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HBO's New Comedy Avenue 5 Is Not Your Typical Sci-Fi Series

Armando Iannucci, who also created Veep, explains the origins of his new comedy

Kaitlin Thomas

Avenue 5, HBO's new sci-fi workplace comedy set on a spaceship, hails from the brilliant mind of Armando Iannucci, who also created the network's Emmy-winning comedy Veep and before that the beloved British comedy The Thick of It. Ahead of Sunday's series premiere, Iannucci joined cast members Hugh Laurie, Josh Gad, Zach Woods, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Rebecca Front, Lenora Crichlow, Suzy Nakamura, and Ethan Phillips at the Television Critics Association winter press tour to preview the show, which follows the passengers and crew of the titular space cruise ship after it has been knocked off course.

Although Avenue 5 isn't inherently about politics or the current political climate, it does have its origins in the current state of the world. "I knew after doing Veep ... I didn't want to do another political show, but actually I did want to touch on certain, not even themes but sort of emotions that are around us now, an air of uncertainty and unpredictability and anger and anxiety and sense of foreboding doom about the climate and then no one's really doing anything about it," Iannucci explained. "I just wanted to tap into that, but also I love sci-fi and so ... I thought wouldn't it be good to put this in a sort of pressure cooker in space?"


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Avenue 5 Review: Not as Good as Veep, but Gross Incompetence Is Still Funny in Space

When coming up with the overall look and feel of the show, which mostly takes place on the ship but spends a little bit of time on Earth at Mission Control, Iannucci stressed that because the show isn't set that far in our own future, he didn't want it to look too technologically advanced or like something out of a much harder sci-fi series.

"It is set only about 30 or 40 years in the future. I wanted to deliberately not be futuristic. If you think about what life was like 40 years ago, in 1980, it was not radically different. I mean, all the buildings are the same, the cars are roughly the same. The only innovation has been the wi-fi and the fact we stare at our phone. So I didn't want to go mega-futuristic with lots of gadgets and robots," he said. "I wanted to concentrate on the human element underneath it all, so I think the only major advance has been that we can fly farther in space, and hopefully get back. I've tried to keep it as, even though we have an enormous set, as intimate as possible, because the comedy is there in the small private moments."

Hugh Laurie, Josh Gad, and Suzy Nakamura, Avenue 5

Alex Bailey/HBO

Speaking of those smaller, more personal moments, Iannucci also noted that there is a turning point halfway through the season in which the series becomes about more than just the comedic chaos of men and women being stranded in space.

"Something happens that you realize this ship is sort of a metaphor ... [the show] can go in any direction in terms of the themes we want to look at," he said. "We reached that point in [Episode 6] where it's about more than just about the voyage and people stranded in space. You then get into a situation where people have to question their whole existence. You know, if you're asking for people who have skills to come forward, you'll get lots of people asking themselves, 'Well, I work in a bank. Is that a skill that is of any use to these people?' ... It gives people the chance to really redefine themselves and try out a new personality."

Avenue 5 premieres Sunday, Jan. 19 at 10/9c on HBO.

(Disclosure: TV Guide is owned by CBS Interactive, a division of ViacomCBS.)