YouTube Red Stakes Its Comedy Ground with Rob Huebel’s Dead Body and Ryan Hansen Solves CrimesImages courtesy of YouTube Red Comedy Reviews YouTube Red
The above score is an average of the individual scores for each show, which can be found at the bottom of this article.
YouTube Red wants to grow up. The subscription-based service is known for exclusive new shows from some of the biggest stars on YouTube, which means a bunch of people that are massively famous to anybody under 20 and almost completely unknown to anybody that much older than that. Two recently launched comedy shows—Rob Huebel’s Do You Want to See a Dead Body and Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television—aim for an audience outside the YouTube faithful, with stars that are recognizable from movies and TV. Both shows are smarter and better made than most of the pro-am work Red has focused on, but instead of creating a new identity for the service, they feel imported from other networks. If you don’t get enough Adult Swim on your cable package, you can also sign up for Red and watch these two shows that should probably be airing on Adult Swim.
Do You Want to See a Dead Body has the bigger names of the two. Its star, Rob Huebel, is a recognizable everyman who’s appeared in dozens of movies and TV shows over the last decade. (He’s also a regular on Transparent.) Every episode features cameos from a variety of famous faces, including Terry Crews, Adam Scott, John Cho and more. Even the concept of the show might seem really familiar at first—it started life as a sketch on HBO’s Funny or Die Presents early this decade, and some of those sketches have had an afterlife on Funny or Die’s site and regular, old-fashioned YouTube. YouTube Red’s episodes sees Huebel taking a different celebrity to see a corpse, with the following adventure running for between 12 and 15 minutes. (The pilot joins two together for a more traditional half-hour sitcom running time.) No matter how annoyed each guest might be with Huebel (and they’re usually very annoyed), they’re still deeply into seeing that dead body, and willing to put up with any amount of Huebel’s nonsense on the way. If you have to ask why Terry Crews would want to take a five-minute detour while driving to the airport in order to see a stranger’s dead, mutilated body, you’re already overthinking things.
Given the name, you might not be surprised to hear that Dead Body is intentionally shocking. There’s blood, vomit, hacked-up limbs, calf birthings, and all manner of gross out gags. And Huebel’s eager amiability regularly spikes into a manic intensity that might be stressful for some. This is not refined comedy—with all its violence and criminal mischief it can a feel a bit like the work of coked up frat boys. Still, like Huebel himself, it remains charming, coasting on the kind of genial absurdity found in Childrens Hospital (which also featured Huebel) with self-effacing performances that riff on its guests’ public personas without simply coasting on their celebrity for easy jokes. Oh, and there’s also those regular bursts of gross out comedy. (If you don’t like the sound of Huebel vomiting all over Scott’s car window or Crews proposing to his girlfriend with a disembodied hand, maybe avoid this one.)
Ryan Hansen isn’t as recognizable as Huebel, but fans of Veronica Mars and Party Down know he’s just as talented at playing self-obsessed buffoons. He’s not afraid of being typecast, if Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television is any indication; the entire show hinges on Hansen’s history of playing lovable assholes. Created by We’re the Millers director Rawson Marshall Thurber, and co-starring Orange is the New Black’s Samira Wiley and iZombie’s Aly Michalka, Ryan Hansen is a great vehicle for Hansen’s stock character (which is basically just his Dick Casablancas character from Veronica Mars) but doesn’t quite support its sitcom-length runtime.
The concept is shaky—Hansen is part of a new initiative by the mayor of Los Angeles to deputize actors in order to help the LAPD investigate Hollywood crimes. It would’ve been much easier to just say he’s researching a role, but whatever. Hansen’s cheerful cluelessness is as pleasant as it was on Mars and Party Down (where he held his own with comic pros like Ken Marino, Jane Lynch and Megan Mullally), but Wiley’s character is a fairly thankless “serious cop” stock type at first. Their banter doesn’t really get out of first gear. Even worse, the show leans too much into its fourth wall-breaking parody of celebrity culture. By the time Eric Christian Olsen of NCIS: Los Angeles shows up in an obnoxious cameo as an even more self-centered and assholish star in the same police program as Hansen, the jokes about actors being vapid and shallow are long past running thin.
Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television could stand to learn something from YouTube Red’s parent site. If it was a series of three to five minute shorts, it probably wouldn’t wear out its welcome. It could focus on Hansen’s guilelessness without struggling to build a sustainable show around him. The first episode repeats its best jokes several times, past the point of being call-backs, and that would feel less egregious in separate sketches. By forcing it into a traditional half-hour format, YouTube Red overplays Ryan Hansen Solves Crime on Television’s hand.
Huebel’s show smartly sticks to shorter episodes. The pilot, which bundles two vignettes together, would work better if it was broken in half. This shorter run time might make the Adult Swim similarities even more apparent, but it’s the best way to present a show as absurd as Dead Body.
Taken together, Do You Want to See a Dead Body and Ryan Hansen Solves Crime on Television reveals a bit of an identity crisis at YouTube Red. Dead Body works in part because it accepts that streaming programs should’t run too long, but both shows feel out-of-place on Red. Instead of just taking what YouTube excels at and injecting more professional production values, they’re trying to force traditional TV concepts onto a streaming platform that inherently makes them feel archaic and unnecessary. The great Dead Body and could-be-great or on entirely different platforms.
Do You Want to See a Dead Body: 8.0
Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Televison: 6.0
Do You Want to See a Dead Body and Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television are both now available through YouTube Red.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s games and comedy sections. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.