‘Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television’ Review: YouTube Red Goes Meta
The premise of Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television is that Ryan Hansen (playing a fictionalized version of himself) is one of a handful of “elite” actors who have been chosen by the mayor or Los Angeles to help the police force with an increase in Hollywood murders. Hansen is paired with a real cop as a partner (Jessica Mathers, played by Samira Wiley), and the idea is that he can use his knowledge of clubs, social media, and the vapid lives of LA actors to help solve murders. Hansen’s participation in these investigations is also being filmed for his own show, and each episode ends with a sitcom setup in front of a live studio audience.
Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television (henceforth known as RHSCOT) is fast-paced and frankly, a lot to take in. It’s juggling a myriad of genres (it also starts all of its first three episodes with Periscope footage of Hansen stumping for the program), and leans in heavily to a meta comedic sensibility. The show is hyperaware of the tropes of crime procedurals, and it meets each of them head-on, like in rotating out a different black actor to play the “angry chief” in each episode, and then commenting on it (which takes out some of the comedy). Almost nothing in RHSCOT occurs without commentary, as the series wants to both embrace and send-up its every action.
RHSCOT is part of a new push in original content from YouTube Red, YouTube’s subscription service. “It’s like YouTube, only not free” as the show puts it. “That sounds like a terrible business model,” another character opines.
RHSCOT never misses an opportunity to point out what a terrible name YouTube Red is, and how unfortunately similarly it is to pornography sites like RedTube, and it’s not wrong. But while there’s a certain humor to the self-awareness of commenting as much as the show does about the network it’s on, it’s also spelling out everything for viewers in a way that also takes the comedy out of it. RHSCOT is trying to do so many things that it rarely pauses to focus more on what it’s doing best.
The reason to watch RHSCOT is for Ryan Hansen, who is funny, charming, and an exceedingly likable lead. But he gets a little buried in the show’s manic desire to incorporate and satirize every conceivable genre in each half-hour episode. The chemistry between Hansen’s goofy Hollywood character and Wiley’s straight-laced cop is a classic one, but the show can’t let it exist without drenching it in sarcasm. It’s daring us to like the setup because it’s so conventional, but at the same time, it’s why that kind of pairing is historically so popular. Unfortunately, Wiley isn’t given much to work with besides profanity and scowls. Three episodes in and we know a lot about Hansen, his home life, his ambitions, his work history, and his strengths and weaknesses, yet Wiley’s Mathers remains the exact “tough cop” archetype the show seems to want to subvert.
Rather than something like Curb Your Enthusiasm or any number of self-aware mockumentaries, the show that RHSCOT is the most reminiscent of is the late, great The Grinder. In that series, an actor (played by Rob Lowe) who starred in a long-running legal procedural decides to start practicing law himself (and without a degree). It was a formula that worked because Lowe was charmingly vain, like Hansen is in this show, but he would occasionally realize that his Hollywood persona was keeping real legal work from getting done. There was a balance, which RHSCOT also gets to, though without as much emphasis on having it ultimately mean something. Instead, Hansen — who is shown trying to get people to recognize him in vain, and doesn’t have particularly successful auditions — falls backwards into helping cases as he suffers through a series of various humiliations, including getting recast in his own show. It allows just enough pathos to give RHSCOT something to hold onto, which is important given its swirling, cameo-driven, sarcastic attitude. It needs to feel like more than just an extended sketch.
Both RHSCOT and YouTube Red seem to be figuring themselves out, and it makes sense for YouTube to want to experiment with form and format a little bit with the series. After all, if it’s not adding anything new then how can it make enough noise to get noticed in an already overcrowded medium? There are a lot of great and very funny ideas in the show, and something of a nihilistic streak that will appeal to the weary TV viewer. But while RHSCOT is an admirable (and often charming, thanks to Hansen) attempt to make something different, it just doesn’t seem like it knows what exactly that is yet.
Rating: ★★ Fair – Worth checking out though; It’s trying something!
Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television premieres Wednesday, October 25th on YouTube.