If you enjoy vintage Woody Allen, don’t let the critics discourage you from seeing his Amazon TV series, Crisis in Six Scenes. In TV terms, it’s not trying to reinvent the wheel, and it wasn’t intended to do so. It’s a screwball comedy that delivers a fair share of laughs — a far greater share, in fact, than any of Allen’s most recent movie comedies have garnered.
The six-episode series is set in the 1960’s. Allen plays Sid (or “S.J.,” in his more pretentious moments) Munsinger, a semi-successful novelist and former copywriter who is now trying to sell a TV sitcom. Elaine May plays Kay, a marriage counselor and Sid’s quietly grounded wife. Their happy middle-class existence gets thrown for a loop by Lennie (a surprisingly funny Miley Cyrus), a radical on the run who needs a place to hide out while she plans her exodus to Cuba.
Lennie has an unexpected effect on everyone who saunters through the Munsinger household. She radicalizes Alan (John Magaro), a young friend of the family who is already engaged to a girl Sid had set him up with. And Lennie transforms Kay’s thinking to the point that she brings Chairman Mao’s writings and similar Communist-fueled work to the book club she runs.
This could have been a one-joke concept, but Allen gets a lot of funny plot threads out of it. Lennie dismisses the Munsingers as “limousine liberals,” but meanwhile she’s eating them out of house and home while she bemoans the children overseas who are starving to death. And you haven’t lived until you have seen a bunch of elderly book-club members get their revolutionary fire lit. (When one of them suggests that they all go to the local draft board and protest by sitting naked in front of it, one prim woman says that stripping to her bra and panties is as much as she can handle.)
The worst that you can say about the series is that it’s a bit leisurely paced, but in these days of rapid-fire entertainment, that might just be a virtue. And the final episode wraps things up in best farcical style, as a parade of ever more eccentric visitors come through Sid’s front door.
Cable TV has now set the bar so high that many viewers and critics take it as a personal offense if each new series doesn’t try to change the face of television. Crisis in Six Scenes is funny — just simply funny. Would that more TV comedies would aim for that modest goal.