This article contains information that could be considered too revealing according to our spoiler policy. Proceed with caution. You can't unsee it!Reason The first season drops September 30; we got screeners.
Should You Let Crisis In Six Scenes Get In Your Head?
It's Woody Allen's first TV series. Should he stick to movies?
What Is This Thing?
Sidney J. Munsinger is an aging, neurotic novelist living in the New York suburbs in the 1960s when his world gets shaken up by the arrival of Lennie, an activist on the run.
When Is It On?
All six episodes begin streaming on Amazon on September 30.
Why Was It Made Now?
Well, if series creator/star Woody Allen is to be believed, he made it because Amazon promised him a substantial payday if he said yes. He's spoken publicly about regretting his decision to make the show and that he thought Amazon would wind up regretting it too, though as its release date grew closer, he's softened his rhetoric somewhat.
What's Its Pedigree?
Allen is the acclaimed yet controversial writer-director of Annie Hall, Manhattan, Blue Jasmine, and dozens of other feature films, and is the latest in a string of big-time movie directors that have taken a stab at TV in recent years, including David Fincher (House Of Cards) and Martin Scorsese (Boardwalk Empire). Amazon has been making a name for itself in the prestige TV comedy market, with the current successes of Transparent and Catastrophe doing very well, and a show from an award-winning film director is another win in the company's competition with Netflix.
In addition to Allen, the cast includes Elaine May (comedy history); John Magaro (Orange Is The New Black), Rachel Brosnahan (House Of Cards), and the one you've probably heard about most: Miley Cyrus as Lennie, the activist who upends Sidney's life.
The pilot spends a lot of time setting up the political and cultural climate. Sidney is an advertising copywriter turned novelist who's married to Kay (May), a marriage counselor. Though they stay up to date on current events in progressive politics (marches, protests, post office bombings), they are unaffected by any of it. Kay feels some guilt at their lack of involvement in all the social change, but Sidney is quite content to stay out of the fray.
The couple are playing host to Alan (Magaro), a twentysomething NYU student, so he doesn't have to live among the deadbeat hippies in Manhattan. Alan is engaged to Ellie (Brosnahan), a beautiful blonde debutante who can't understand why Alan feels so guilty that a herniated disc kept him from being drafted.
This gang is primed for a shakeup, which they get in the show's second episode in the form of Lennie (Cyrus), an activist on the run from the police and the daughter of Kay's old friend. She wants to lay low at the Munsinger's for a while, a request Kay is happy to oblige, and which may just push Sidney over the edge.
Though it takes two episodes to really get going, the premise is a good one. And while Allen's had many a muse over the years, Cyrus is easily the most unexpected.
The writing is often stilted and clichéd, largely due to the setting. The time period seems to be the show's biggest plot point: we're made to listen to talk of the "hippies and druggies" in Greenwich Village, the immorality of the war in Vietnam, and how the Munsingers should've gone to the March on Washington. Add in a barrage of pop culture references -- James Dean is brought up within the first few seconds of the pilot -- and it feels more like an insincere pastiche of the '60s than anything original.
Other than a few early years as a TV comedy writer, Allen's spent his whole career making films, and it's easy to see how the nuance required for TV episodes might be lost on him. In a medium where you can take your time and really develop your story and the people in it -- something one would think Allen would appreciate, given his penchant for ensemble casts -- he nevertheless relies on tropes and archetypes of the time period instead of writing real, complex characters.
It may be worth watching the whole season just to see if he is able to ease into the format in later episodes, but Crisis mostly feels, at first, like a wasted opportunity.
Obviously, it's also impossible to watch Allen with Cyrus, his twenty-three-year-old co-star, and not be reminded of the allegations of Allen's sexual abuse of his daughter, Dylan Farrow. Allegations of sexual abuse against Farrow and Allen's wife (and the daughter of his former partner, Mia Farrow), Soon-Yi, have lingered over the director's career for a quarter century. Allen's work so often focuses on young women; it's impractical to think you could separate the artist from the art, particularly when so many of the stories he tells revolve around men Allen's age -- whatever it is when the project is filmed -- and young women in their teens and twenties.
If you're a fan of Allen's work, give it a shot. If you aren't a fan of his films, this show probably isn't for you. If you're unfamiliar with his work, this isn't the best place to start. And if you were just going to watch it for Cyrus, maybe catch her on The Voice instead.
What did you think?