CRISIS IN SIX SCENES – Woody Allen is his old(er) self


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.

THE RANCH – Raising 100% USDA-choice laughs


I am not an Ashton Kutcher fan by any means. But he is currently starring in one of the best sitcoms I’ve seen in years, Netflix’s “The Ranch.”

Kutcher plays Colt Bennett, a former high school and college football star who left his family and small town behind for 18 years to try and pursue a pro-football career. When Colt finally returns to the family ranch, we meet the family he left behind. That includes “Rooster” (Danny Masterson, Kutcher’s former co-star on “That ’70s Show”), Colt’s alternately worshipful and resentful younger brother; his mom Maggie (Debra Winger), who is separated from Colt’s dad and runs a bar in town; and his father Beau (Sam Elliott), a misanthrope whose only (small) joy in life is the ranch he has been running since he returned from the Vietnam War and his own father died.

Each of these characters has a backstory filled with heartbreak and conflict, and that’s one of the many minor miracles about this show. After seeing so many sitcoms with rimshot-punchlines (or worse yet, no punchlines), all of the laughs in this show come from vivid characterizations.

And every one of the actors is wonderful. Masterson has sibling rivalry down pat. Winger is as glorious as ever, and if Hollywood isn’t smart enough to put her on the big screen again, at least she got a worthy role on the smaller screen.

Kutcher amazes me. After seeing him do “Aren’t I a cute slacker” in so many TV and movie roles, it’s a treat to see him fully inhabit a real character — one with flaws as well as redeemable qualities.

But for me, at least, the most astounding revelation of the show is Sam Elliott. His misanthropic-dad character has plenty of worthy dramatic moments, which nobody ever doubted that Elliott could pull off. The real surprise is his comic timing. Elliott delivers one comic gem after another, and with his laconic style, he never lets on that he expected a laugh from any of his lines.

He’s a real joy to behold, as is the rest of the cast, backed by some sharp, sharp writing. If you don’t have Netflix, you ought to get it just for “The Ranch” alone.