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"Crisis In Six Scenes" is the new Amazon series by Woody Allen. It'll be available to stream starting tomorrow. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans isn't impressed with Allen's first go at a TV series. He says the writer, director and star sends a disappointing message in a time of political upheaval.
ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Woody Allen is one of film's most accomplished auteurs, but when he appears in his own films as a character, he often plays himself as a put-upon, wisecracking schlub. So it's no surprise Allen's character in his Amazon series is a mediocre novelist, Sidney S.J. Munsinger. He writes books so boring, even his barber complains about them.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CRISIS IN SIX SCENES")
MAX CASELLA: (As Barber) So I finished my last novel finally. I kept dozing off.
WOODY ALLEN: (As Sidney Munsinger) Well, you get up early, so - those hours...
CASELLA: (As Barber) I thought I might have a sleep disorder, like narcolepsy, you know? But my doctor said it was the book.
DEGGANS: Munsinger is a typical Woody Allen protagonist - neurotic, insecure and a champion complainer. He lives in a bubble of comfortable, upper-middle-class life in suburban New York in the late 1960s. TV news is bringing the Vietnam War to America's living rooms, but Munsinger deflects it all by joking with his wife and friends.
ELAINE MAY: (As Kay Munsinger) I hate this stupid war.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #1: (As character) I know.
ALLEN: (As Sidney J. Munsinger) I was always 4-F proud of it. I was psychologically unfit.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #2: (As character) The draft board told him that?
MAY: (As Kay Munsinger) No.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) You know, I served proudly. I have a Purple Heart.
ALLEN: (As Sidney J. Munsinger) I had a yellow streak.
DEGGANS: These jokes and many others feel like they could have been cribbed from Allen's standup routines in the 1960s. It's a persistent problem. Too many scenes here play like outtakes from his days scripting TV shows for Sid Caesar and Buddy Hackett. Munsinger's bubble was buffeted when a young radical who shot a cop in a jailbreak shows up in his home. Her name is Lennie, and she's played by Miley Cyrus. Her riffs on capitalist corruption feel like a lecture on imperialism from Hannah Montana.
MILEY CYRUS: (As Lennie Dale) Vietnamese children, American boys being burned alive, maimed, destroyed and killed in a unnecessary war.
ALLEN: (As Sidney J. Munsinger) I know. It's terrible.
CYRUS: (As Lennie Dale) And policy is made in the streets. The government is the one that's doing the criminal act.
ALLEN: (As Sidney J. Munsinger) Hey, look, I know the government is stupid. I realize that Washington does not attract the finest minds. But, you know, they're not criminals - most of them - you know, the ones that are in court.
DEGGANS: Lennie's passion converts people, including Sidney's wife Kay, played by Elaine May, but it also brings ludicrous responses. Kay's book group of elderly housewives wants to hold a naked sit-in. Likewise, Lennie herself offers no meaningful solutions. Instead of a comedy with both historic resonance and modern relevance, we get a six-episode shrug. It's the equivalent of throwing your hands up and saying, what are you going to do? Some viewers may struggle to even accept a series created by Allen. He married ex-girlfriend Mia Farrow's adopted daughter and has been accused of molesting another adopted daughter, which he has denied.
But those controversies aside, there's a sense of missed opportunity. Rather than continue his habit of working with nearly all-white casts, what if Allen had cast a black woman in Miley Cyrus's role? How would these characters directly confront the object of their liberal guilt? What if these characters were inspired to change in a way that really made a difference? We'll likely never know because Woody Allen chose to create a mediocre show that suggests action to prevent social injustice is mostly a madcap folly. I'm Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.