Tuesday, October 24, 2017

TV REVIEW: YouTube Red's 'Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television'

YouTube Red will launch its new original comedy series Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television* with two episodes on Wednesday, October 25. The comedy stars Ryan Hansen and Samira Wiley.

Read on for my thoughts on the new comedy after screening its first two episodes.

I never thought I needed to concern myself with what YouTube Red is. It's a subscription service that launched as a part of YouTube over a year ago where for $9.99/month you get rid of all of the ads, can experience the app offline and view exclusive content from some of YouTube's biggest stars. It didn't feel like a service tailored for me - even though I'm 24 years old. I came up in the era of YouTube. But I never got into it as a part of celebrity culture. I don't subscribe to people who make videos of content once a week. I'm not bothered by the ad-load on the service. I haven't felt the need to incorporate YouTube into more of my regular life. It was inessential to my desire for content. I have a preference for higher end originals. Everything on YouTube ultimately feels like a webseries that could eventually become something more if the right network discovered the talent and wanted to give them a bigger budget to experiment with. And now, YouTube wants to be that network. But even in the brief glimpses of shows available through YouTube Red, the content still looks cheap and derivative. It's a way to keep young audiences entertained who haven't yet discovered all the great content on services like Netflix, Hulu, FX, HBO, etc. But I'm forced to take YouTube Red more seriously now because they have the ambitions of expanding its brand and broadening the demographic. It's trying to appeal to older audiences who are used to more well-produced content. And so, it has a new slate of original shows that boost familiar numbers in the entertainment industry. It's no longer just YouTube celebrities on YouTube Red. Now, actors are dipping their toes into the service to see if this streaming network can be a game changer like Netflix and Hulu have been.

Of course, there's still a long way to go before anyone can take YouTube Red seriously. It still feels like the executives are struggling for a vision and a way to actually market their shows so that the content is desirable for audiences. If I were to tell you that two weeks ago YouTube Red launched a new drama executed produced by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and starring Friday Night Lights alum Zach Gilford, would you believe me? Probably not. Even I was surprised when it showed up. The show is called Lifeline. It's debuted six episodes since October 11. It's not good at all. But it's a part of the new programming initiative at YouTube Red. But making these shows is one thing. Actually marketing them and making sure your audience is aware of them is completely different. I knew that Lifeline was coming at some point. But I didn't realize it joined the service's lineup until two days after the fact. That was just from a random search in preparation for this article as well. It wasn't because of any kind of buzz I've found for the show on social media. It arrived with no promotion whatsoever and didn't generate any kind of interest. That's not good. Of course, things are a little different for Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television*. The service actually released a trailer for the 8-episode season that included a premiere date. It's the show that the service is seemingly hoping will turn the perception of the network around. And yet, one show isn't enough to make this an enticing offer for consumers. Even a couple of shows may not ultimately do enough. If the quality is there, then this conversation would be a little different. But right now, I can't recommend that someone pay $9.99/month for Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television*.

If you are looking for a comedy that is a fun spoof of police procedurals, check out FOX's Brooklyn Nine-Nine or TBS' Angie Tribeca. Those shows arrived fully formed and are operating at such a high level. In its opening two episodes, Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television* is still just figuring itself out. It's a comedy with a premise pilot and a second episode that basically repeats everything that happens in the first. But it's too self-referential about itself and the service it is airing on. Here's the basic setup. Actor Ryan Hansen from Veronica Mars is filming a television show for YouTube Red called Celebrity Vice Squad (or CVS for short) where the city of Los Angeles has allowed celebrities to team up with detectives in the hopes of using their Hollywood connections and ability to become other people to help solve crimes. Hansen is constantly mugging for the camera and trying to fit the police procedural genre's typical plot beats into his new job. Meanwhile, his new partner, Jessica Mathers - played by Emmy nominee Samira Wiley from Orange Is the New Black and The Handmaid's Tale - is newly transferred from Cleveland, doesn't know much about pop culture and sees all of this as a hindrance to actual police work. Did you follow all of that? It seems absolutely ridiculous. Of course, once it sets all of this up, there is the potential for it to be a solid buddy cop comedy with polar opposite leads. But the final result makes it seem like Hansen and Wiley are acting in two completely different shows.

Hansen is very self-aware. He knows exactly where the cameras are. He knows the zingers to deliver upon seeing a dead body. He knows the lines to say to build suspense going into the commercial breaks - even though YouTube Red doesn't have those. Every episode opens on him live-streaming his regular life and his hopes for the day. It's an artificial plot device. Every episode concludes with him at at a ridiculous audition for a project he won't ultimately book. There is a lot of fun there. It's a solid running joke to see the auditions he's going out for and how this new show is affecting his ability to do more noticeable work. Hansen has a good sense of humor about himself and how a vast array of people have no idea who he is. This fictionalized version of himself lets those comments just roll right off him. Collectively, they do some damage to him as he doubts about the effectiveness of his acting abilities. But those aren't lingering concerns whatsoever. He's upbeat and positive no matter how many people are complaining about him not really being a celebrity or a successful actor. This is Ryan Hansen's show after all. His name is right there in the title. But even that title is aware that it's a show mocking the formula of television while airing on a service that isn't technically television. That's a cheeky joke that's simple and minor in the actual content of the show.

But everything else about the format of the show needs to be constantly over-explained by Hansen. He needs to call attention to the plot beats where the show is parodying something from the genre. It's annoying and doesn't allow the satire to really land in an effective way. So in the first episode, there's lots of talk about Hansen just filming an experimental pilot where many people tell him it won't likely be picked up to series. Then in the second episode, he's very boastful of the fact that YouTube Red ordered seven more episodes. When one actor is recast between episodes, it's something that Hansen talks about. When Jessica delivers a perfect into commercial line, he gives her notes as to how to improve the delivery for television. When one set is actually the stage for a multi-camera sitcom, Hansen talks about it in a way to give the appearance of edge in the era of peak TV. It's just a lot of talk on Hansen's part. It's the show over-explaining what it's actually doing. Wiley is more than comfortable just being the straight women to Hansen's various antics. But that's not a particularly good use of her - especially following her two most recent performances of the past year. She's basically just asked to be annoyed by him and to just go along with all the crazy suggestions he has because he's not the worst actor in this bold experiment that she could be paired with. But that's not ultimately good enough. Their partnership still seems very divisive and not worth all the effort for genuine pathos by the end of the second episode.

So in the end, one has to ask if Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television* is good for YouTube Red's expanding brand. It probably is. Again, if the show learns to calm down and just allow the parody to be exactly that, it could be a lot of fun. Everything is in place for it to be an amusing show. The execution just needs to be slightly reworked. It's also very aware of the service that it is airing on. There are so many jokes about YouTube Red sounding like a porn website. It's a very funny joke in the early going. But it just gets so repetitive. Even though I've only seen two episodes of this, the writing has already exhausted all it can think to do with this joke. That's potentially troublesome because it could prove a rigid belief that it needs to stick to its formula. Meanwhile, this show doesn't seem like it will broaden the audience all that much. There is definitely some pandering with the various actors playing versions of themselves in these opening episodes. Eric Christian Olsen and Jon Cryer are veteran actors from CBS shows. So, they pop up to appeal to that demographic. They aren't that effective as cameos though. Nor should they be successful in luring an older audience to this platform. The audience will need to be engaged with Ryan Hansen in order to continue with this season.