R29 Binge Club: Crisis In Six Scenes Recaps, Episodes 1-6

Photo: Courtesy of Amazon Studios.
Try as we may to separate the man from his work, it feels disingenuous to write about a Woody Allen project without so much as mentioning the personal scandal that’s plagued him for years. So, here I am, acknowledging that it happened; redirecting you to an excellent piece about the fraught issue; disclosing that I personally think he’s a creep; and promising to do my best to leave all that out of these recaps of Allen’s new TV show, Crisis In Six Scenes. Onward.

Now, Allen, for his part, has been straightforward about the fact that he A) Knows nothing about making TV, B) Has no desire to make TV, and C) Only made this particular TV show because he was offered a shit-ton of money to do so. “Amazon kept coming to me and saying, please do this, whatever you want,” he told Deadline back in May. “I kept saying I have no ideas for it, that I never watch television.” He continued, “Finally they said look, we’ll do anything that you want, just give us six half hours… And they offered a lot of money.” Allen said yes, and that was a Donald Trump-yuge mistake. “I have regretted every second since I said okay.” You’ve got to at least give the guy credit for his honesty.

So, is Miley Cyrus enough to save this six-episode comedy from its uninspired beginnings? Time to find out. Onto the Crisis at hand.


Episode 1

Welcome to the '60s. The premiere opens with your standard black-and-white montage of civil unrest in the decade. There's also a funny barbershop-set scene in which we learn that Allen’s character, Sidney P. Munsinger, is trying his hand at penning a TV script instead of the novels he usually writes. “Probably an easier medium for you,” his barber says. “It’s very lucrative,” Sidney, a one-time ad man, argues. Not a bad way to ironically address Allen’s aforementioned struggle.

Sidney is essentially Allen’s usual role, plopped into the '60s — neurotic, comically pessimistic, and averse to the sociopolitical upheaval of American life (the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, shifting gender roles). His more liberal wife, Kay, is a marriage counselor. The lifelong couple live together in a beautiful home in a New York City suburb, cushioned from the chaos they hear about on the nightly news — college protest riots, civilian massacres in Vietnam, activist bombings in San Francisco. He hates talking about the war — avoids demonstrations because he’s “allergic to tear gas.”

The son of socially conservative family friends is coming to stay with them while he studies business at NYU. He’s aptly named Alan, because he’s basically a lot like the filmmaker: A bespectacled, insecure worry-wart who’s quite fond of chunky knits. He’s engaged to the lovely Ellie, played charmingly by House of Cards’ Rachel Brosnahan, whom he was introduced to by Sidney.

At the very end of the episode, Sid and Kay are in bed when an armed stranger quietly breaks in — on the one night in 26 years that Sid forgot to turn on the burglar alarm. Cliffhanger! *Play Next*
Photo: Courtesy of Amazon Studios.
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Episode 2

The noise downstairs wakes Kay, who wakes Sid, who has no idea what he’s going to do if he goes downstairs and actually encounters an intruder. They try to call the police, but an electric storm left the phone lines dead. They sneak downstairs armed with fireplace-pokers, bickering about whether Sid actually ever bought Kay any jewelry worth burglarizing.

The stranger in their kitchen turns out to be Lenny (Miley Cyrus), the grandchild of the people that took Kay in is a girl. She’s not looking for jewels but food and a place to hideout from the police and the FBI (or “fascist gestapo government mercenaries,” as she describes them) because her face is plastered all over the news (a.k.a. the “fascist propaganda machine”). Lenny is a leader of the Constitutional Liberation Army, an activist movement, and supposedly the culprit in a prison break, bombing, and guard-shooting that has everyone talking. Sid recalls how when he read the news, he said the cops shouldn’t even bother to put whoever the perp was on trial, “they should just shoot her” — her being the young woman sitting at his kitchen table, scarfing down the chicken he was saving for lunch tomorrow and asking for shelter. Awkward.

Lenny is vehemently opposed to the Vietnam War and outraged on behalf of its innocent victims. Her activism philosophy: “Policy is made in the streets; the government is the one that’s doing the criminal act.” Kay admires Lenny’s dedication to the cause, while Sid is unsympathetic, to put it lightly; he wants to turn this fugitive in and use the reward money to take a Caribbean cruise. Naturally, Kay draws her a bath.

Knock, knock, knock. “It’s the police! Open up.” Fortunately, they don’t know anything about Lenny; they just want to investigate the burglar alarm that went off. But Sid, of course, babbles on like a guilty person does. To ease the cops’ suspicions, Kay invites them in for coffee, an offer they accept. Lenny sleepwalks into the dining room, murmuring about fascist pigs. Oops! She looks familiar to the cops and tensions run high, but they manage to shoo the cops out of the house before they realize anything. Sid is officially an accessory to a crime, and he’s not happy about it. “I like it when my adrenaline remains at sea level.”
Photo: Courtesy of Amazon Studios.
Episode 3

The next morning, Alan is stunned at the sight of Lenny. Not just because she’s a wanted woman, but because she’s even more beautiful and sexy in person than on TV. (Within five minutes of meeting Alan, she gifts him his first joint.) Lenny continues to ravage the kitchen of its Fig Newtons and Sturgeon fillets, much to Sid’s dismay. In between mouthfuls, she excoriates Sid’s ignoble career. Basically, he feeds the capitalist machine by convincing people to buy things they don’t need while kids are starving in his own country. She also criticizes his abundance of stuff, like his treasured hot-fudge machine. “You’re politically against my waffle iron?” he asks incredulously. When he tells her to get out of his house, Lenny counters, rather accurately, that “Kay makes the rules around here.”

Alan is totally high, and totally enamored with Lenny — her looks, her political convictions, her independent spirit. But Lenny’s not impressed by Alan’s passive approach to affecting change — donating, voting, writing irate letters to the Times. “Real change comes at the barrel of a gun,” Lenny explains. “If Washington and Jefferson just voted and donated, you wouldn’t even be here!” She talks about how she got radicalized by dating guys at Berkeley who wrote beautiful sonnets about blowing up the White House. “I used to sleep with the Black in an effort to kind of absorb some of his political rage, and then the Jew to help me get some of that anxiety and guilt over being middle class.”

It feels like this is the point at which we’re supposed to start not taking Lenny seriously — and see her advocacy as voyeuristic, misplaced, or insincere. Is she a phony, a psycho, or just so caught up in her political passions that she’s become a sort of caricature of the young, naive social justice warrior of the '60s? Or are we just supposed to be chuckling? That’s still unclear.

Sid and his colleague go to pitch his TV show, about a sitcom-kooky family set in Neanderthalian times (sound familiar?) to a network. They grab lunch at a diner, where Sid gets flustered trying to cover up his impromptu houseguest… and coincidentally, the subject of that pretty, crazy girl on TV comes up. Sid and his buddy rant against “that girl,” writing her off as a punk whose activism is really just evidence of her personal baggage. One problem: Sid’s friend says the FBI thinks the girl is in New York — and they’re looking into every person she’s ever been connected with. Paranoid Sid panics; he can’t help himself. He sees two guys in suits at the bar and thinks they could be FBI — and that there could be a microphone in the napkin holder. He overpays and gets the hell out of there.

Meanwhile, Lenny is giving Kay a list of radical political literature — i.e. the communist writings of Mao Zedong — to share with the ladies in her book club. Just some light reading for the gals. And Kay has made up a bedroom for Lenny, who promptly hangs a poster of Che Guevara.
Photo: Courtesy of Amazon Studios.
Episode 4

“Violence is man recreating itself” — Franz Fanon
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Lenny really digs this quote, she tells Alan, who is falling fast for Lenny and her “inner fire,” as he puts it. “It’s almost like you’re a total psychopath, but exciting,” he tells her in what is supposed to be a compliment. Sid is worried about Alan’s obvious crush, and his susceptibility to Lenny’s radical ideas — he and Kay told Alan’s parents they’d help keep their son on the straight-and-narrow.

Then, Sid and Lenny get into another blowout prompted by the fact that Lenny has, once again, eaten all the food he likes. “I don’t dislike you, it’s just everything that you stand for,” Lenny tries to explain, to no avail. Sid goes on the defensive. He doesn’t get it why he and his comfy lifestyle are so offensive to Lenny; he’s not an actively bad guy. “Did I exploit any Blacks to buy my blender? Did I bomb any Vietnamese kids?” Kay explains it to her husband succinctly: “You represent consumer capitalism to her. To her, you’re a stooge of the oligarchy that runs this country.”

Meanwhile, Kay’s book club meets again, and the buttoned-up ladies — one played hilariously by Joy Behar — are not exactly getting Mao Zedong. A conversation about Chinese foot-binding turns into chit-chat about shopping for too-small shoes at Bergdorf Goodman. It’s clear that Kay, however, like Alan, is warming up to Lenny’s ideas. Of the Vietnamese War, for example, she asks the women, “Why should we send our grandsons and sons to Asia to kill Asian men and women, just to satisfy the economic desires of some plutocrat?” Damn, Kay. She proposes that they all stage a sit-in at the local army draft board to protest the war. The women are easily convinced — or maybe just bored of sitting around being housewives and talking about classic novels. They decide they’ll do it — naked — and plan to bring oatmeal cookies along with a quart of pig’s blood to smear on the draft records.

Alan is now at the point where he’s questioning everything — living safe and easy while people are starving and America is broken. “Are we resigning ourselves to this middle class life?” Alan asks Ellie over dinner. He starts quoting Mao to her, she gets freaked out, and they get into a fight. He goes home, where he and Lenny make out under the full moon. And guess who’s watching?! “He’s going to marry a lovely girl, why is he kissing a convict?!”

Sid is outraged that Alan and Kay are both falling for Lenny and what she stands for. “You shouldn’t be thinking radical politics, you should be thinking hip replacement!” he tells Kay, who quotes Mao back to him. (This is becoming a theme.) Lenny trots in and another fight erupts; Then Alan tells Sid he’s thinking of making a life in Cuba. While all of these tensions are bubbling, Lenny and Sid are both quietly using the phone an awful lot. Lenny is plotting something with her co-conspirator on the run. Oh, and Sid? He’s pretty convinced that J. Edgar Hoover is tapping their phone line.
Photo: Courtesy of Amazon Studios.
Episode 5

The FBI is closing in on Lenny; they just apprehended her accomplice in New Jersey. Kay has agreed to help Lenny with something, but she’s keeping it a secret from Sid, obviously. They head to Manhattan to see Sid’s heart doctor. Afterwards, Kay drags him to Brooklyn to pick up a briefcase for Lenny — the favor she roped Kay into. All goes well until the cops show; they followed Lenny’s accomplice from New Jersey. They make away with the briefcase — which turns out to be full of Cuban money — by hopping between roofs. Next, they have to drop it off at a phone booth nearby, where another man is supposed to pick it up. Lenny is escaping to Cuba tomorrow, Kay explains. Naturally, Sid is losing his shit over all of this, while his wife is clearly enjoying this welcome change to their boring routine — an exciting undercover mission.

Problem: A woman walks into the phone booth, but the pickup is supposed to be by a man. Sid tries to get the briefcase back, but the woman thinks he’s trying to claim a stranger’s bag. She calls an officer over, Sid says he was just joking, and the cop leaves with the briefcase full of Cuban money that is supposed to be Lenny’s ticket out of America. Oops! When they get home, they fess up to Lenny, who’s predictably pissed.

Meanwhile, Alan visits his fiancée Ellie’s office to tell her he wants to postpone the wedding. “I’m not sure if I want to spend my life using money to make more money,” he says. “You sound like Karl Marx,” says Ellie. “What are you suggesting, the violent overthrow of the American government?!” Ellie doesn’t recognize this man, and thinks all of Alan’s radical talk is just his way of telling her he doesn’t want to marry her. She’s right: Alan wants to go with Lenny to Cuba, where they can live a life of social justice crusading “under the Caribbean moonlight.” Cute, Alan.
Photo: Courtesy of Amazon Studios.
Episode 6

Alan comes home from the hospital in bandages. Oh, did I not mention? Alan had a little accident making a bomb in his bedroom. (He was supposed to wait for Lenny to help him but he just got really excited, evidently.) Alan’s parents arrive, and they’re not happy. Kay and Sid try to cover for him by saying it was caused by a gas leak, but Alan confesses — before launching into a diatribe against his father, comparing his banker dad’s low-wage workers to slaves and accusing him of racism.

Meanwhile, Kay is fending off few desperate patients who showed up at her house unannounced: a couple on the cusp of divorce and a suicidal man whose wife just left him for a life of prostitution, an indirect consequence of Kay’s counseling method. Ding-dong: The now fully-radicalized book club women show up. They’re all fired up by the Karl Marx biography and guerilla warfare tactics they just read. They sprightly discuss the merits of Joseph Lenin, stealth kill-tactics and the need to suspend civil liberties for a short period between overthrowing the government and installing a new one. The doorbell rings again: It’s Ellie and her parents.

It’s frenzied and chaotic as plotlines are converging, and everything begins to feel a bit like a madcap farce that would be depressing if it weren’t comical. In other words, it feels like the final act of most Woody Allen movies, where the audience wonders how everything is going to be resolved so quickly while knowing that it’s not. “Can I offer anyone an aperitif?” Sid asks brightly.

Alan’s parents think their son is having a mental breakdown. Ellie announces she’s pregnant. She offers to go to Cuba with Alan, sparking an argument about communism with her parents. The doorbell rings again.“I’m expecting the Mormon tabernacle choir,” Sid jokes drily. It’s not the Mormons, it’s two Black guys who are with Lenny. “Girls, Real Black Panthers!” one of the book club ladies shrieks joyfully. Alan’s dad derides the men as criminals, and squabbles break out. And, yet again, the doorbell rings. “We should appear like a normal group!” Sid says to the 25 or so people in his entryway. It’s the gas company guys, here to check out the leak. Lenny finally appears, and the ladies cheer the heroic fugitive. Lenny assures Alan he’s not in love with her but just awakened to his own inner radical. (Don’t worry, Alan and Ellie make up soon enough.)

Lenny has a flight to Havana to catch, and she needs a ride to the plane. Sid volunteers to do it, simply because he can’t bear the thought of having to live with Lenny for however many weeks it takes to set up another escape. He secures her in the trunk of his car, and off they go. Sid gets pulled over for speeding, and when he can’t produce his license or registration the cop tells him to get out and pop the trunk. Shit. Wait! Good news. It turns out the (rather dim) cop is a big fan of Sidney’s novels… except he has Sidney (penname: S.J. Mudsinger) confused with J.D. Salinger. While Sid signs him an autograph, Lenny makes her great escape.
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Photo: Courtesy of Amazon Studios.
The final shot of the show is of Sid and Kay laying together in bed, reeling from the earlier events. Being mistaken for Salinger has got Sid thinking about the man he could be. “Do you think that it’s in me to write a novel as good as The Catcher in the Rye?” he asks Kay. Sid makes maybe the most radical decision of his comfortable little life: He decides he’s going to drop the TV show idea and take one more shot at writing his great novel.

Sid deciding not to do a TV show and instead return to his true passion ends the show on the same playfully ironic note it began on. Crisis isn’t brilliant, provocative or very original — but it’s funny and enjoyable and smart enough. I was prepared to write the show off as a crappy cash-grab, but was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. The effect of binge-watching Crisis In Six Scenes is that it feels exactly like watching an extra long Woody Allen film. Now Allen can go back to making movies and counting his cash from that hefty Amazon paycheck. Crisis averted.