Allen has fun with first TV outing, ‘Six Scenes’

Woody Allen asks his barber (Max Casella) to make him look like James Dean in “Crisis in Six Scenes.”
Woody Allen asks his barber (Max Casella) to make him look like James Dean in “Crisis in Six Scenes.” Amazon

Woody Allen isn’t practiced at the art of making TV, which turns out to be an advantage for his first TV project, “Crisis In Six Scenes,” a wry screwball comedy available on Friday for streaming from Amazon.

The series begins with Allen’s character stopping in at his barber’s for a haircut and a review. S.J. Muntzinger, a one-time advertising copy writer who’s penned a few books along the way, asks the barber (Max Casella) to make him look like James Dean (the series is set in the 1960s).

While held captive in the barber chair, Sidney is subjected to all manner of dismissive comments about his book from his barber.

The dressing down leaves Sidney thinking maybe he should write a TV sitcom.

Sidney lives with his wife Kay (Elaine May) in the suburbs. Kay is a psychologist with an office in the home. One night, someone breaks into the Muntzinger home. It turns out to be Lennie (Miley Cyrus), the daughter of some friends. She’s become radicalized and is on the run. She needs a place to hide out and, over Sid’s objections, Kay agrees to let her.

Lennie becomes the radical who came to dinner, devouring all of Sid’s favorite foods, lecturing both Muntzingers on the need for radical action to right the nation’s wrongs, and hanging a Che Guevara poster in the guest room. Sid wants her out, not only because he’s terrified he and Kay will wind up in jail, but also because she’s eating his navel oranges, the last of the sturgeon and disrupting his routine.

That’s the set-up — not an immediately credible one, of course, but it enables Allen to do a full-on Alvy Singer bit, and Elaine May makes a perfect and endearing foil.

Side trips to a screwball finale straight out of the Marx Brothers include Kay’s sessions with various clients with marital problems, a budding romance among the younger set and the radicalization of a ladies’ book club.

The performances are winning, with wonderful cameo contributions from actors and comics like Joy Behar, Christine Ebersole, Lewis Black, Rebecca Schull, Margaret Ladd, Sondra James, Michael Rapaport, Becky Ann Baker and Bobby Slayton.

Cyrus is modestly successful as the radical with patrician roots, but it takes her a while to grow into the role. For the most part, she’s a convenient plot device.

Allen is working in familiar territory here, eschewing the kind of character complexity that marks his better films, such as “Blue Jasmine” and “Vicky Christina Barcelona.” Fact is, television can support more complicated characters these days. Allen might ponder that for future TV projects, but in the meantime, we’ll happily wallow in the inspired silliness of “Crisis.”

TV review

‘Crisis in Six Scenes’ is available for streaming on Sept. 30 on Amazon.