Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Crisis In Six Scenes [television review]

Released for streaming on Amazon Prime on September 30th

There were some clear warning signs that Crisis In Six Scenes was going to be a disaster. Woody Allen’s latest project, a six episode series for Amazon’s Prime Video streaming service, was announced last year. Some of Allen’s first statements about it include “My guess is that Roy Price [the head of Amazon Studios] will regret this” and “I have no ideas and I’m not sure where to begin”.

At the time, such comments were probably dismissed as Allen cracking jokes and just being his signature ’ol neurotic self. It turns out the filmmaker was almost certainly being more truthful than humorous. Once the project had begun, Allen told Deadline that he didn’t know what a streaming service or even Amazon was, doesn’t own a computer, and how much he regretted the deal (“I haven’t had a pleasurable moment since I undertook it”). Uh oh.

Each episode of Crisis In Six Scenes runs around 22-23 minutes each, with a total running time of two-hours-and-sixteen minutes. Almost all of it is deadly boring, with glacial plot development and scene after scene whose sole purpose is seemingly to pad out the running time of the production. Should you care, the 60s-set series stars Allen as a novelist who’s trying to sell an awful sitcom to a network (the irony is clearly intentional). His comfortable existence in suburban Connecticut with his wife (played by Elaine May) is upended when an on-the-run radical activist breaks into their house seeking refuge. She’s played by a severely miscast Miley Cyrus, who contributes to this project’s dreadfulness with her ample screen time.

Frequent and banal commentary on the tumultuous period in which the series is set, constant headbutting between Cyrus’ and Allen’s characters, absolutely zero interesting principal or secondary characters (including appearances by Lewis Black, Joy Behar, and Michael Rapport), and a spectacularly bad joke-to-laugh ratio are what lay in wait for unwitting viewers. I laughed only once and even that was at a cheap sight gag with Allen. If you’ve seen a Woody Allen movie with him starring before then you’ve already seen his performance in Crisis In Six Scenes. Spoiler alert: the character he plays is overly neurotic.

In the past decade, I find myself asking basically once a year (the rate at which the quantity over quality Allen releases films) why I keep watching his latest work. Off the top of my head, probably 13 of his last 15 releases haven’t been worth my time, with the two exceptions being Cassandra’s Dream and Midnight In Paris. Add in his questionable personal history (which becomes even harder to stomach with his career-long onscreen preoccupation with decidedly young female protagonists, as is once again the case here), plus the fact that Crisis In Six Scenes is as transparent a cash grab as can be and, well, it’s probably time for this one-time fan to part ways with Allen.

Amazon relentlessly pursued Allen and gave the filmmaker carte blanche to create whatever he wanted. Despite huge reluctance on Allen’s part, they apparently paid him a dollar amount that was too obscenely high for him to turn down. These aren’t exactly circumstances that create an environment in which great art is created, which Crisis In Six Scenes proves in spades. Even the most hardcore of Allen fans will find precious little here to appreciate.

Rating: D-

Related posts: my January 2012 review of Woody Allen: A Documentary