That * at the end of the title is deliberate. It’s accompanied by a different disclaimer for each episode: funny-as-hell disclaimers that are the exact opposite of profound, disclaimers that don’t really reveal anything about the story or the plot of Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television*.
But they do make fun of a lot of things, including the show and actor Ryan Hansen who plays himself on it. Oh, and the show, in turn, makes fun of itself as well, of its format (which is a web series on Youtube Red, and a show within a show, that is also a crime procedural and a multi-camera sitcom with an audience, all rolled into one not-so-neat half hour of comedy), and of Youtube Red (there’s a lot of poking fun at the platform).
The self-deprecation and humour spares nothing or nobody on this show, not even the concept of a crime procedural, network TV, and celebrity culture.
In case that trailer left you even more confused, and in case seeing Ryan Hansen didn’t ring any recognition bells at all (which can happen), here’s a quick lowdown:
Youtube Red is the the ad-free version of Youtube, and they’re now creating a whole bunch of original content with the hope that viewers will want to shell out a small-ish amount of money each month (just like they do with Netflix etc) to see quality content.
And who’s Ryan Hansen, you ask? Well, if you haven’t seen Party Down or Veronica Mars, then (a) you may not recognise the guy, and (b) why on earth yet have you not injected your life with the teenage detective noir brilliance of Veronica Mars? Hansen is the guy who played the kinda-stupid surfer-bro character of Dick Casablancas in all three seasons of Veronica Mars, as well as the 2014 movie of the same name. He’s the sort of lesser-known celebrity who has the perfect combination of being confident (like a California high school frat boy), while being overly self-conscious like only a mini-celebrity would be.
On the show Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television*, Hansen plays himself as he shadows LAPD detective Jessica Mathers (an always-awesome Samira Wiley), a stereotypical no-nonsense cop from Cleveland who has no patience for Hansen’s celebrity nonsense and his obsession with social media. If you think that sounds a lot like the premise of Castle, you’re right – except that it’s not.
Hansen, between Instagramming live and posing for selfies (even at the crime scenes), is essentially “assisting” Mathers in solving crimes around the Hollywood, LA area. The idea of him using his supposed celebrity expertise and know-how of the industry to help Mathers solve the crimes, may seem like the flimsiest, stupidest premise, but it actually works quite well, to the surprise of the discerning audience and Mathers herself. The fact that all of this is the set-up for his celebrity-reality-crime-show (called “Celebrity Vice Squad”) within this Youtube Red show that we’re watching, somehow feels more meta than the “wardrobe inception” of Ryan Gosling wearing a t-shirt of Macaulay Culkin wearing a t-shirt of Gosling wearing a t-shirt of Culkin.
Of course, nobody that he talks to really cares about any of it much – Mathers doesn’t give a sh*t about Hansen, period; the various suspects and perpetrators don’t know who Ryan Hansen is, so they’re often just confused when they’re being interrogated bullshitted by him; and almost no one knows what Youtube Red is, or believes that it’s a real thing (most people confuse Youtube Red for a porn site; I later learned that a couple of very popular porn sites have similar words in their names).
Besides the self-deprecation and meta-ness, the show also finds other ways to be weirdly humorous – for e.g. when Hansen keeps interrupting his Celebrity Vice Squad show to deliver a line differently, or when he’s about to say that some of his lines will probably end up being cut from the final online version of the show, only to be cut short while he’s saying it because, well, it’s a show within a show!
Each episode of Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television* follows the crime-procedural template and at the end of the half hour, their case is solved, after which Ryan Hansen heads home (his fake home, with a fake family) and suddenly, we jump from a celebrity-crime-show to a multi-camera family sitcom – with a live audience, signs that say “Applause”, a fake wife (iZombie’s Aly Michalka), three fake daughters, and the real Jon Cryer as their nosy neighbour. Whaaa! It’s all quite ridiculous and irreverent, which makes it rather hilarious. Apparently, as Hansen explains on the show, they couldn’t decide whether Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television* should be a single or multi-camera show. So they’re trying out both.
Then there are the celebrity appearances; besides Hansen and Cryer, there’s Joel McHale (of Community fame) who plays Ryan Hansen for one episode – this is because, as we find out on the show, the creators of Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television* believe that Joel McHale is more Ryan Hansen-y than Hansen himself. And since nobody seems to know that Ryan Hansen is a sorta celebrity, it doesn’t matter if he’s replaced. The real Ryan Hansen, meanwhile, plays a random cop in the episode. The fact that his “partner” Mathers, who considers him a nuisance, is so fully onboard with the idea of Joel McHale-as-Ryan-Hansen being her partner instead, is distressing to him (and mildly amusing to us viewers).
That same episode, Donald Faison (Clueless, Scrubs) plays an overly narcissistic version of himself, which is so over-the-top it’s hysterical. In a later episode, when a bunch of women dressed as Disney princesses end up murdered, all clues lead to Kristen Bell (but of course), who plays a hilariously high-maintenance version of herself, as someone who detests having to dress up as Elsa for high-paying gigs such as children’s parties (Kristen Bell was Anna, people, Anna! And btw, that Elsa wasn’t even a Princess, she was a Queen..ugh peasants).
Other industry jokes abound – like Frozen and Brave being bleeped out each time anyone utters the movie names, because of Disney’s copyright laws about them.
Besides the obvious jokes, the show also partakes in some subtle commentary on the movie/TV industry – in the first episode, the LAPD precinct captain is played by James McDaniel (I) of NYPD Blue fame. The only scene he appears in, is when he’s giving Hansen and Mathers an earful for accidentally shooting (nay, grazing) a suspect’s ear. In episode two, in a similar scene where Hansen and Mathers are being given a talking-to, we realize that the actor playing the captain has been replaced – Captain Jackson is now being played by Steve Harris (I) of The Practice. Just when you put it down as a normal casting change made from the pilot to the regular series episodes, we’re on to episode three, and we have another black actor playing Captain Jackson – this time, it’s Barry Shabaka Henley (Miami Vice, Collateral).
It doesn’t take you long to realize that the show is addressing an overused trope – that of a black police captain on a TV show or movie. But it’s funny, because the show actually calls out the “angry black man/woman as a police captain” stereotype (Hansen mentions how strange it is that all the captains at their precinct are named “Jackson”), and once you realize what’s happening, it’s a fun game to guess which black male or female actor might play the role in the next episode (besides these three, the role of Captain Jackson is played by Leslie David Baker (I), Frankie Faison, Reginald VelJohnson, and Yvette Nicole Brown).
Another game (with no prizes, of course) was noticing a pattern in the murders from episode one through eight. I won’t give anything more away, in case any of you want to sit down and watch this show on Youtube Red. And I think you should watch it. For a show still coming to terms with what it really is and how it would really work, Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television* is surprisingly smart and well-produced. You know how you’re on Youtube watching an interview with the cast of Stranger Things, and then five hours later, you’re still in front of your laptop watching videos about contouring and celebrity homes and Lin-Manuel Miranda?
Like most things on Youtube, once you start watching Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television*, you’ll probably not want to stop. The good news is that you’ll only spend four hours watching the show’s entire first season, so you can then get back to your Lin-Manuel videos. Seems like a good deal to me, no?