In September of this year, the first season of one of Woody Allen’s only television-writing credits to date, Crisis in Six Scenes, was released for Amazon’s fledgling for-pay internet media empire. It showers of astringent vituperation were subsequently heaped upon it. Most critics were saying it was a confused train wreck and few people thought it had the charm of Allen’s big screen work. What’s worse, no one thought it was very funny. Many were even resorting to ad hominem attacks, ostensibly likening Woody Allen to the proverbial Emperor and claiming they’d felt for years that he’d lost is touch and had been irrelevant since the 80’s.
Saying that Woody Allen has lost his skills as a filmmaker is a bit extreme. He still brings the odd blockbuster to the screen. Even as recently as 2013, we have the example of Blue Jasmine, a film that has over a 90% Tomatometer rating and brought in almost five times its production cost in box office earnings. It’s clear that there is still very much an audience for his work even after the era of dramatic successes with perennial classics like Annie Hall. It would not be fair to say that Allen’s skills are declining in a general sense.
Perhaps it is that too much was expected of him for this Amazon series. On the surface, it bears many of the characteristics of his work we have come to expect. Allen plays the stock character he created which has come to be melded to his public image – a severely anxious, hypochondriac wimp who blurts out his stream of consciousness to those around him who listen patiently and respond with lackadaisical disrespect. Allen and his wife are members of the Northeastern US intelligentsia, with Allen being a slipshod writer and his wife a marriage psychotherapist of dubious efficacy. Despite their shortcomings, they somehow afford a very comfortable existence in a large suburban home. Their very Allenesque existence is not the crux of the plot this time, though. Here a crude and fanatical revolutionary on the lam with the outward guise of a white suburban girl forces herself upon the family and their boring existence is shaken up when they decide to shelter her.
Critics have not been kind to Allen’s shy flirtation with television. Metacritic professionals grant it a 44 out of 100. On Rotten Tomatoes, it garners a similar rating of 4.7 out of 10, but the Tomatometer tells a sadder story. Only 18% of critics think it’s good. This is an abysmally low number. The Rotten Tomatoes audience is also the least forgiving of the show’s flaws, with only 40% of members enjoying it and everyone banding together to give it a mediocre 2.5 out of 5.
There is certainly space for disagreement on the wide open planes of internet, though. IMBD users rate it 6.8 out of 10, which is good. On Metacritic, the plebeians give it a similar 6.7 out of 10. Such disparity between different segments of the audience probably comes down to expectation. When a critic sees a Woody Allen production, they may be expecting too much poignant criticism on relationships and sexuality. This show is more about a bizarre situation that happened to a normal family.
The stronger audience scores are more appropriate to the actual quality of the first season of this series than the execrations from critics steeped in expectation. There are certainly flaws with the series. What Woody Allen tries to use for humor would probably fail with most of the audience. Much of the acting also seems forced, at least from the main stars. Allen himself is on autopilot, playing the same stereotypical neurotic little man he always has. Miley Cyrus is believable, but absolutely obnoxious as the rude, overly-opinionated young revolutionary. In short, the level of acting and humor is on par with a cheap sitcom. The best part of the whole production is the pacing. The whole tapestry unravels very slowly and unpredictably. It makes for some good dramatic viewing.
Amazon does not release raw viewer numbers for its Prime service, but we do have access to user ratings. Over 6,000 raters, it scores a 3.1 out of 5. This is a very centrist rating, meaning that it neither impresses nor appalls on the whole. The star rating percentages from 1 – 5 are also fairly evenly spread out. About as many people hated it as those who loved it.
This is not good for the future of the show. Not only are these reviewers significantly less than those for other shows on the network with big-name stars (Billy Bob Thornton’s Goliath gets 43,000 ratings), but it can’t even beat out interest for shows with no top-billing celebrities (sexuality drama Fleabag has 7,000 ratings). What’s worse, #CSS has perceptively worse cumulative reviews than other such shows. While 3 stars out of 5 isn’t bad in absolute terms, it’s unacceptable when all of its peers are getting 4 and above.
Woody Allen has become a relic of the past who can no longer rest on his laurels. In order to capture audience interest and critic respect, he must work for it by giving the people what they want. He has failed to do this in CSS and it appears there will not be a second season, although there is no announcement to the point as of yet.
Once there is an announcement on the future of this show, we’ll know about it. Sign up for our E-mail notification list down below if you want to know,
What do you think of this first foray into short story-style drama? How do you think Woody Allen’s show could have been better? Do you think relatively rigid 1960’s America is an interesting setting for people today? Do you think Woody Allen is stuck in the past? Give us your comments and opinions down below.