TV - Jean-Claude Van Johnson

The Amazon Prime Pilot season is back again which means Susan Omand watches random episodes of things that will probably never be seen again. This time she sees if the Muscles from Brussels can still kick it...

Jean Claude Van Johnson sees global martial arts & film sensation Jean-Claude Van Damme playing "Jean-Claude Van Damme", a global martial arts & film sensation, also operating under the simple alias of "Johnson" as the world's best undercover private contractor. Retired for years, a chance encounter with a lost love brings him back to the game. This time, he'll be deadlier than ever. Probably.

I must admit I watched a LOT of Jean Claude Van Damme films back in the days when he, Chuck Norris and Steven Seagal were forces to be reckoned with in action films. So seeing his name attached to this Amazon pilot was a big reason for me to give it a go. And yes, it really is him and yes, he really is intentionally taking the piss out of himself and his movie style in this show. Everything that he was famous for is parodied, from the hair and muscles to the splits and roundhouse kicks to only fighting people one at a time rather than all at once “otherwise it gets confusing.” He even mentions a few of his films, describing Timecop as “like Looper starring Bruce Willis but like a million times better” and gets annoyed when a waiter confuses him with Nicolas Cage.

However, if you don’t know JCVD (as the branding on his toiletries name him) and don’t get all the in-jokes and self-deprecating humour, although that humour did come across well and there are a few laugh out loud moments, I’m not sure there’s enough of an underlying plot here to hold up for a whole series. Other than the bad acting/stuntman side, the inept undercover aspect of the story so far isn’t that strong on plot and intrigue although it may build into quite a good spy-comedy style, like the TV series Chuck was. The supporting cast is ok too with Phylicia Rashad (of The Cosby Show fame) as his film agent/ M style handler, getting him into films as cover for Black Ops jobs. On set, his hair and make-up team double as his Q equivalent, sorting out his disguises, Mission Impossible style, and supplying gadgets and monitoring his work, with the added twist that he has “personal history” with make-up artist Vanessa (Kat Foster, Weeds) and is determined to win her back from a new arch nemesis actor/spy, who is working his way up the ranks and looking to take Van Damme’s crown, and this love story is likely going to be the long story arc of the series if it gets greenlit.

So there are definite sparks of promise here. Personally I enjoyed the half hour because I picked up on all the references and got a lot of pleasure from seeing Van Damme back on the screen, accepting the fact that he is now a total pastiche of himself and making the most of it. Whether I could watch this as a “one trick pony” for the whole series though, I’m not so sure.

Image - Amazon

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