BINGE-R #30: Crisis in Six Scenes + Killjoys
CRISIS IN SIX SCENES S1
Streaming Service: Amazon Prime Video
Availability: All six episodes now streaming
To his credit, Woody Allen gets the dig at himself signing up to make television after a lifetime dedicated to the movies out of the way early on. TV is “lowbrow” remarks a breezily critical barber cutting the hair of Allen’s Sidney Munsinger, a novelist thinking of pitching a sitcom. “It’s very lucrative,” counters the tight-fisted Sidney. Unfortunately, Amazon hasn’t got a great deal for their money. Squeezed into his feature a year schedule, Allen’s Crisis in Six Scenes is a haphazard, minor piece. Shorn of the credits, the six episodes add up to little more than a two hour running time, flatly lit and with underwritten roles that barely allow for little more than an outline of a performance.
The series is set at the end of the 1960s, an era that’s never resonated in Allen’s life and work (he’s a child of the 1940s whose comic upbringing occurred in the 1950s). Sid and his wife, marriage counsellor Kay (Elaine May) live in upstate New York. The Vietnam War and social upheaval are merely on the evening news, at least until Lennie Dale (Miley Cyrus), a granddaughter from the family that raised Kay after she was orphaned, turns up seeking refuge. A fugitive wanted for her involvement in a bombing, Lenny is a budding revolutionary who visits farcical change on the household: she gives pot to a straitlaced young houseguest, Allen Brockman (John Magaro), and keeps suggesting the apoplectic Sid is senile.
Allen is ruthless in setting up his movies, so there’s curiosity in him having room to move to expand, but the dialogue feels drawn out. The comic jabs and self-deprecation are present but predictable, and only occasionally – as when Lennie gives Kay’s book club a Maoist reading list – does the humour actually build to a peak. The story is pepped up with new arrivals at the house’s front door, while the politics are negligible. Cyrus plays Lennie as a screwball radical in camo pants who rails against the era’s establishment with slogans. As with the use of Jefferson Airplane’s “Volunteers” on the soundtrack, the 1960s detail feels like it was pulled from a textbook.
The plot and Lennie bear traces of Philip Roth’s novel American Pastoral, but there’s not a hint of historic resonance to be found and any contemporary allusions are mostly reactionary. Filmmakers have been migrating to streaming services for the storytelling freedom and absence of box-office dictates, and it has resulted in top picks such as The OA [review here] and Easy [review here], but Crisis in Six Scenes suggests that Woody Allen got an offer he couldn’t refuse and did the bare minimum to accept it.
>> Bonus Binge: The best way to compensate for Crisis in Six Scenes is to watch a great Woody Allen film. Netflix has his 1977 Annie Hall, while among the 16 – yes, 16 – features Stan carries are the likes of 1979’s Manhattan, 1983’s Broadway Danny Rose, and 2004’s Match Point.
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: All 10 episodes now streaming
One of my favourite finds last year, which I covered in the very first edition of BINGE-R, was the science-fiction thriller The Expanse [review here]. The second season hasn’t arrived here via Netflix yet, so I thought Killjoys, which originated from the same American network (Syfy), might be a worthwhile substitute. Unfortunately, it isn’t. There’s certainly an audience for the show, which is a far flung adventure where a wise-cracking crew of bounty hunters get in and out of scrapes, but it lacks the Millennium Falcon mastery that Joss Whedon invested the same concept with in his 2002 series, Firefly (also on Netflix), or the gripping execution of The Expanse. Not asking too much of a program is a roundabout way of saying it doesn’t have much to offer.
On a planetary system known as “The Quad”, where gunmetal grey interiors and underdressed Canadian exteriors predominate, Dutch (Hannah John-Kamen) and her offsider, Johnny (Aaron Ashmore) trade quips and ships, bringing in fugitives on a corporatised frontier before rescuing the latter’s long lost brother, D’avin (Luke Macfarlane). The political intricacies, and Dutch’s flashback-inspiring secret past, are involved, but they never bite as the focus is the next face-off or the next escape against the odds; Killjoys is one of those annoying creations where there’s no geographic scale – characters change planets without pause or ramification. Hannah John-Kamen has some serious action swagger (a 7.3 on the Jolie scale), but that’s not enough to elevate this above the pleasantly generic.
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>> BINGE-R #31 will be in your in-box on Tuesday morning.