Over the last half-century, one would be hard-pressed to think of a more prolific worker in Hollywood than Woody Allen. Over the last 50 years, Allen has created 47 films. Within this incredible output, however, there has been a wide variance in quality. His highs are incredible and iconic films like Annie Hall, Hannah and Her Sisters, and Midnight in Paris, but his lows have been forgettable, self-serving, and unwatchable disasters, like Whatever Works and Don’t Drink the Water. Allen’s first foray into serialized television with Amazon’s Crisis in Six Scenes can be placed somewhere between these extremes. It never quite recreates the magic of his best films, but is still enjoyable.
When Amazon announced in Jan. 2015 that it had signed a deal with Allen to create a television show for its streaming service, it created a commotion. Allen remains one of the premier directors in the world, and the fact that Amazon had landed his streaming show was a huge boon to the service, as it is trying to compete in the ever-growing arms race for online content.
Just four months later, in an interview with Deadline Hollywood, Allen revealed his discomfort with the jump from the big screen to television, saying he only took the offer because it was too good to refuse, and that he has “regretted every second since [he] said OK.” He also goes on to say that he never watches television and had no idea what he was doing.
His inexperience with this medium shows, as he has basically created a movie that he has chopped into six parts. The total run time of the six combined episodes is just under two and half hours. It is clear that Allen either is not aware of the conventions of television structure, or he does not care about them. Each episode seems to be divided only for the sake of being a television show. This show is best enjoyed when you binge watch it, as it essentially becomes slightly longer than a normal Allen movie.
A Crisis in Six Scenes takes place in America in the 1960s and follows novelist-turned-television creator Sidney Munsinger (Allen) who lives with his wife Kay (Elaine May) in a suburban neighborhood. Their quiet life is turned upside down in the second episode, when Lenny (Miley Cyrus), a young member of the Constitutional Liberation Army, breaks into their home seeking refuge from the law after bombing a draft agency. This juxtaposition between the headstrong and proactive Lenny and the intellectual and cautious Sidney creates most of the conflict that advances the story forward.
The acting is a high point for the show. Cyrus was a surprising choice for the role, but she proves she was the right choice. She has no problem handling the sophisticated dialogue and injects a life into the show that’s missing elsewhere. She has good chemistry with Allen, who can play a neurotic intellectual as well as ever. May is also a delight to watch. The funniest bits revolve around her book club, a group of Jewish women that starts as a discussion group, but quickly buys into the ideas Lenny is selling. They quickly start to plan protests with the same tone as they would a home association meeting (“I’ll bring snacks!”). The show also has very funny guest stars. Lewis Black and Becky Ann Baker have great roles as Kay’s marriage therapy clients who only can find common ground on their mutual love of guacamole.
In addition, the show is technically well done. Allen still manages to get the most out of minor camera work and blocking. He carefully frames each shot to increase the impact of the dialogue without ever creating the big flashy shot that takes the viewer’s attention away from the words or the story. Visually, it looks and feels exactly like you imagine a Allen film.
If you are a fan of Allen’s films, then you will most likely enjoy his stab at television. He checks all the boxes that his films usually check, and he shows he has not lost his ability to write some of the most clever one-liners out there. Despite this show’s flaws, it is still enjoyable to watch. The actors have great chemistry and the show moves at a brisk pace, picking up speed as it moves toward its sort of absurd ending. Allen might not have a future in television, but Crisis in Six Scenes is worth its short run time.
Featured Image By Amazon Studios