Amazon Pilot Review: Jean-Claude Van Johnson (2016)
Today we take a look at another entry into the 2016 Amazon pilot season with Jean-Claude Van Johnson, written by Dave Callaham (Doom, The Expendables), directed by Peter Atencio (Key and Peele, Keanu) and starring Jean-Claude Van Damme (Bloodsport, Kickboxer, TimeCop) as Jean-Claude Van Damme / Johnson, Kat Foster (‘Til Death, Weeds) as Vanessa, Moises Arias (Hannah Montana, Ender’s Game) as Luis and Phylicia Rashad (The Cosby Show, Creed) as Jane.
The basic premise set forth in the pilot is that international movie star and 1980s action sensation Jean-Claude Van Damme is also a black-ops secret agent who goes by the code name “Johnson”. He uses his acting career as a cover for his clandestine operations, which explains why he’s been a part of some pretty terrible movies, with the exception of a choice few, such as Timecop, which as Van Damme’s voiceover during the introduction of the pilot episode explains, “is kind of like Looper, starring Bruce Willis, but like a million times better.”
The series starts off with Jean-Claude Van Damme being attacked by security guards in a factory, before transitioning into a “lets explain how we got here” style flashback. JCVD is retired from acting, living in his atypical hollywood mansion full of JCVD-brand products, a kitchen cupboard filled with nothing but strawberry Poptarts and a naked bimbo blonde that doesn’t seem to care that JCVD doesn’t know her name. He’s out of shape, unshaven and lazy. After a trip out to eat at “Dri”, a dry ramen experience popup bar filled with can’t-be-bothered hipsters, JCVD sees his ex-girlfriend Vanessa (Kat Foster) and we’re treated to a flashback scene (inside the current flashback scene) of Vanessa teaching Jean-Claude how to shoot a sniper rifle, before kissing him. She tells him that she’s leaving to Bulgaria to work a contract and can’t talk with him. Obviously shaken, JCVD calls his agent Jane (Phylicia Rashad) to tell her he’s out of retirement.
The next scene has JCVD meeting his agent at her office, where she pitches him a few ridiculous movies (for instance, the story of P.F. Chang’s reimagined as an action movie) before he tells her that, it’s not JCVD coming out of retirement, it’s Johnson. This is the point we find out that his agent is not only his movie agent, but also his contractor for black-ops missions. He leaves her office and she later calls him to tell him that he has the job in Bulgaria, which will have him working with his ex-girlfriend once again.
Without ruining the rest of the episode for you, I can say that you should expect a fair amount of humor, especially in the situations where it’s possible for JCVD to make fun of his own career. In addition, you’ll also get a fair amount of that 1980’s/1990’s Jean-Claude Van Damme style action, with the “kicking, the spinning and the splits, with guys coming one at a time” we all know and love.
Jean-Claude Van Damme does a surprisingly good job with his acting in this show, similar to the calibre of acting we saw from him in 2008’s JCVD, which leads me to believe that, in his case, the script really does matter when it comes to the quality of the resulting performance, but it’s not just JCVD alone that makes this show as good as it is. Kat Foster, as Vanessa, does an exceptional job in portraying a believable motivation for the actions of JCVD’s character. She’s well grounded, attractive, intelligent and driven, which aids the viewer in accepting why things are happening and for what reasons. Moises Arias, while not having a whole lot of screen time, really steals the spotlight as Luis, the hairdresser-and-makeup-artist-slash-arms-expert that works with Jean-Claude and Vanessa. Even though we’re only briefly shown parts of his backstory, I have a feeling that we’re going to be in for a treat when that particular can of worms gets opened. (Assuming the pilot is picked up for a full-season production, that is.)
So what’s the takeaway from watching the pilot, you ask? Well, in my humble opinion, it’s clear that Jean-Claude Van Johnson is the breakout hit of the 2016 Amazon Pilot Season. Compared to the other options (The Tick, I Love Dick) presented to us this year, I can see this becoming one of my favorite shows in the future. Personally, the only negative aspect I can see is that the episode is designed for a half-hour format, where an hour-long episode would really give it the room to stretch its legs and run.
For anyone with an Amazon Prime account, you can check out the pilot episode and vote on whether or not Amazon should pick it up as a series, free of charge on the Prime Instant Video service and if you don’t have Amazon Prime, you can sign up for a 30-day Free Trial of Amazon Prime and start watching now.