of Stalin, a funny, smart, and witty movie. Avenue 5 is none of those things.

The only other scenario is that Iannucci’s talent got lost in space, i.e. he can’t do science fiction.

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Feeling sorry for Hugh Laurie

It would be easy to pass the buck onto the cast, but it’s unfair and inaccurate. The simple way to spot who is to blame if a show stinks is if all the cast looks lost. Then, the problem isn’t the acting, but the direction and production.

In Avenue 5, every person on the screen looks uninspired, almost confused, and even a little embarrassed. It’s reminiscent of the Star Wars prequel movies, where superstars looked like wooden marionettes.

I felt sorry for Christopher Lee in the Star Wars prequel movies, and throughout Episode 1 of Avenue 5, I couldn’t stop feeling sorry for Hugh Laurie. A fantastic actor who knows comedy timing like the back of his hand: stuck in this, the most implausibly unfunny show imaginable.

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It’s just not funny

Yoga in space, a gravity fluctuation, a communication delay, and some customer service wranglings as a cruise around Saturn turns into a 3-year prison sentence. That is the setup, and despite watching the episode twice, I cannot find one funny sequence.

At this point, despite writing this review for HBO’s Avenue 5, I don’t know what kind of comedy this is meant to be. It’s not slapstick, despite one scene’s giant bouncing yoga balls. It’s not satirical, despite another scene being about fake marketing. The best way to describe Avenue 5 is that it’s Spaceballs, without the funny parts.

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4K/HDR/Dolby Atmos

HBO Now and Go do not support 4K, HDR, Dolby Vision, or Dolby Atmos. It is expected than HBO Max will support these features and that Avenue 5 will be available in 4K come May 2020 when the new streaming service releases.

Avenue 5 verdict: Kill


  • Streaming on HBO Now and Go
  • Created by Armando Iannucci
  • Starring Hugh Laurie, Josh Gad, and Zach Woods

This should have been a fantastic show, but it’s a disaster — even worse than Netflix’s Medical Police. At least in the Netflix comedy series, there were some funny moments, albeit all of them used in the show’s trailer.

The biggest negative is that some of the actors like Josh Gad (Little Monsters) and Zach Woods (Silicon Valley) may end up having their careers irreversibly stained by this show. It really is that bad.

The biggest question is, how and why did HBO greenlight the series after this pilot episode? Simply put, it’s not up to HBO’s typical ridiculously high standard.

If you want a strong space comedy, check out Red Dwarf — or, if you’re feeling brave, you can check out the Avenue 5 official trailer below.

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