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Series / Avenue 5

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Fly safe. Fly true.
Captain Ryan Clark: No man left behind.
Billie: Dead or alive.
Clark: No! Alive or alive!

Avenue 5 is a Sci-Fi dark comedy series created by Armando Iannucci, on HBO and Sky.

Set 40 years in the future, it takes place aboard a luxury space cruise ship captained by heroic and reassuring Captain Ryan Clark (Hugh Laurie). The first episode sees an 8-week pleasure cruise to Saturn get knocked off course, resulting in the travel time being extended to three years.

A series of unfortunate events occur as the Captain and crew try to keep the passengers from going insane and Herman Judd, the idiot mega rich owner of the ship, happy, while they find a way to get the ship home early without killing each other first.

Other members of the crew include Matt the passenger liason; Iris, Judd's personal assistant; Billie, the main engineer working to keep the ship flying; bridge crew members Nadia, Mads & Sarah; and Rav who, back on Earth, is in charge of Mission Control and planning various unsuccessful rescue attempts.

The passengers include Spike Martin, an ex-Astronaut; Mia & Doug, a basically divorced couple who can't stand each other; Karen, who accosts the crew when she is unhappy; and her husband Frank, a happy go lucky doofus.

Avenue 5 is a serialized show despite being a comedy, so beware of spoilers below.

In February 2023, the series was canceled after two seasons.

Tropes that appear in this show:

  • Accidental Suicide: In "Intoxicating Clarity", Zarah falls off of the very high Avenue 5 set while practicing reenacting her sister's death, dying instantly upon hitting the floor.
  • Actor Allusion:
  • The Alcatraz: In "Is it a Good Dot?", the ship pulls up to what is assumed to be a military outpost, only to find it populated by eccentric but seemingly normal people. Then Rav discovers it's actually a prison for criminals so disturbed the government couldn't house them on Earth. They succeed in getting a pedophile imprisoned there to fix the eel tank, but unfortunately pick up a cannibal they forgot to offload.
  • Almighty Janitor: Several of the passengers become part of the inner circle trying to run Avenue 5, such as Karen. This ends up being deconstructed in several ways, such as need-to-know info like an oxygen leak or potential culling getting out and nearly causing outright riots, not to mention that even their knowledge isn't as fine tuned as the actual officials, like Spike's mistake on what the constant beeping is over. This deconstruction reaches horrible heights when Karen is put in charge of jettisoning luggage out the airlocks because of her coordinating abilities of the other passengers. Because she's an ordinary private citizen, she doesn't have the same mindset as experts of Billie, nor even the secondhand lessons like Ryan got as the voice piece. In this case, it's her lack of knowledge about how physics are meant to work that proves to be a problem; rather than have all the luggage jettisoned out the rear to push the ship forward, she has it jettisoned out the side because the airlocks are larger, which pushes them off course and dooms them to an eight year voyage in space.
  • And I Must Scream: With the horrifying situation of the trip having been extended 8 years all Ryan can do is numbly state that "You might as well keep screaming", because with their only option for escape now gone, it's all they can do.
  • Artistic License – Physics:
    • Assuming Avenue 5 really were massive enough to have its own gravitational field, objects wouldn't just orbit it naturally. The coffins would have to be launched in such a way as to achieve stable orbits, instead of simply impacting the ship when gravity caught them.
    • Seven passengers end up convinced they are on a prank show, so they eject themselves out into space. They die horrifically, freezing to death instantly. Freezing would be the least of your problems in space, because losing heat in space is quite difficult. The low pressure of the vacuum around you would actually cause the blood in exposed capillaries in your eyes and mouth to boil, first, and if you had any air in your lungs, they would burst.
    • Assuming the ship could make the trip from earth to Saturn in two weeks, even at the planets' closes points, at their speed, a jettisoning of the mass of 500 passengers towards the back of the ship would not have significantly increased speed to change a trajectory from 3.5 years to 6 months.
  • Artistic Licence – Astronomy: The planetary positions and distances in the solar system seem to change depending on plot needs. A trip between Saturn and earth even at their closest points (distance: 1.4 billion km) lasting only a month in total would mean the spaceship is traveling at a speed of at least 5.5 million km/h. Travel back in the direction of earth than begins to waver between half a year to eight years. But at that speed, they would be circling around the solar system so many times over, that a rescue mission from earth could easily be launched in a much shorter timespan, certainly not 8 years. Overlaps with many technical artistic licenses, such as Writers Cannot Do Math and Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale.
  • Asshole Victim: Of all the people who end up getting themselves killed in the airlock due to deluding themselves into thinking they're on a reality show, the only one likely to get any sympathy from the audience is Sarah, who seems to have merely gotten caught up in the moment. The others are a bunch of rude twenty-somethings who earlier insulted Captain Ryan for no reason other than being old, the couple who left their comatose son on Earth because they didn't want to cancel their trip, and Harrison Ames, a rich entitled Jerkass who hates having to share space with people poorer than him and who previously spent his every scene insulting Judd. (This last may have been one of his good points.)
    • Matt unwillingly gets shot by a crossbow in a gambit to get him elected as leader of the ship, and it proves to be ultimately pointless. However, considering he's a Know-Nothing Know-It-All about human psychology and a passive-aggressive individual happy to throw people's flaws in their faces, he's unlikely to get sympathy from the audience.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: In "That's Why They Call It A Missile", Matt builds himself a funeral pyre, intending to immolate himself before the missile can hit. However, the situation resolves itself before he can follow through on this.
  • Brutal Honesty: Billie refuses to let Matt off the hook when he inadvertently gets several passengers killed.
    Matt: Is this my fault?
    Billie: I mean, it's not not your fault.
  • Cold Equation:
    • In "Was it Your Ears?", when asked about the possibility of rescuing Avenue 5, the Other President says the crew would have to first eliminate "500 non-essential passengers." Perhaps a literal example, given that the Other President is an AI.
    • In "What an Unseasonal Delight", to avoid the risk of the entire crew being cooked by a close skim of the sun, 300 passengers are shoved into the insulated laundry chute. Fortunately, the skim isn't so close as to fry everyone else, so it's just awkward after the fact.
    • And yet again in "I Love Judging People" when they have to split the ship and crew in half. Ryan lampshades that "time to suspend our humanity" is rapidly becoming their catchphrase.
  • Conflict Ball: Ryan insists Judd can’t be told the entire bridge crew are also just actors, for no apparent reason.
  • Critical Annoyance: An alarm that is just a high pitched beep at regular intervals starts going off. No one really knows what it's supposed to mean and it starts annoying everyone and causing a serious lack of sleep. Spike believes it to be an oxygen alarm and that the ship is leaking oxygen. After Judd scares everyone with oppressive measures to conserve oxygen, Billie figures out that the alarm means that the ship's systems need to be re-calibrated to account for an extra passenger, a baby that was born at the beginning of the episode.
  • Democracy Is Bad: In "Let's Play with Matches", the passengers depose Ryan and attempt to build their own government. This devolves into chaos, so Iris suggests electing a dictator. This results in the crew nearly electing Nathan the cannibal before Isaac talks everyone into electing Ryan, putting them right back at square one. Oh, and the Office of the Other President launches a missile at Avenue 5 to keep them quiet, partially because the mess of democracy makes them appear to be beyond reason.
  • Didn't Think This Through:
    • Rav hops on the supply shuttle to drag Judd back to Earth and get some distance from the bad press on Earth. However, it's only once they're on the way that she realizes that there's only one passenger seat on the shuttle, meaning that she'll be stuck on Avenue 5.
    • The idea to split the ship fails to consider that each half contains things the other needs to survive, namely food and engines.
  • Earth That Used to Be Better: Earth in this future embodies pretty much the worst aspects of society. The US is run by a heartless AI, Avenue 5 has barely enough competence to fill a bucket, and if all that weren't bad enough, Earth is on the verge of total societal collapse thanks to dwindling lithium supplies.
  • Election Day Episode: In "Let's Play with Matches", the passengers hold a vote to elect a dictator to replace Captain Ryan after losing confidence in him. However, after most of the other candidates prove to be just as incompetent, a drunk Issac convinces everyone to reinstate Ryan (over Ryan's own protests).
  • The Elites Jump Ship: In "What an Unseasonal Delight", the ship's leadership inner circle all awkwardly but without hesitation lump themselves in with the 300 passengers being guaranteed survival during the near-pass of the sun by being locked in the laundry chute, despite having just said they were prioritizing children and the elderly.
    Ryan: (morosely) I always thought there'd be a sound from hitting rock bottom.
  • Epic Fail: Cyrus gets everyone excited about his calculations that show they can get home in six months rather than NASA's estimate of three years. Then he realizes he forgot to account for the weight of the passengers, and he ends up showing NASA was actually lowballing it by six months.
  • Failsafe Failure: The actual piloting controls for the ship are biometrically locked, as they're only meant to be used while docking. Captain Ryan has access, as they had to keep up the masquerade, and Joe was added after the fact. Unfortunately, with Joe dead, the only man capable of piloting the ship is completely unqualified and has an unrealistic timeframe to learn how.
  • False Flag Operation: In "Intoxicating Clarity", Mads stages several attempts on Matt's life in order to earn him sympathy from the crew and make Ryan look like a dictator trying to assassinate a rival. Matt, having had no knowledge of this beforehand, is understandably horrified and calls him insane for it.
  • Flock of Wolves: When Ryan is astounded to find the entire bridge crew are all actors and models, Billie dryly asks if it never once occurred to him that maybe he wasn't the only person chosen more for looks than actual expertise.
  • From Bad to Worse: The whole show revolves around this. A never-ending barrage of bad things happening, most of them causing yet another passenger riot.
  • The "Fun" in "Funeral": In the second episode, the crew and passengers have a funeral for Joe by placing him in a coffin and ejecting it into space... but the coffin's weight means it doesn't get enough momentum and is stuck in orbit around the ship, leaving everyone to watch as it constantly circles them. Later, they have another funeral for some passengers who died from wounds sustained in the original accident, and try to solve the original problem using lightweight coffins and bursts of compressed air to push them past the ship's gravity well. But the gravity gets reset just as they're launched, robbing them of that momentum and leaving them also orbiting the ship.
  • Hurl It into the Sun: In the season 2 premiere, a kid playing with the actual controls below deck accidentally alters the ship's course, sending it directly towards the sun. In the following episode, it's revealed to be more of a close skim, so the ship and passengers survive, albeit after the equivalent of a short, very uncomfortable sauna.
  • Idiot Ball: When an alarm goes off, former astronaut Spike informs Ryan that the reason is an oxygen leak. This rumor spreads like a wildfire, as do rumors that they are going to have to eject 500 non-essential passengers. It is only later, when the entire ship is panicking and Rav is accused of being a murderer for suggesting ejecting 500 people, that Billie realizes that it was not an oxygen alarm, but rather a notification regarding the newborn space-baby; Spike comments that this was the other possible reason but he'd assumed they had already checked for that.
  • Ignorant of Their Own Ignorance:
    • Judd is repeatedly shown to be incapable of understanding the basic physics of space travel or how the current situation will prevent the ship from returning to Earth after the accident.
    • It also turns out Judd is unaware the bridge crew are all actors, as he just wanted a "hot crew" and assumed that meant getting hot qualified people rather than actors while the real engineers are kept below.
      Billie: Does Judd strike you as a details guy?
  • Impostor-Exposing Test: When Billie reveals the entire bridge crew is actors, Clark naturally refuses to believe it. Billie starts talking on how each responds with scripted lines like "all systems nominal." She asks one how the "flitter emitter" is doing and when they respond "one hundred percent nominal," Billie reveals she made it up. She then asks another how to get to Earth and they respond by "head to the um, Event Horizon." That's enough for Clark to believe it.
  • Internal Reveal: In "How It Ends: As a Starter and a Main", Ryan ends up blurting out every secret the senior staff was keeping over the internal PA, not realizing that Rav didn't understand that red means "record" while green is the idle state and thus left the PA on after believing she had made an announcement to the crew. Cue riot.
  • In Vino Veritas: Captain Ryan unintentionally reveals the truth about his job to Karen when he gets drunk while appointing her Passenger Liaison Officer.
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Several of the main cast, primarily Judd, who did at one point profess to knowing everything, but extends to Spike Martin, a mediocre former astronaut whose knowledge of space travel is either rudimentary at best or harmful at worst, and Jaden, a woman whose only qualifications is that she "works in VFX" and who is able to fatally convince multiple passengers that the ship is a film set.
  • Lockdown: A ship-wide lockdown is activated in "How It Ends: As a Starter and a Main" so Ryan and Billie can search for the cannibal they picked up in the previous episode. Ryan has a key fob that can open the doors, allowing them to move freely until they can figure out which room the cannibal is in.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: The passengers spend the Time Skip between Seasons 1 and 2 kept in the dark about the fact that the time back to Earth has been extended eight years. Karen, meanwhile, is misled by Frank into believing that the passengers know the truth and blame her for it, in order to keep her holed up in their cabin "for her own good" and therefore allow Frank to live his life without her overbearing.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: By the start of Season 2, Mia is pregnant, and Doug is sure it's his. However, the time of conception falls right into the period where she got back together with him after ending her affair with Mads, so she's not sure who the father is.
  • The Man Behind the Man:
    • Joe the mechanic was the real captain of the ship — Captain Ryan was just hired to provide a friendly and affable face for the passengers to relate to.
    • Captain Ryan in turn discovers that his entire bridge crew are just a bunch of actors hired because they look pretty. The real engineering team maintaining the ship are hidden underneath the fake bridge out of sight in a cramped, dingy basement.
    • Rav goes to the president to get funding for a rescue mission, and it's approved. She is then told she needs to also get approval from the "Other President" who only gets bothered with the really important stuff.
  • Manchild: A lot of the cast, but Judd is definitely the biggest amongst them. To provide an example, the second episode has a four-minute scene in which Billie tries (with increasing exasperation) to explain to Judd that gravitational physics don't work the way he thinks they do and his idea to slingshot the Mile-Long Ship that is the Avenue 5 around Joe's comparatively teeny-tiny coffin is not going to work.
  • Meaningless Meaningful Words: Invoked by Matt during his speech to the mob trying to open the airlock, as he was trying to calm them down with a nuanced speech, but it ends up being too confusing and only escalates the situation.
    Billie: Nuanced? Well, I think you just 'nuanced' them to death!
  • Meta Twist: The fact that Captain Ryan's true purpose is revealed when he lapses into his English accent is a meta-reference to Hugh Laurie's American accent work as Doctor House.
  • Mile-Long Ship: Avenue 5 is a mile long, with the forward half being crew facilities and the back half focusing on logistics and critical systems. Judd reveals in "I Love Judging People" that the ship can split in half, a feature he added so he could claim it as two, half-mile long ships for a tax write-off.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Matt is horrified when one of his rambling pseudo-philosophical speeches encourages the passengers' belief that they're on a reality show and leads to several of them ejecting themselves out of the airlock.
    • Karen, when she realizes her idiotic decision to jettison the cargo out the port rather than the rear has extended the ship's trip to eight years. Granted, it's more on her own situation but at least she feels guilt over screwing over everyone else.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero:
    • In the Season 1 finale, Karen has all the excess weight jettisoned out of the port airlocks rather than the rear because there was more room there. However, this means that rather than propelling the ship forward to shorten the voyage to six months, it knocked them off course and actually extended the trip to eight years.
    • In order to spare some of the crew from dying to a missile launch, a crew ranking is devised to split the crew in half and send the winners on the forward half of the ship, reasoning that the missile will logically target the engines to do the most damage. Judd winds up on the losing side and, being in on the reasons for it, blurts out the truth at the last minute and herds a bunch of people to the other side. Billie then explains that, due to Judd shifting a fair amount of warm bodies forward, the missile is likely to hit the crew section now, ironically sparing most of the main cast who either didn't win or chose to stay.
    • Following that, Rav comes up with the idea to kill the power to the forward half so the missile will change targets. Plus side? It does work. Downside? The missile hits the lithium asteroid that might have saved humanity, scattering it into irrecoverable chunks the size of baseballs.
  • Noodle Incident: Multiple passing references are done to other historical events that happened on the road to the series' future setting, usually in the context of disasters like Google declaring bankruptcy.
  • One Nation Under Copyright: The Office of the Other President is a panel of several legacy CEOs of major corporations and an AI that make the "big" decisions, while the regular Congress and President deal with the everyday stuff.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted in the second episode where the crew gives a funeral to three passengers. Two of them being named "Mary" makes the eulogy a little awkward.
  • Only Sane Employee: Billie, Iris and Rev all share this spot in the cast.
    • Rav slowly becomes an aversion as she starts to crack under the pressure of trying to arrange an expensive and world famous rescue effort. In episode 7 she snaps completely, abandoning Mission Control by deciding to jump into a supply shuttle to get Judd back to Earth so someone can yell at him for a change, not realizing she's going to be stuck on Avenue 5 because Judd will taking up the spare seat on the return journey along with the pilot of the shuttle.
    • This also surprisingly and refreshingly applies to Captain Ryan. Even though he's not at all qualified to be captain of the Avenue 5, he's rescued by the fact that he knows full well he's not qualified, and wisely relies on the advice of Billie and other experts. And all things considered, he's excellent at the job he was actually hired to do: be the figurehead, and even begins to lean into his nominal role as Captain, including going on a spacewalk and starting to train to actually dock the ship.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping:
    • Ostensibly American Billie is played by Lenora Crichlow, who is from London. You can tell something's off in some scenes.
    • Also a major in-universe plot line: Captain Ryan is British, pretending to be American because the passengers find that more reassuring. The slippage starts in episode 1.
  • Our Presidents Are Different: In addition to the elected President, there's also "the Other President", an Alexa-like AI which handles the larger tasks and is advised by a panel of CEOs.
  • Plot Twist: The reveal of Captain Ryan's actual job reveals the true premise of the show.
  • Powder Keg Crowd: The whole crew; in the third episode, Captain Ryan has to prevent them from tossing Frank Kelly out the airlock because they randomly accuse him of being responsible for the whole mess (he flushed his room's toilet at about the same time the gravity malfunctioned), and in the eighth episode many of them develop "Truman Show Syndrome" all of a sudden and get themselves killed trying to "escape" the "film set".
  • Red Alert: The alarm of the Avenue 5 was probably designed to be pleasant instead of scary for the sake of the passengers, but it says a lot about the way things are that it's both a Leitmotif and the closing credits theme.
  • Reduced to Ratburgers: Flavored eel meat is the primary staple aboard the ship, as it's the most efficient source of sustainable protein.
  • Running Gag:
    • The delay in any messages between the ship and Earth.
    • The fact that the events that are happening on the Avenue 5 are constantly being livestreamed means that every time Rav Mulclair gets an app warning she always gets a glimpse of weird crap that barely makes sense even in context.
  • Secret Police: Iris proposes establishing one of these in "Intoxicating Clarity" in order to root out anyone opposed to Ryan's recent election to ship dictator. Ryan himself shoots down the idea, only to approve it in order to clamp down on order and preempt another panic-induced riot when the ship learns about the missile launched at them by The Office of the Other President.
  • Show Within a Show: By Season 2, people on Earth have created a streaming series dramatizing events on the ship.
  • Space Is Cold: Several passengers (and Sarah) think they are on a prank show, and end up ejecting themselves out into space. They freeze instantaneously.
  • Starship Luxurious:
    • The Avenue 5 is the most luxurious and advanced liner around and it shows. It makes a sharp contrast to the large number of jerks and idiots in the cast and how much of the ship is dedicated to blow Judd's horn.
    • Avenue 5 begins to run out of desperately needed supplies, so Earth launches a small supply shuttle in order to restock. The most important cargo? Food flavourings. Not actual food, which is plentiful on the ship, but flavour for it. Unfortunately, when Rav hutches a last-minute ride on the shuttle, she throws out the flavourings to make room for herself.
  • Suddenly Significant City: At some point, the US capital was moved to Buffalo, NY.
  • Surrounded by Idiots: This applies to Billie, Iris and Ryan. Billie is the only person remotely qualified in the main cast and frequently has to deal with the idiocy of both the passengers and her peers, Iris is a Beleaguered Assistant stuck dealing with her Manchild boss and is equally aware of the lack of competence of those around her, whilst Ryan is often exasperated by peoples' inability to understand that he's not the well-versed interstellar captain they think he is, which ends up leading to further complications, not to mention that as the figurehead, he's the one who has to deal the most with idiotic and unbearable passengers.
  • Too Dumb to Live: In episode 8, dozens of passengers become convinced that they are on a prank show or Lotus-Eater Machine, and after some very poor attempts by Ryan and Matt to talk them down, a succession of idiots walk into the airlock and are immediately killed. One woman who "works in visual effects" declares it a special effect, and several more follow. It happens multiple times. They all die. Immediately being frozen with their eyeballs popping. They finally get the hint when Sarah's hand snaps off on the way out.
  • T-Word Euphemism: Karen uses these extensively.
  • Wham Line:
    • In episode 1, Ryan suddenly lapses into a British accent and then admits "I am not the captain." Followed by the revelation Joe was the real captain.
    • In episode 3, Ryan is ranting on how no one on the bridge crew seems to know what they're doing.
      Cyrus: didn't tell him about the crew?
  • What the Hell, Hero?: In the Season 2 premiere, everyone is disgusted with Frank gaslighting Karen into staying locked up in their cabin so he can do whatever he wants without her.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: Being the story of a luxurious spacecraft knocked off course and doomed by various calamities to drift further and further away from an Earth that is increasingly facing utter destruction, it's basically Aniara only played for Black Comedy rather than full crushingly bleak existential despair.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Ejecting yourself out the airlock is perhaps reasonable for a cast member on a space-themed reality show who wants out. It's less reasonable when the spaceship is real and the airlock leads to space.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: Subverted in "That's Why They Call It A Missile". Spike thinks he's dying from a calcified heart valve, and is thus willing to sacrifice himself to ram the missile with the escape pod to blow it up and save the ship(s). However, the pod's own medical scans reveal that the previous diagnosis was inaccurate, and there's nothing wrong with him that some aspirin can't fix; he promptly changes his mind and aborts the mission.