Need a laugh? Me too. This new year has brought an avalanche of new content, but comedy has been missing. That changes this weekend. There’s a new one from a veteran writer of savagely funny material, the return of a veteran curmudgeon and more.
Avenue 5 (starts Sunday, 10 p.m. on HBO/Crave) is a nutty new creation from Armando Iannucci (Veep and the British series The Thick of It), and one must hasten to add that it’s not the new Veep. It doesn’t have the brutally scathing put-downs and elaborate insults that marked that political satire. Instead, it’s a more gentle, probing comedy, but still a satire. It’s a hard-to-categorize blend of sci-fi elements and mockery of contemporary mores.
What it does have is Hugh Laurie playing Ryan Clark, the dashing captain of the Avenue 5, a luxury cruise ship that moseys about the galaxy. (It’s set 40 years into the future.) The ship is like any cruise liner of today, offering escape, cool vistas to gaze upon, many restaurants, a spa and yoga lessons. It is owned by Herman Judd (Josh Gad), a ridiculously shallow billionaire who is accompanied at all times by his assistant, Iris (Suzy Nakamura). In the first episode, things go terribly, stupidly wrong, the ship is thrown off course and will take years instead of months to return to earth.
In this crisis, Captain Clark reveals that he knows nothing about running the ship and was hired because he looked trustworthy, like a real captain. Also, the guy who actually knows how to run the ship dies in an accident. The passengers get uneasy and angry and are not soothed by customer-service guy Matt (Zach Woods), who reveals that he loves chaos and is, in fact, a nihilist. Much attention is paid to a bickering couple on the brink of divorce (Kyle Bornheimer and Jessica St. Clair), who now face years trapped in space. There’s also a passenger, Karen (Rebecca Front), a woman who seizes every opportunity to complain and demand to speak to the manager.
Inside this world, the laughs are generally gentle, rather droll really, but sometimes sharply pointed. The only figures who are competent and have common sense are the women who are foils for the strutting or pontificating men, and most of them are women of colour. There’s a lot of breezy banter to carry the show along, but it isn’t hard to see that the male authority figures are being ridiculed.
It takes several episodes before Avenue 5 finds its feet and for it to become clear what’s actually happening to the ship and its passengers – and it’s worth waiting for. Besides, Hugh Laurie can carry any show as long as he’s given room to ooze sarcasm and vitriol.
Curb Your Enthusiasm (Sunday, 10:30 p.m. HBO/Crave) returns for its 10th season. HBO didn’t send critics advance copies for review, possibly because the previous season had a very lukewarm reaction from reviewers and the audience.
This time the pressure is on Larry David to pull the show back to being genuinely funny. The ninth season, made after a long hiatus, exposed its severe limitations and David’s fossilized style of cringe humour. His persona, the filthy-rich privileged older white guy without filters, was once breezily unconventional. In a more sensitized Trump era, it looked self-indulgent, and David’s character spent too much time demeaning and attacking the less privileged, usually in the hospitality or service industry. Some said the show had David mocking privileged egocentric men of his age and wealth, but it became impossible for some viewers to find him a lovable curmudgeon. Let’s see.
Also airing this weekend
The 26th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards (Sunday, Global, 8 p.m.) might have a few laughs, as it honours both film and television. There is no host, lest anyone try to outdo Ricky Gervais at the Golden Globes, presumably. The big deal is Leonardo DiCaprio presenting Robert De Niro with the Life Achievement Award,
Assholes: A Theory (Sunday, documentary Channel, 9 p.m.) is John Walker’s documentary, derived from the book of the same title by Harvard professor Aaron James. While light at times, it’s a pretty serious look at privileged, aggressively entitled jackasses, the mostly male, white persecutors of the rest of us. Much of it is about strategies for coping with such people. John Cleese gives some insight, and various experts talk abut the antics of people like Italian businessman and politician Silvio Berlusconi. It’s a sometimes funny, jaunty self-help guide for victims.