TV: Avenue 5, Sky One

TV: Avenue 5, Sky One

It's always exciting to see a new TV series from Armando Iannucci. After his film successes – most recently with The Personal History Of David Copperfield – I was worried that we might be losing this innovative comedy person to the big screen. But here he is back with a bang with Avenue 5, a comedy set in space and starring Hugh Laurie.

And boy, it is an odd one, and at the same time also a surprisingly conventional one. It doesn't quite have the same satirical tone as his recent TV work. It's more Pigs In Space (the old Muppets sketch) than Veep in Space (though the first episode teleplay is credited to Iannucci and regular collaborators Simon Blackwell and Tony Roche).

While it isn't exactly belly laugh humour, the jokes are very foregrounded and not as subtle, or as wordy, as we have come to expect from Iannucci. In fact at times Laurie's involvement made me think of this as an unofficial Blackadder 5: The Intergalactic Years.

Hugh Laurie plays suave yet rugged, dashing matinee idol grey-quiffed good looking Captain Ryan Clark, who is in charge of what is essentially a glamorous intergalactic cruise ship taking tourists into orbit. It's a vision of the future that maybe Richard Branson has had. In fact boss of the company, Herman Judd, has long blond hair slightly redolent of a young Branson. Judd is played by Josh Gad, although at a glance at his hyperactive performance you might think it's Jack Black.

The space ship has all the mod cons of a first class ocean cruiser, from yoga classes to all-you-can-scoff buffets. The problems start, however, when a glitch knocks it way off course. What should be a trip of a lifetime lasting a few weeks is now set to be a three year journey to get back safely to planet earth.

This is clearly not going to please the passengers. The cast, apart from Hugh Laurie, is mostly American but Britcom regular Rebecca Front pitches up as Karen Kelly, an Olympic standard complainer who finally has something to complain about. Kyle Bornheimer and Jessica St. Clair play comedic bickering couple Doug and Mia. Nigeria-born British actor Nikki Amuka-Bird also appears as Rav Mulcair, a voice of sanity with a silly futuristic hairdo trying to sort the mess out from Judd's mission control.

While the interplanetary comedy is not overtly as sophisticated as Veep or The Thick of It there are plenty of neat lines. "I am as ignorant as you," says Matt Spencer (Zach Woods) the head of passenger services when he tries to spread calm. It is not averse, however, to falling back on sending up the TV sci-fi genre: "Set your phasers to fun" says Captain Clark as if he is a character actor playing the part of a space admiral...It's comedy Hugh, but not quite as fans of Iannucci know it.

Sky One, Wednesdays from January 22 at 9pm and on NOW TV.


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