“I’m not sure where to begin,” Woody Allen said of the idea of doing TV when Amazon announced he would create his first series for the service. What he ended up producing – “Crisis in Six Scenes,” a tired comedy that feels entirely phoned in, as if pieced together from snippets of Allen’s old movies – shows just how true that was.
The only conceit of any note is that the six-episode series is that it’s set in the 1960s, drawing upon the polarized nature of the period. What emerges, however, plays less like social commentary than simply fulfilling an obligation, while hoping to get by with whatever sizzle the casting of Miley Cyrus brings to the party.
The answer is not much. Allen actually stars as Sidney Muntzinger, a novelist who’s currently peddling a sitcom idea (TV’s where the money is, his barber notes, surely with intended irony), while living a happily predictable existence with his therapist wife, Kay (Elaine May).
Enter Lenny (Cyrus), a Patty Hearst-like revolutionary and former family friend of Kay’s who, as a fugitive, takes refuge in their suburban home. Not only is Lenny a member of something called the Constitutional Liberation Party, but she’s a terrible houseguest, greatly upsetting Sidney, who foresees J. Edgar Hoover breaking down the door any moment.
Lenny, meanwhile, charms Kay – so much so that she introduces the writings of Mao at her book club. Lenny has a similar effect on Alan (John Magaro), the upstanding young man who is living with them while he attends NYU, with Magaro essentially doing an impersonation of Allen circa “Take the Money and Run.”
Although there’s ostensibly a madcap quality as the episodes progress, some of the jokes sound virtually recycled from Allen’s early movies, such as when he frets about what might happen to him in prison. Nor does it help that Cyrus basically sneers every line, repeatedly calling Sidney senile.
Despite those jokes about age, it’s notable to see a TV show built around a pair of octogenarians, Allen and May, in a medium normally so obsessed with youth. Allen’s reputation has also enticed several well-known folks to make what amount to cameo appearances, including comics Joy Behar and Lewis Black, although that’s hardly enough incentive to watch.
Mostly, “Crisis in Six Scenes” approximates one of the films the director used to churn out during that period when even longtime fans began questioning the numbing frequency of his movies, with the disclaimer that this effort – adding up the six installments – runs roughly 2 hours and 20 minutes, much longer than most Allen features.
Amazon, clearly, was looking to make a splash with an offering from a marquee filmmaker. But it’s worth noting the streaming service has established its programming footprint largely without relying on such vanity deals, from “Transparent” (which has earned Emmys for star Jeffrey Tambor) to the critically lauded new comedies “One Mississippi” and “Fleabag.”
During their tart exchanges Lenny at one point derides Sidney’s fondness for watching sports as “just another opium for the people.” In the ‘60s that was also a criticism leveled at television, and a lot of the shows back then, frankly, were still better than this.
“Crisis in Six Scenes” premieres Sept. 30 on Amazon.