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Woody Allen's 'Crisis' comes to Amazon, Marvel's 'Luke Cage' to Netflix

If you thought Woody Allen would revolutionize television with his new Amazon series, Crisis in Six Scenes, prepare to be underwhelmed.

Mike Colter (left), Frankie Faison in "Luke Cage."
Mike Colter (left), Frankie Faison in "Luke Cage."Read more

If you thought Woody Allen would revolutionize television with his new Amazon series, Crisis in Six Scenes, prepare to be underwhelmed.

One of two new streaming series premiering Friday - keep reading for my take on Netflix's latest Marvel series, Luke Cage - the 1960s-set Crisis opens with Jefferson Airplane's "Volunteers" ("Look what's happening out in the streets, got a revolution").

Allen writes, directs, and stars as Sidney J. Munsinger, a querulous novelist and would-be TV writer whose life is upended when his marriage-therapist wife, Kay (the age-appropriate Elaine May), insists they shelter Lennie (Miley Cyrus), a young woman from her past.

Now an antiwar radical who's on the run from police after a bombing, Lennie has to sleep in Kay's home office because the guest room's already occupied by Alan (John Magaro, Orange Is the New Black).

The son of family friends, Alan soon finds his attachments to capitalism and to his fiancée, Ellie (Rachel Brosnahan, WGN America's Manhattan), threatened by his attraction to Lennie.

Cyrus delivers every line in exactly the same tone of bored exasperation, rendering Lennie not just relentlessly obnoxious but wooden. Magaro, the latest in a long string of Allen stand-ins, sounds, as most do, amorous and neurotic.

Some of the controversial director's fans (and foes) may enjoy picking through Crisis for clues to his personal life - it's hard not to read something unpleasantly retaliatory in a minor character's comment on the risks of adoption and a reference to a "lovely" adopted daughter with "psychological problems."

But I'm no more interested in spending six episodes dissecting Allen than I would be in the caveman romcom Sidney pitches in the third episode ("the comic possibilities are myriad").

Allen's actual show isn't any more subtle than the one Sidney's pitching. As a character asks in the first Crisis episode, when the subject of Vietnam arises: "Did you ever think you'd see America like this? So polarized? You know, these riots. Black vs. white. Male vs. female. Young vs. old."

May is the single best reason to watch Crisis in Six Scenes. Whether Kay is earnestly introducing her book club to Mao Zedong's little red book, making hilariously unorthodox recommendations to her patients, or lying to the police with out-of-left-field lines like, "Our daughter doesn't count. She was a caesarean," May's a daffy delight.

The Philadelphia-born comedian, director (The Heartbreak Kid), and screenwriter, who most recently directed the American Masters profile of her onetime comedy partner, Mike Nichols, has been too long missing from screens of all sizes.

Maybe Amazon's next series should be hers.

'Luke Cage' on Netflix

I didn't know how I'd feel about a Luke Cage separate from Jessica Jones, but it turns out the Marvel TV universe is big enough to contain their very different worlds.

And in its newest Netflix series, starring Mike Colter as the bulletproof title character, Marvel demonstrates the power of placing a black hero in an environment where his superhuman abilities are what set him apart, not the color of his skin.

Created by Cheo Hodari Coker (Ray Donovan, Notorious) and set in Harlem, to which Luke has retreated after the events of Jessica Jones, Luke Cage is steeped in the New York neighborhood's history and its complicated present.

We find Luke sweeping up at the barbershop owned by a community fixture called Pop (Frankie Faison, The Wire), whose place has been neutral territory in even the neighborhood's most violent times.

When Luke's not working at Pop's, he's washing dishes in the club owned by gangster Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes (Mahershala Ali, House of Cards), and doing his very best not to call attention to himself.

You know that's not going to last.

Stokes, who bankrolls the political and charitable efforts of his city councilwoman cousin, Mariah (Alfre Woodard), is the kind of fully fleshed-out villain we've come to expect even from dramas where the good guys can't stop bullets.

Luke is a little tortured in the way we've also come to expect from modern heroes, super and otherwise. But the character has a strong grip on the difference between right and wrong.

Colter, who played charismatic drug lord Lemond Bishop in The Good Wife, makes an even more appealing hero than he did a villain.

Detective Misty Knight (Simone Missick, Wayward Pines), who dreams of bringing Stokes down - and isn't too sure how she feels about Luke - has a backstory that includes playing basketball for Temple.

Fans of Netflix's Daredevil and Jessica Jones will appreciate the moments when their orbits briefly intersect (and the return of Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple), but knowledge of those shows or of the comics on which they're based isn't a prerequisite for Luke Cage.

I've seen only seven of the 13 episodes to be released on Friday, but this might be the best of Marvel's Netflix shows so far.