Photo: LUCAS JACKSON/Corbis
So, Woody Allen is creating a TV series for Amazon. True to form, it’s currently called Untitled Woody Allen Project — maybe it’s a spinoff of his upcoming film, Untitled Woody Allen Project. And the press release includes a typically self-deprecating yet gnomic remark from Allen: “I don’t know how I got into this. I have no ideas and I’m not sure where to begin.”
He’s lying. Because Woody Allen is pretty much perfect for television. Or whatever televisionlike thing Amazon Prime Instant Video technically is. Here are the reasons why:
1. Woody Allen’s whole career is sort of like one long TV series.
Similar themes, similar characters, similar story lines, similar jokes (when there are jokes), and, very often, the same actors. That may sound like a knock, but it isn’t. Allen’s body of work is remarkable for its consistency and fluidity; it’s one of the things that keeps many of us coming back to him, even after he has flops. The Curse of the Jade Scorpion and Whatever Works might be bad movies, but in the grand scheme of things, they don’t even feel like stand-alone movies; they’re more like weaker episodes of an ongoing series, The Films of Woody Allen.
2. Woody Allen’s style is ideal for today’s TVs.
In his early masterpieces, Allen’s style was marked by smart dialogue and visual whimsy. (Occasionally, in a film like Manhattan, the visual side was more pronounced than usual.) In recent years, there’s been a little less visual whimsy, though the films still often look great. As Allen’s films have become a little more TV-like, TVs have become a little more movielike. This is a great place for them to meet. Especially now. With movies getting more and more action-packed, Allen’s writing will feel more at home in a medium where people expect to see characters have actual conversations.
3. Woody Allen is insanely prolific.
Allen is constantly writing, and he famously has a treasure trove of old unproduced scripts, plays, and ideas. Occasionally, he dusts one off and turns it into a movie. (Whatever Works, for example, was written decades before Allen actually filmed it.) Given the sheer volume of his output, giving him a show is a great idea; he probably has way more scripts than he has years in which to make them as films.
4. Allen’s audience might prefer to stay home.
Allen’s viewer base is a fairly loyal one, but they also don’t go out to the movies that often. True, some of his movies make a lot more money than others, and he’s had a couple of the biggest hits of his career recently, with Blue Jasmine and Midnight in Paris. And in New York, an Upper West Side art house like the Lincoln Plaza can reliably book even the most minor Allen movie and guarantee a huge turnout. But let’s face it, asking Woody Allen fans in other cities to go to the Gargantuaplex and watch Blue Jasmine while Superman and General Zod level the Eastern Seaboard in the adjoining theater is just cruel and unusual punishment. In other words, getting adults to go to the movies can be hard in today’s environment. And in a marketplace where even independent movies need to have big opening weekends to survive, it makes sense for someone like Woody Allen — who really isn’t a big-opening-weekend kind of guy — to work in a format that can allow its audience to grow, and that lets viewers watch at their own speed.
5. Woody Allen is the forerunner of many of our biggest TV comedians.
Guys like Louis C.K., Jerry Seinfeld, and others owe a huge debt to Allen, who perfected the idea of the comedian playing a fictional variation on his public persona (even if, in Allen’s case, that public persona was a far cry from who he was in real life). To be sure, there’s nothing in the Amazon announcement to suggest that Allen will be acting in his series, and in recent years he has avoided appearing in his films (though he did appear in John Turturro’s Fading Gigolo, so it’s not like he’s given up acting altogether). Even so, it seems strangely appropriate that he would come to TV, where so many of his greatest disciples now thrive.
6. Ingmar Bergman also did TV, as you may recall.
Ingmar Bergman (Allen’s great hero), despite making some of the most cinematic films of all time, didn’t shy away from the small screen. One of his greatest masterpieces, Scenes From a Marriage, was originally a six-part TV miniseries. And Allen wrote and/or directed numerous other TV projects (miniseries, movies, etc.). Bergman never did make a TV series, true. But wouldn’t it have been great if he did?
7. This could rejuvenate his work.
Allen can occasionally still deliver a great movie, but his work today is a shadow of his glory days in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and even early ‘90s. Working in a new medium might actually spur him to shake things up a bit — to think about new ways to structure and tell his stories, maybe utilizing the long-format possibilities of a series. And who knows? Maybe he’ll create something great. Or maybe it’ll be a disaster. But face it — you’re at least a little curious to see what he comes up with.
And a final note: Woody Allen might have raped his adopted stepdaughter when she was 7 years old. Or he might not have. This is a very troubling allegation that will likely haunt Allen for the remainder of his days. It’s also one that we’re not going to get to the bottom of here. (It’s also different from the allegations against Bill Cosby, whose accusations come from many, many different people and span decades. Those accusations led to Cosby having his TV projects yanked and canceled, which was probably appropriate.) To get into how this may affect whether Allen’s Amazon Prime show will be successful or not would be crass and insensitive — to both parties, actually. But it is a matter obviously worthy of noting.