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If You Weren’t Expecting Much from Woody Allen’s ‘Crisis in Six Scenes,’ You Won’t Be Disappointed
September 30, 2016  | By David Hinckley

Woody Allen’s first TV series, Crisis In Six Scenes, is kind of a mess.

But as it hops along from one absurd sketch to the next, it delivers a decent number of laughs.

At one point toward the end of Crisis (dropping on Amazon Friday), which consists of six 22-minute episodes, Allen has brought all the characters together into one massive chaotic cluster at his character’s suburban home.

The doorbell rings again and he mutters something about who else could possible show up, the Marx Brothers?

Truth is, they’re already there. Crisis in Six Scenes, even more than many of Allen’s movies, owes to the blueprint set down by Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo in 1930s flicks like Duck Soup.

Set in a Connecticut suburb in the late 1960s, Crisis has Allen playing Sidney J. Munsinger, a successful ad agency executive (a "Mad Man") who really aspires to being a great novelist.

So he writes bad novels while living a comfortable, semi-retired life with his wife Kay (Elaine May, top, with Allen), who works at home as a marriage counselor. She also does suburban things like host a book club for a dozen or so women of a similar lifestyle.

The Munsingers are aware of and mildly sympathetic toward the protest movements sweeping the country. But Sidney is more concerned that he can’t figure out how to light his new barbeque grill, so they have to broil the Nebraska steaks inside.

Then one night an old acquaintance of Kay’s drops in. Actually, she breaks in. Lennie Dale (Miley Cyrus, left, with Allen) is the daughter of an old friend, and currently a soldier in the Constitutional Liberation Army, which is why she’s a wanted fugitive who needs to be hidden until she can escape to Cuba.

While Allen was making his first movies back in the ‘60s, even before Crisis was set, he has never dealt much with the serious side of ‘60s unrest. He’s more a characters and comedy kind of guy, which is fine, and probably explains why Crisis uses that unrest mostly as a platform for gags.

So Lennie becomes primarily a caricature of the Sixties Radical, valuable mostly to set up jokes and absurdities for the characters around her.

At one point she talks Kay’s book club into reading a series of radical polemics and pamphlets. In a classic Allen twist, these semi-elderly ladies devour them, and the resulting scenes are some of the funniest in the series.

Allen brings in a dozen other characters as well, all carefully molded to facilitate ‘60s jokes.

Sidney and Kay have a boarder in the house, a student named Alan (John Magaro) who comes from a very conservative family and overreacts a bit when he starts to feel the winds of change.

He also has a debutante fiancé, Ellie (Rachel Brosnahan), with a traditional family of her own.

Then there are Kay’s clients, whose marital problems are as absurdly hilarious to us as they are serious to the couples involved.

Crisis ends up being somewhat longer than most Allen movies, which gives him plenty of room for jokes about human behavior and neuroses. It comes as neither a surprise nor a stretch that Sidney is nervous about everything.

Like the Marx Brothers before him, Allen treats out-of-control chaos as a normal situation that characters try to resolve with whatever they can pluck from a passing breeze. He’s always been good at turning this into humor, and he still is.

Unlike many of Allen’s movies, Crisis In Six Scenes doesn’t end up going much of anywhere, and it meanders more than a few times while not getting there.

In fairness, though, Allen said his goal for Crisis was to just create some light comedy, not much more or less.

Light comedy it is.

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