We gave it a C-
Television has benefitted a lot in recent years from an influx of film directors and cinematic technique. David Fincher’s work on House of Cards, to name one example, jump-started Netflix’s line of critically-acclaimed shows. But such positive accolades unfortunately cannot be applied to Woody Allen’s anticipated entry into the TV game. Amazon’s Crisis in Six Scenes, which stars Allen alongside Elaine May and Miley Cyrus, feels like a two-hour movie cut into six chunks, but one noticeably devoid of any formal innovation or insight.
Crisis in Six Scenes is set in the tumultuous ‘60s, and announces this upfront with a montage of vintage footage from Vietnam protests and the Civil Rights Movement. Allen, however, chooses to focus his story not on those protests or the wider spectrum of political, moral, or civic upheaval happening at the time, but rather on the elderly Munsinger couple (played by himself and May). He’s a no-name novelist trying to pitch a TV show (meta!) and she’s a marriage counselor; together, they have to figure out what to do when family friend and wannabe revolutionary, Lennie Dale (Cyrus), shows up at their door in the middle of the night seeking a place to lay low for a while. What they mostly end up doing is arguing — over and over again.
Sidney (Allen) wants Lennie out of the house, mostly because she eats all of his food and he doesn’t want to get arrested for harboring a fugitive. Kay (May), by contrast, is fine with keeping Lennie in a spare bedroom, especially since the girl has so many interesting reading recommendations. Lennie provides the Munsingers (as well as their other house guest, college student Alan, played by John Magaro) with a radical reading list: DIY bomb-making manuals, the writings of Vladimir Lenin, that kind of thing. These texts are never complicated or explored, however, just used for the humor of seeing a book club of middle-aged women quote Chairman Mao at each other. The actors don’t add much to these stale discussions, unfortunately; Allen plays Sidney as a one-note hypochondriac whose constant complaining gets old after about one episode, while Cyrus speaks like she’s reading Cliffs Notes summaries of The Motorcycle Diaries.
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In addition to being quite boring, the series also fails to justify itself as a period piece. The chaos of our current election year has been often compared to the ‘60s, particularly the seismic 1968 election between Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey. Because of this, it’s easy to think at the outset that Allen made this story full of debates about social justice in order to shed light on our present moment. But nothing of the kind is ever acknowledged. The main characters just bicker at each other using staid arguments, and though the last few episodes have some mildly entertaining caper and farce elements, the payoff isn’t quite enough to justify sitting through all six episodes. C-