Jean-Claude Van Damme stars in this humorous take on the serial action TV show, which has the martial arts movie star play himself as retired, but not “Nicolas Cage retired”, from the film industry. However unbeknown to the rest of the world JCVD was never just a movie star, he was one of the worlds best undercover private contractors known as Jean-Claude Van Johnson, but a profession he has also retired from. As his days go by without purpose, and without goals, a chance encounter with a former flame encourages JCVD to seek out his agent, come out of retirement and get back into the thick of undercover action.
Jean-Claude Van Johnson plays very much like an extension of the film JCVD, where Van Damme also plays himself caught up in a bank robbery and hostage situation whilst down on his luck. Whereas the latter takes a more dramatic look at the character with moments of comedy, the former leans towards comedy as it takes plenty of self aware jabs at the titular stars career and film industry as Van Damme attempts to relive his glory days of ass kicking and film making under the code name ‘Van Johnson’
The pilot opens with scene straight out of a 80s action film, Van Damme squaring off against a large group of henchman, with the odds against him he narrates the scene, “My name is Jean Claude Van Damme, I used to be super famous”. After struggling to pull off his trademark splits to avoid an incoming strike JCVD ends up on the floor after taking a baton to the face “How did I get here?” he asks, setting the tone for the pilot. There will be action, there will be humour, and there will be plenty of references to the film industry.
Though the pilot appears to be taking the long overused form of an serial action show akin to Hawaii 5-O, the self-deprecating comedy from the opening monologue immediately separates it from the pack. Making humour of oneself is an endearing trait and when it comes from an action star as well known as Jean-Claude Van Damme, whose films are traditionally more serious than self aware, its impact is immediately more effective. Now as enjoyable a trait this is, there was something more that the pilot did that piqued interest in seeing more from the show. As JCVD speaks with his agent about coming out of retirement, suffering through pitches of terrible sounding scripts that seemingly all come from Paramount and have Channing Tatum attached to star, a whole world of possibilities opens up for the show to take. The idea that the film industry at times can be a front for covert operations is a really cool and wildly fun one. Just like in John Wick where we are teased by this entire criminal underworld network, Jean-Claude Van Johnson entices with a similar network set beneath the world of film. Adding to this amusing premise is the opportunity to bring in other famous film personalities who made their name in the same era as JCVD. Because Jean-Claude Van Damme operates under the thinly veiled code name Jean-Claude Van Johnson, you could have any actor that would qualify for the Expendables star in any number of cameo roles or even as antagonists. In fact in the pilot, because Van Damme is hell bent on getting back in the game, he ends up taking the job from a ‘Mr. Brown’ who we do not see or hear from in the pilot, but do find out that they are now coming after JCVD. It’s a set up that is just screaming for Dolph Lundgren or Eric Roberts to tackle.
The pilot for Jean-Claude Van Johnson is not only an incredibly fun 30 minutes of TV, it is jam packed with potential for a full season or more. If self aware humour is your thing, and you like poking fun at popular film culture, or even just like of Jean-Claude Van Damme movies then I thoroughly recommend this. As far as comedy pilots go, this is one of the funniest. And if you’re like me you’ll be filling out that Amazon pilot survey telling them you want more!