Jean Claude Van Johnson review: Jean Claude Van Damme leads the cast of this self-aware pilot from Peter Atencio.
Our Jean Claude Van Johnson review continues below.
Second in the short slew of Amazon Prime‘s new pilot season is Jean-Claude Van Johnson, an incredibly self-aware, satirical series that hones in on the ‘what if Jean-Claude Van Damme was actor by day, hired killer by night?’ notion, and we welcome it with open arms. We almost can’t really tell why it works, but it absolutely does. There’s something almost compassionate about watching Van Damme – as himself – that plays into the idea that he is no longer welcomed, or needed in the current cultural climate and with that, he makes a stern, commendable effort in an attempt to become relevant again.
Stemming from the mind of Peter Atencio – the man behind Key and Peele/Keanu – and writer Dave Callaham, the thirty-minute pilot very quickly proves itself to be a strong contender in recent comedy history. It dabbles with on-the-nose cultural references, akin to shows like Community or Happy Endings, whilst still managing to address a serious overarching narrative – featuring wonderfully choreographed action – in which Van Damme learns that he is not the man he once was. Out of action, and seemingly washed up, Damme is struggling to find work, but bounces back when he discovers an old flame (Kat Foster) is in town – though not for long – and what follows is a witty satire that shines with cinematic sheen. The shot composition and cinematography throughout is far more than impressive for a web-series, and it feels very much like we’re watching a short film instead of a serialised comedy.
Though perhaps it’s finest quality lies with Callaham’s script, which reads so perfectly as its self-referential nature brings its comedic elements into focus, doing so with artful style. It pokes fun at the state of Hollywood and the careers of those within it, much like Netflix’s own Love, but is more bold in its presentation. When combined then, with Atencio’s masterful attention to creating true genre parodies, what we get is a tongue-in-cheek, visually stunning comedy that deserves a full series order immediately. With pop-culture in its veins, it’s certainly a series whose comedy will not appease all. Out of the three shows that Amazon Prime just premiered in their newest season of pilots, Jean-Claude Van Johnson stands tall as perhaps the funniest, and because of it – the most successful of the three. For those who prefer more intellectual substance to their comedy, Amazon’s I Love Dick may be preferred, and for those with funny-bones more prone to silly-comedy, The Tick reigns supreme.
Jean Claude Van Johnson review, Matthew Ceo, August 2016.
Amazon’s Jean-Claude Van Johnson, I Love Dick, and The Tick pilots are all available on Amazon Prime as of Friday, August 19.