The news cycle surrounding Woody Allen these days tends to go as follows: Reminder of previous allegations, followed by announcement of new film, followed by talent in new project being asked about allegations, followed by new film receiving either critical acclaim or relative indifference, followed by new reminder of previous allegations.
Right now, we’re in the “announcement of new film” phase, with Tuesday’s casting of Timothée Chalamet, Elle Fanning, and Selena Gomez in Allen’s upcoming untitled feature film. But that same morning, Hulu premiered the most savage takedown yet of not just Woody Allen’s modern day work as an auteur, but the cult of personality around him.
“Difficult People” in general and creator Julie Klausner in particular have never been shy about poking fun at certain topics the rest of Hollywood might consider taboo. Just consider the metric ton of jokes about Kevin Spacey’s sexuality that the series has made over the years. But the second episode of Season 3 takes on Allen on a whole new level.
The episode, “Strike Rat,” is very much worth watching in full, especially for the gay conversion subplot and Vanessa Williams as Matthew’s (Cole Escola) ex-wife Trish. But at the heart of it is aspiring actress Julie (Klausner), who gets a secret audition for a new Amazon show.
When Julie finds out she’s auditioning for a famous director “who is arguably offensive to women,” her first guess is Eli Roth, and the casting director corrects her. “Close — Jewish also, but his violence against women is more dialogue-based and exists more in his characters’ antiquated attitudes towards them.”
Julie then gets it immediately: “Woody Allen’s doing another Amazon series?”
“Yes!” the casting director exclaims. “It’s called ‘Manhattan Mini-Storage’ and this time we’re all sure the Wood-ster is going to get TV.” (As opposed to last time.)
From the handwritten script pages to the reference to Allen’s 2 p.m. “salted cottage cheese dinner,” writers Klausner and Scott King’s parody comes together beautifully, especially in the dialogue. A brief compilation of great moments:
- The character Julie is auditioning for: “Esther, white, over 16, unfuckable.”
- “Woody still thinks cigarette girls still exist and black people don’t.”
- One of Julie’s lines in the show: “Oh, Max — every time I see you, I feel like I just smoked a bunch of grass.”
- “Hold on, Woody fell asleep again… He’s a napper and a hider. It’s frustrating when he does both.”
- While looking for Woody: “I found a fishing hat and some Knicks tickets — he can’t be far!”
This isn’t a simple parody, though; “Strike Rat” instead takes a hard look at the ethical dilemma faced by so many of the actors and actresses who have worked with Allen in recent years, through the prism of Julie’s choice to take the role, even while other women literally protest the production. (The name of the group is WAWA — “Women Against Woody Allen.”)
“If I work with him it’s just going to validate his behavior, and I don’t just mean towards women — have you seen ‘Whatever Works’?” Julie says… even though she’s already taken the part.
Julie’s not meant to be a moral pillar of a character, a fact you can glean from the show’s very title. But “Strike Rat” gets at the heart of the fact that while for some people, not working with an accused child molester might be an easy decision, Allen still commands plenty of reverence and respect within the industry.
“Difficult People” lets Julie be blunt about the fact that an individual’s need for success can outweigh larger ethical concerns, which we see so often in the real word. After all, it’s only been three years since Cate Blanchett won her Oscar for “Blue Jasmine,” and new talent continues to sign up for the chance to work with him. It’s all too believable that a struggling actress on Julie’s level would leap at the opportunity. After all, not-so-struggling actresses like Miley Cyrus, Scarlett Johansson, Blake Lively, Parker Posey, Anna Camp, and Emma Stone don’t seem to have a problem with it.
Ultimately, the most fantastical element of the Allen storyline is the very existence of WAWA, as the idea of an organization targeting the auteur on a personal level is simply impossible to imagine. For “Strike Rat” does more than parody Allen’s work — it explains why Allen’s still working.
“Difficult People” Season 3 is streaming now on Hulu.