REVIEW: "RYAN HANSEN SOLVES CRIMES ON TELEVISION"
You may not know the name Ryan Hansen, but if you watch enough TV, you'll almost definitely recognize his face. He was Dick on "Veronica Mars," Kyle on "Party Down," Blaze on "Burning Love," Ben on "The League" and a bit player in dozens of other shows. In YouTube Red's latest series, the alternatingly awkward and clever "Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television," he's taking on his toughest role to date: himself. OK, well, a version of himself who has been tasked with solving LA mysteries.
The show starts with a convoluted high-concept meta-gimmick. It's probably too convoluted. The mayor of Los Angeles, for obscure reasons, has decided to hire character actors - like Ryan Hansen - to assist detectives in solving major crimes. Hansen, who has fully thrown himself into the role, has decided to turn his experiences with the police into an original series for YouTube Red. He's calling his version "Celebrity Vice Squad," but it's essentially the show that we're already watching. It's full of winking self-aware references to the fact that the characters know they're already in a show, and we're watching them.
A number of other recognizable Hollywood types also portray heightened versions of themselves (Eric Christian Olsen of "NCIS: Los Angeles" is essentially Hansen's nemesis), but Emmy nominee Samira Wiley ("The Handmaid's Tale") co-stars as Hansen's fictitious partner, Jessica Mathers. Her "real" detective, a recent transfer from Cleveland, serves as Hansen's straight man, setting up a constant flow of gags in which he's depicted as the ultimate airhead industry-obsessed doofus.
The show is the brainchild of writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber, best known for broad comedies like "Dodgeball" and "We're the Millers," and each episode is PACKED with jokes, both good and bad. Several of them felt pretty specific to Los Angeles and show business; I'm not 100% sure bits about YouTube Red's business model and the "Star Wars" callbacks process are REALLY going to connect with audiences in the heartland. But maybe I'm wrong.
The show definitely suffers from an almost-immediate feeling of repetitiveness. Most sequences take on a strikingly similar theme: Hansen and Mathers arrive at a crime scene, or to interrogate a witness, and she's all business while he screws around. But eventually, Hansen's deep knowledge of nonsense like social media trends, the local club scene or self-tanning will provide a vital clue. Obviously, the show has comedy on its mind, but I can't help but think that a bit more investment in the crimes and the mysteries and this fictional Los Angeles would have been refreshing, and kept everything from feeling quite so one-note.
(It's really not even much of a parody of cop shows. Nearly all the humor is focused on Hansen and his clueless C-list self-delusion.)
Scenes also tend to play out until ALL of the possible bits are drained from the set-up and material. I know YouTube Red shows have limited budgets, but you can almost FEEL the production dragging its heels, taking a bit of extra time at each location, hoping to get in another minute of dialogue before having to move the cameras somewhere else.
Having said that, it's not a total loss at all. Hansen is funny, and willing to make himself look pretty despicable for a gag, and Wiley's a good enough actress to turn a really thankless role into what almost feels like a real fleshed-out character. Some of the insider jokes poking fun at lame Hollywood trends are funny and insightful, and many of the cameos and smaller parts are expertly cast.
I had fun with "Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television" in spots, but ultimately, less self-aware gimmickry and more of the elements that make actual police procedurals compelling would've helped.
Title: "Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television"
Where to Watch: YouTube Red
Episodes: 8 (1 season)
Running time: 24 to 30 minutes each