I feel sorry for some TV producers, you know. Sure, there are some that make television shows that are just bad. Often, as with Ghost Wars say, that’s down to all manner of obviously poor choices behind the scenes.
But with something like Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television*, Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball, We’re The Millers, Central Intelligence)’s first TV show, you can tell that everyone’s really, really trying, there’s some real smartness to the writing, yet for some reason, nothing quite works.
As the name suggests, Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television* is a hyper-aware, highly meta TV show in which Ryan Hansen (Veronica Mars) plays ‘Ryan Hansen (Veronica Mars)’. An unnoted actor whom everyone confuses with Ryan Phillippe, he’s just landed a pilot episode on the new YouTube Red subscription service in which he tags along with LAPD detective Samira Wiley (Orange is the New Black) as she investigates ‘real’ murders. Her no-nonsense cop skills combined with his insights into the LA social and acting movie scene enable them to solve crimes others can’t.
What’s the format?
So the format is slightly Castle, although with Wiley so focused on the Angry Black Woman persona she’s saddled with, there’s no romantic chemistry between her and Hansen whatsoever. But the show is far, far more It’s Garry Shandling’s Show than it is Castle.
For starters, it obviously knows it’s a television show that’s being filmed for a subscription TV series and so do all the characters, who can, of course, see the cameras and even talk to camera.
The asterisk at the end of the title has a different self-aware explanation each episode, too (eg “Though you’re probably watching this on your phone and that’s cool too”, “Though you’re probably watching this on stolen Chinese Internet and that’s cool too”).
There are constant digs at the network, whether it’s because no one’s ever heard of it, they have but are actually confusing it with RedTube or YouPorn (“It’s exactly like YouTube but it’s not free.” “Great business model”) or the fact it costs the same as Netflix but doesn’t have The Crown, Stranger Things or anything else anyone might want to watch.
There are digs at Hansen’s lack of TV success. There are digs at his cluelessness, such as when he goes for an audition in a movie version of Hamilton (“I know in the musical they’re all black actors, but the original guy was white apparently, so I guess I’m just going back to the source material”). There are cameos from other actors playing versions of themselves, with Eric Christian Olsen (NCIS: LA) recurring as Hansen’s more successful, mean arch-rival ‘Eric Christian Olsen (NCIS: LA)’.
But it goes deeper than that, as Hansen constantly gives Wiley notes on the nature of the show, such as the use of West Wing walk-and-talk scenes and whether she should have ‘a mouth prop’ and deliver lines in the style of the great David Caruso. Other characters can see the programme is being filmed, too, and can critique the show itself, including Hansen, such as when he’s attacked with a sword by a woman in her underwear (“I’m not sure whether this is misogynistic or empowering for women”).
And since the programme’s format is allegedly still in flux, the directorial style frequently changes, from cameraphone at one extreme to multi-camera studio comedy at the other – at the end of each episode, Hansen returns home to his ‘wife’ Aly Michalka (Hellcats, iZombie) and their children in their ‘house’, which comes complete with live studio audience – much to Wiley’s surprise, of course. ‘Neighbour’ Jon Cryer even drops by for the end scenes, too, so that studio sitcoms can be satirised (“Great cameo, Jon. If the pilot gets picked up, we could make this a regular guest spot”).
Perhaps most amusing of the regular jokes is that the Angry Captain who chews out Hansen and Wiley has a touch of the Prisoner/Callan to them – it’s a different famous black actor each time (Barry Shabaka Henley, Steve Harris, James McDaniel, Frankie Faison, Leslie David Baker, Yvette Nicole Brown and Reginald VelJohnson) but they’re always ‘Captain Jackson’.
Not much cop
Tragically, all of that is for naught, however, since when it’s not being meta and sending up LA and TV in general with accurate barbs, it’s not got anything left. For far more of its still-long 30 minute runtime, each episode is a cop drama that isn’t much cop. Most exchanges of dialogue between Hansen and Wiley involve Hansen saying something and Wiley hating/swearing at him in return without any wit whatsoever. Wiley doesn’t really get to contribute much to the show beyond being the straight woman, either.
All of which makes Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television* a slog, albeit one that’s peppered with a considerable number of jewels. Is it worth it? Well the first two episodes are free, but in the UK, there is no YouTube Red subscription service, so you’ll have to buy each subsequent episode for £1.89 a shot. For eight episodes in total, six paid for, that’s nearly £12, which even with guest appearances by the likes of Kristen Bell and Joel McHale (“Who are you playing?” “Ryan Hansen” “He’s playing me?”) is a bit of an ask – certainly compared to Netflix.
So watch the freebies if you like, although don’t expect to love them, but paying for the rest is probably a bad idea.