Woody Allen claims that he has regretted his decision to work on the Amazon TV series Crisis in Six Scenes from the very second he agreed to their proposal. He hasn’t had a moment of peace since, and it was all a huge mistake. For once, almost everyone agrees.
Crisis in Six Scenes, which premiered on Amazon’s streaming service on September 30, seems like an empty memory of Woody Allen from the early years. Allen is prolific, and with a new movie almost every year, his attempts at remaining relevant are commendable. But most of his latest works are not. Blue Jasmine (2013) starring Cate Blanchett is one of his last good works, and he has been unable to recreate masterpieces in line with Manhattan, Annie Hall and Hannah and her Sisters.
Whether it was the money or his compulsive need to stay visible that pushed Allen to take on this new format, it is clear that he has been unable to take full advantage of or do justice to television – a medium that is outdoing itself with every new premiere.
Crisis in Six Scenes is set in the 1960s tells the story of an older couple living a peaceful suburban life in the midst of flower power and protests against the ongoing war in Vietnam. Sidney J Munsinger (Woody Allen) is a novelist and nervous wreck. His wife Kay (Elaine May) is a therapist who spends her days solving eccentric relationship problems and running a book club. They are perfectly happy watching news on the television and pledging passive resistance to the injustices around them.
Their lives hit the titular crisis when an uninvited guest arrives in the middle of night. Lennie Dale (Miley Cyrus) is a radical revolutionary on the run from the law. She is a family friend, and Kay believes it is her duty to provide a home to this fugitive. A constant annoyance and source of much anxiety to Sid, Lennie is now hiding at the Munsinger household, eating all of Sid’s food, opening Kay and her book club to the writings of Marx and Mao Tse-tung, and seducing unsuspecting houseguests with her fiery charm. What follows is a series of confusions, coincidences, and too much nervy dialogue.
The fact that Miley Cyrus can’t act only adds to the feeble writing and plot. Allen is great at what he has done a hundred times before – self-deprecating monologues and hand-wringing. Elaine May however, does more than justice to her part of a slurry wine drinking Kay, from her hopeless marital counselling sessions to organising protest marches with her book club members. Alan (John Magaro), the houseguest who is living with the Munsingers and is engaged to the lovely Ellie (Rachel Brosnahan), is a throwback to the younger and perpetually unsure Allen from the ’80s.
It is all very familiar and formulaic. A great time in history and a strong premise is lost to flat and predictable writing on the part of “I so regret this” Allen. There are some good jokes scattered across six episodes of farcical dialogue that tries too hard to resurrect the now-gone era of Allen filmmaking. The show starts with a montage of protests from a newsreel from the ’60s. It cuts to Sid getting a haircut and having a conversation about his decision to get into the TV business. Dominic, the man trying to convince Sid that there is no way he can look like James Dean, agrees with this decision – reminding him that he is after all, no JD Salinger.
The joke resurfaces right at the end. Tired and spent after the six-episode ordeal, Sid ponders whether he should just “dump this whole idiotic television thing”. Whether this was a deliberate reference to Allen’s struggles with the TV format or an organic joke – either way, it fits the context perfectly.
Allen has written and directed over 50 movies, and there will be always be a better place to start if you want to introduce yourself to the works of this neurotic auteur. However, if you are an unshakable Allen fan and find yourself devouring all his movies, then binge away. Crisis in Six Scenes is an easy watch that doesn’t require too much investment, and you may just find a decent Woody Allen joke or two to get by.