Even though it’s billed as a series, Woody Allen’s “Crisis in Six Scenes” is really just a movie divided into six half-hour chunks.
Yes, the episodes have beginnings and ends, but they’re essentially showing what happens when a radical breaks into a writer’s home and upends his life.
Why she breaks in – instead of knocking – isn’t answered, but it gives Allen and Elaine May (as the writer and his wife) plenty of time to deliberate who’s going to go downstairs and confront the intruder. That dilemma fills the first episode. In the second, we actually get to meet Lennie Dale (Miley Cyrus), the relative of people who treated May like their own.
Naturally, that means she has a soft spot for the outsider and agrees to harbor the fugitive until she can plot her next move. The situation gives Allen and May plenty of time to discuss everyone from Martin Luther King Jr. to second-tier celebrities.
Set in the 1960s, the series does a good job of reflecting the times but it’s so sluggish throughout viewers may see Allen’s stammering as stalling for time, not grasping for words.
May – who should be in more projects – gets some of the best moments and, rarely, moves without a glass of wine in her hand. She embraces the outsider, learns from her and shares the new knowledge with her book club, a gaggle that includes Joy Behar and some highly recognizable character actresses. They prattle on about current affairs, toy with the idea of a naked sit-in and get excited when they actually discover what their friend has been up to.
In sessions with her clients (May’s a therapist), we get another parade of familiar faces and some classic lines about relationships. Naturally, those patients turn up in the sixth episode, just in time to share the surprises that make the book club giddy.
“Crisis in Six Scenes” pays off the time spent in the couple’s house, but there’s a lot of filler that would have been edited had Allen been releasing this to theaters.
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Allen, who also wrote and directed the Amazon series, uses music that has a vague “Odd Couple” feel to it. If that’s what he thinks a sitcom needs, then there’s your tip of the hat to the format.
Cyrus, who has the most television exposure of the three leads, isn’t bad, but she also doesn’t push beyond her own boundaries. She’s tough, but unconvincing when rolling off a list of writers or extolling the virtues of revolutionaries.
Allen reacts appropriately, even though someone like Emma Stone would have been able to go head-to-head with him on a number of issues.
“Crisis” works, in fact, when its characters are talking about Cyrus, not interacting with her.
When May and Allen have to deliver a briefcase full of money (Cuban money at that), they’re delightful – and old. Thirty years ago, he might have attempted something like this with Diane Keaton and it would have had a much different feel.
Now, it’s like seeing Angela Lansbury making one more stage appearance. The material may not be that good, but it’s delivered by someone with real presence and there’s a feeling attention must be paid.
"Crisis in Six Scenes" is now airing on Amazon.