HBO’s new sci-fi comedy, Avenue 5, is like a mashup between Wall-E, Passengers, and the Fyre Fest documentaries. Co-created by Armando Iannucci, the show has that same quick-witted and frantic energy as Veep (which he also created), but takes place in space. Even though humans haven’t come close to perfecting or commodifying luxury space travel yet (we're getting there, supposedly), the premise of the show, which premieres Jan. 19 on HBO, might make you feel like you’ve seen something like this before. Have you? Well, yes and no.
What Is Avenue 5 Based On?
Set 40 years in the future, the Avenue 5 ship carries hundreds of passengers who are on a month-long deluxe space cruise. Hugh Laurie plays Ryan Clark, Avenue 5's captain, and Josh Gad is Herman Judd, a billionaire and owner of Judd, a giant travel and lifestyle company. There’s a technical failure that causes the the Avenue 5 to basically skid off its galactic tracks, and to get back to its orbit will take years. Unfortunately, the ship only holds 30 days worth of food.
Clark tries to keep the affluent, panicking passengers, calm, while Matt Spencer (played by Veep and The Office alum Zach Woods), Avenue 5’s head of customer relations makes them even more irate by telling everyone they can feel worried “if they want to be.” Clients are injured, some are dead, Judd is deflecting all blame and trying to contact NASA to see if they’ll provide aid, and nobody knows whether or not they’ll make it out alive.
Avenue 5 itself isn’t based on an existing story, but will probably remind you of the 2017 catastrophic destination music festival, Fyre Festival (which famously went very awry due to poor planning and scamming, and devolved into anarchy on a Bahamian island) and several other successful and not-so-successful ventures like Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, and Theranos (more on those in a sec).
Is Herman Judd A Parody Of A Real Person?
Judd may be fictional, but he’s sure inspired by real-life people. In an interview with SYFY, Gad shared how his character came together. “The hair was all me,” Gad says. “It is definitely [based on] a young Richard Branson. 100 percent.” Branson is the baby blonde 69-year-old British businessman who founded the Virgin Group, which not only includes Virgin Atlantic Airlines and Virgin Records, but Virgin Galactic, Branson’s space tourism company that was introduced back in 2004.
Virgin Galactic hasn’t successfully sent a group of paying customers into space yet, but tickets to fly the aircraft are reportedly $250,000 per person, according to The Observer. Virgin Galactic stopped selling tickets after a pilot was killed in 2014 after attempting to test-fly the aircraft (by that point 603 tickets were sold).
However, according to Bloomberg, Virgin Galactic says it’s ready to take people to space this year. In February, 2019, Virgin Galactic successfully sent a test passenger into space.
Aside from his ventures into space travel, Branson is also known for getting caught committing fraud and tax evasion and how these crimes made him even more successful. He currently lives on Necker Island, which is part of the British Virgin Islands. Back in 1978, he bought Necker Island for $180,000, according to Forbes. By living in Necker Island, he’s able to save millions in taxes.
Still, Branson only makes up a portion of the futuristic character.
Herman Judd Is Also Inspired By Billy McFarland & Elizabeth Holmes
Judd’s character appears somewhat similar to Billy McFarland (the CEO of Fyre Media and his earlier scammy venture, Magnises) and Elizabeth Holmes (the CEO of Theranos, a health tech company that claimed it could give patients lab results with the prick of a finger. Gad tells SYFY, “When I was kind of getting into the character, and defining who I wanted him to be, I started watching and reading a lot about the ‘21st-century entrepreneur that fails up. So, think Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes and Billy McFarland, the guy behind Fyre Festival.” He adds, “Judd is cut from the same cloth.”
Since it’s well-known that Holmes paid to have the exact same black turtlenecks that Steve Jobs wore (Issey Miyake designed them, and they originally went for $175 a pop), Gad wanted Judd to be a fashion copycat too. “So with Judd, I thought it would be funny if he literally decided to have the exact same style as Branson. Why? Because he’s obsessed with those that have come before him, and doesn’t know what legacy he wants to leave behind," Gad tells SYFY. He even turned the creator on to the podcasts and documentaries about the famed scammers.
Basically? Judd is a combo of the world’s best and worst entrepreneurs.