TV

‘Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television*’ Returns (And Goes Out) In A Big Way

Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television*

“Why would they reboot a show that no one watches?”

In October 2017, YouTube Premium (then Youtube Red) dropped Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television*, a meta buddy cop comedy starring actor Ryan Hansen (Veronica Mars, Party Down) as an extremely exaggerated version of himself and Samira Wiley (Orange is the New Black, The Handmaid’s Tale) as Detective Mathers, the unfortunate LAPD cop tasked with partnering with him. All eight episodes poked fun at Hansen’s B-list actor status, YouTube Red’s unfortunate name, and the concept of paying to watch YouTube. It also did so with an all-star guest cast, because Ryan Hansen has made plenty of famous friends over the years. A few months later, YouTube Red rebranded to YouTube Premium, Cobra Kai premiered and was a smash hit, and that pretty much put the writing on the wall for Ryan Hansen…*. Surprisingly, Ryan Hansen…* got renewed for a second season just a few months after that, despite the press release for the renewal noting the show’s “abysmally low ratings.”

Season two is now here, and the only thing that’s really changed — other than the acknowledgment of how crazy it is the show got renewed — is the lack of full-time Samira Wiley. Instead, Hansen gets a new reluctant partner out of Wood Harris’ (The Wire) Detective Vincente, a plays-by-his-own-rules cop who regularly threatens to kill Hansen. Vincente fills in for Mathers when she gets shot and put into a “contractually-induced coma.”

There are at least a dozen jokes this season about Wiley’s absence, sometimes even in the form of blink and you’ll miss ‘em comments. While that might sound like overkill, the jokes are somewhat cathartic after a first season of non-viewers wondering why Wiley was slumming it on YouTube Red. However, her absence in this season is quite the blow to the series because she and Hansen had terrific buddy cop chemistry. While this second season is quite ambitious and a worthy follow-up, the lack of this dynamic is the hardest pill to swallow. Ryan Hansen…* is smart not to just do the same thing over again with Harris’ Vincente though, as he brings a different energy to the show and a different dynamic with Hansen — even though both cops pull off frustrated with that clown — than Wiley.

Despite essentially losing their ace to her full-time job and knowing that YouTube Premium took an “insane gamble” (the show’s words) with this renewal, Ryan Hansen…* doubles down on its easily-collapsable world (thanks to all the show within a show aspects ) and meta humor, opting to go even more inside baseball when it comes to its entertainment industry and genre-specific jokes, not even pretending to actually care about being more accessible to a popular audience. It’s a niche show on a niche streaming network after all, and unlike Cobra Kai, it didn’t have the already a beloved movie to give it a boost right out the gate.

One of the show within a show components of the series — the family sitcom at the end — gets even more bizarre, as Jon Cryer has to be recast as the Hansen family’s nextdoor neighbor (due to the end of the first season) and, at one point, the show just says it’s willing to do whatever it can to spike the ratings and goes full This Is Us. Not only does the series get weirder this season — like a less Police Squad-inspired Angie Tribeca, in terms of its wide knowledge of genre tropes — Hansen seems even more self-deprecating as a result of Mathers’ shooting.

Like the first season, Ryan Hansen…* has cases of the week that are very specifically, weirdly Hollywood. But while the first season was more concerned with building the buddy cop dynamic — with a major mystery arc in the last few episodes and a runner about Hansen’s desire to be cast in Peter Berg’s Alexander Hamilton movie — the second season is the the show’s (and the show within a show’s) attempt at doing a serialized story arc (“Who shot Mathers?”), like the prestige television it will never be. Although, just on a visual level, Jeff Wadlow’s direction is the series’ impressively unsung hero, as a single episode of Ryan Hansen…* is also a vlog, a mockumentary, an action movie, and a multi-camera sitcom.

Through all eight half-hour episodes, Hansen calls this a reboot season, an attempt for the show to find a new angle to stay alive. The first season had the revolving door of black Captain Jacksons bit, but this season, only one captain remains: Jessica St. Clair’s Captain Lade’e, who’s all about making “some drastic changes.” Lade’e is where the season leans most heavily into being a show for only a small audience to latch onto, as she’s a former network television executive and handles the precinct like a network. She’s the one who really hammers home the need for there to be a new spin for the show, whether it means recasting Hansen and Vincente with female cops (Jillian Bell as herself and Lucy Hale as herself… playing a cop) or cribbing from one of Netflix’s most binge-watched series in terms of format. She gives the type of nonsense network notes that ultimately help nothing, but here, that’s the joke.

Ryan Hansen…* isn’t a true reboot in any sense of the word, as much as a great deal of the season plays with that idea and the idea of other reboots on YouTube Premium. (As noted this season, Cobra Kai, Step Up: High Water, and Impulse — a Jumper reboot — all exist.) This season toys with the idea of calling itself a reboot, a sequel, a revival, and even a “reawakening,” but ultimately it should serve as a reminder: As futile as YouTube Premium’s business model is, there are plenty of gems behind the paywall. And it’s especially impressive coming from creator Rawson Marshall Thurber, whose feature work outside of this (DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story, Central Intelligence, Skyscraper) wouldn’t automatically suggest he’s half the pop culture and genre connoisseur this series reveals.

This series is a self-deprecating piece of work, and if you don’t have much attachment to the actual Ryan Hansen, then his shtick as the world’s biggest well-meaning doofus can get a bit old. Ryan Hansen…* does make sure to have moments where Hansen’s self-centered actor vibe comes in handy — not as much as in the first season, when Mathers’ new in town status was an integral part of her character — and it helps that so much of his behavior is clearly performative, whether it’s to seem younger than he is or to seem more famous than he is.

When Uproxx interviewed Rawson Marshall Thurber and Ryan Hansen, Thurber was upfront about the fact that he thinks this is the end of the line for the series. In fact, there’s a moment in this season where Hansen breaks the facade and speaks honestly as himself — not his character self — about his career and what this show means to him, a point which seems to confirm that they don’t expect to see a third season. But in two seasons, whether the viewership numbers or the critical reception agreed or not, Ryan Hansen…* has been an interesting, weird, funny, smart (especially in terms of its grasp of dumb humor) series — one that understands genre conventions and pop culture, in general, extremely well — that just so happens to exist on “YouTube you have to pay for.”

The second season of ‘Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes On Television*’ drops Wednesday, January 30th, on YouTube Premium.

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