Armando Iannucci’s HBO comedy ‘Avenue 5’ explores imposter syndrome in space

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Hugh Laurie, Josh Gad, and Suzy Nakamura in “Avenue 5.” Photo credit: Alex Bailey/HBO

HBO’s “Avenue 5” is a comedy set 40 years in the future, on a luxurious spaceship on the way back to Earth from Saturn. Something goes wrong, and 6500 passengers are trapped up there for three years, so they have to find ways to get along. 

“They start asking questions like who's in charge? Should they stay in charge? What do we do? Do we maintain our first class and second class and economy class system? If we have any children, how do we bring them up? Who imposes law and order? … How can we survive?” says creator Armando Iannucci, who also created HBO’s “Veep.” 

He says he likes to describe the show as “a crushing existential nightmare but with a light touch.” 

Hugh Laurie plays the ship’s captain, Ryan Clark. Several episodes in (spoiler!), it’s revealed that he’s neither an American nor a captain. 

“He's just a hired performer really, who is there to provide the captain role as a sort of reassurance to everyone on what is otherwise an automated ship. And so suddenly [he] has to … perform the role of captain for real. Really just add to the nightmare,” says Iannucci.

He suggests audiences have experienced something like this -- wondering if what we’re doing is good enough. 

“We all have that kind of imposter syndrome of thinking, ‘Will I be found out for not being quite as good as everyone else, or am I up to it? Am I doing okay? Who am I anyway? Am I defined by my job? Or do I have other interests outside my job that actually define me a lot?’ That sort of paranoia, really,” he says. “And then also exploring the group think of will people believe in someone even if they know that they might be fake?”


Hugh Laurie in “Avenue 5.” Photo credit: Alex Bailey/HBO

--Written by Amy Ta, produced by Alex Tryggvadottir