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Review: On YouTube, ‘Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television’


Samira Wiley and Ryan Hansen in “Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television.”

YouTube Red

There’s a mascot quality to the actor Ryan Hansen — an air of the earnest overachiever — that’s clung to him for a decade now, since his defining role as Dick Casablancas in “Veronica Mars.” In his new project, an online comedy called “Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television,” he serves as mascot for an entire channel, the ad-free subscription video service YouTube Red.

A character in the series describes Red as “exactly like YouTube, but it isn’t free.” But the point of “Solves Crimes,” whose eight-episode season begins Wednesday, is to prove that Red isn’t like the rest of YouTube. It joins other semi-high-profile series like Dwayne Johnson’s “Lifeline” and the popular teenage comedy “Foursome” from AwesomenessTV, in an effort to persuade viewers to shell out $10 a month (when they’re probably already paying for Netflix, at least).

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Mr. Hansen plays a disarmingly honest version of himself, a modestly successful actor coasting on his “Veronica Mars” fame. His latest scheme is an online reality series — made for YouTube Red — called “Celebrity Vice Squad,” in which actors are paired with Los Angeles cops, using their “sense-memory techniques” and dramatic skills, not to mention their industry connections, to help solve crimes.

The show serves up a double helping of meta, in occasionally clever ways. It’s a sendup of the cop procedural, in which (the fictional) Ryan Hansen, with professional interest, points out the formulas of the genre as they’re happening in (fictional) real life. James McDaniel shows up as the gruff captain, amusingly reprising his role as Lieutenant Fancy in “NYPD Blue.”

It’s also a self-deprecating commentary on the web-versus-TV battle and YouTube’s aspirations. When Ryan Hansen tells people he’s doing a show for YouTube Red, they invariably assume that it’s a pornography site. His no-nonsense partner, played by Samira Wiley of “Orange Is the New Black,” constantly belittles the show she’s being forced to appear in. The “NCIS: Los Angeles” actor Eric Christian Olsen, playing himself, trumpets his show’s “16 millions viewers per ep.”

“Solves Crimes” has potential, but its problem is hard-wired into its premise and its venue: You wish that someone more interesting to watch than Mr. Hansen were at the center of it. If it were being made on a Netflix or FX budget, maybe it would be “Keegan-Michael Key Solves Crimes on Television.” As is, it’s emblematic of YouTube: There’s no compelling reason to watch, but you might get a kick out of it.

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