Woody Allen’s flippant Amazon series can’t keep up with its loud politics, but Miley Cyrus makes her mark.
In many of his recent, inferior films, Woody Allen has utilised beautiful shooting locations and period design to distract from some less-than-stellar writing. In Crisis in Six Scenes, his first small-screen venture in decades and a series with distinctly televisual production value, there’s nowhere for character and word to hide. Crisis (set in the mid-to-late-60s) opens with Sidney and Kay (Allen and Elaine May) in their comfortable middle-class New York life. Sidney is a successful author, now moving into writing TV sitcoms. Sound familiar? During the initial 22 minute episode, in which very little occurs, we’re introduced to Kay’s work as marriage counsellor and to her book club of precocious old women. Sid is, unsurprisingly, a total neurotic. Allen’s hardly a fan of change. Ar the end of the first episode, their house is burglarised by a mysterious stranger. Then the strangest thing you’ll ever see in a Woody Allen production happens: end credits. After 22 minutes. It takes some getting used to.
The mysterious stranger in question is Miley Cyrus’ Lennie Dale, an escaped convict anarchist on the run after involvement in some terrorist attack or other. Cyrus is an aggressive, abrasive presence; in the home and in the show. She doesn’t deliver Allen’s dialogue like any other actress would; it’s at times extremely jarring. Ultimately, however, her presence delivers what it was supposed to: she makes a mark and disrupts the peace, which is exactly what Lennie does to our elderly, pacifist protagonists.
With our characters rarely leaving the house in the first few episodes, Allen has the chance to examine one of the 20th century’s most dramatic, complex socio-political periods on a small stage. Lennie introduces new ideas to the home, and to perpetually-enthused houseguest Alan (John Magaro), and there are delightful moments when Kay’s book club women begin to embrace the teachings of Mao and Marx. Crisis successfully captures the spirit of desperation to be part of an armchair revolution, with Allen’s Sidney the embodiment of stressful resistance. Crisis is astoundingly light and flippant (as is most of Allen’s work: a catalogue that could be titled “White People Problems”) yet probably has more to say than Allen’s previous few big-screen efforts. Blue Jasmine was his best portrayal of 21st century American living, but there’s also much to be learnt about our times from the surprisingly political Crisis in Six Scenes.