‘Jean-Claude Van Johnson’ Splits the Difference Between Action and Comedy in a Hilarious Pilot

GameStop, Inc.

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For most faded stars there comes a point where they take a role that acknowledges their own mortality and propels them, even if ever so briefly, back into the public eye. Jean-Claude Van Damme has already lampooned himself once before in JVCD, but with Jean-Claude Van Johnson the muscles from Brussels has placed himself in one of the best meta commentaries on the action genre since Last Action Hero. Directed by Peter Atencio, the director of many Key & Peele sketches as well as Keanu, Jean-Claude Van Johnson is absolute riot that features moments of impeccably crafted action cinema. If there’s not another episode of this show, the crime will be marked down in the annals of wasted opportunities. (Like The Tick, you can vote to get these shows full season orders by voting here.)

These days, Jean-Claude Van Damme is living in the shadow of his former glory. He lives in a beautiful, expansive mansion all alone, with the exception of the occasional one-night stand. When Jean-Claude goes out to eat, he’s mistake for other action stars of the ‘80s. It’s impossible not to notice just how bad of a malaise he’s in as rides a Segway to pick up his newspaper with a grabbing stick. Jean-Claude starts to snap out of his funk when he runs into Vanessa (Kat Foster), a former lover and co-worker that has long since left him behind. Vanessa tells him she’s leaving Los Angeles to work in Bulgaria, and that prompts Jean-Claude to see his agent Jane (Phylicia Rashad) and demand that she get him the job in Bulgaria. At first, she thinks she’s getting him work as Jean-Claude Van Damme, the action star. He’s quick to clarify that he wants to work as Jean-Claude Van Johnson, the superspy who uses his movie stardom as his cover. He’s quickly shuffled to Bulgaria where he begins production on a low budget action film before sneaking off to fight Bulgarian bad guys as part of his black ops mission.

Jean-Claude Van Johnson is a great pilot, one that entertains and establishes the absurd premise of what could be a legitimately great series and the best work that Jean-Claude Van Damme has ever done. Once again, Peter Atencio is able to showcase his ability to visually work in different genres while seamlessly incorporating their visual style. One such highlight is when we’re presented the scene from the movie that Jean-Claude is filming in Bulgaria. In this dark and rainy fight scene, Atencio presents a segment that could’ve been pulled from countless low budget productions out of Bulgaria with an extra kick of visual style.

The script for the pilot by Dave Callaham is wonderful mixture of commentary on the action genre and parody of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s onscreen persona. During the episode’s climactic fight, the leader of the bad guys instructs his men to attack Jean-Claude one at a time, referencing the way that bad guys are evenly distributed in such fight scenes. Numerous jokes are made about Timecop and other classic in the oeuvre of Jean-Claude Van Damme, each joke is effective without needing to lean solely on the reference alone.

I laughed and laughed throughout the 30-minute pilot for Jean-Claude Van Johnson. It’s an absolute delight in its crazed mixture of action and comedy, and definitely lays the foundation for a series that should appeal to comedy fans and action fans alike. Jean-Claude Van Johnson is an effective piece of commentary on the genre of action filmmaking while its star has no problem using the show as a means to make an entertaining look at his own fallen star and advancing age. For just a pilot, Jean-Claude Van Johnson has some incredible laughs and strong action. I just hope the rest of the voters over at Amazon can see the brilliance on display. There needs to be more adventures for Jean-Claude Van Johnson.

Jean-Claude Van Johnson
  • Overall Score
5

Summary

A brilliant comedy-action hybrid from director Peter Atencio, Jean-Claude Van Johnson works as dual commentary on the action genre and the aging of the action star Jean-Claude Van Damme in a hilarious pilot for Amazon.

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