“My name is Jean-Claude Van Damme and I used to be super famous.”
Satire is the use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices. Often, satire can be hit and miss. Sometimes it is spot on, such as ‘Dr Strangelove’ or ‘The Thick of It’ and other times it shoots a bit far of the mark (think the ‘Movie’ series of films such as ‘Scary Movie’ and its countless sequels and spin offs). Amazon’s new comedy pilot, ‘Jean-Claude Van Johnson’ features Jean-Claude Van Damme poking fun at himself, hipster culture, film making and Hollywood in general in an over the top style that is equal parts ridiculous and brilliant.
His name is Jean-Claude Van Damme and he used to be super famous. Now he Segways around his sterile home in monogrammed slippers, sleeps with models and eats little more than Pop Tarts. Van Damme plays a fictionalised version of himself and is very funny doing so. Anyone that has seen JCVD knows that Van Damme does not mind poking fun at himself. Jean-Claude Van Johnson succeeds in not only poking fun at Van Damme but also makes him into a compellingly sympathetic character.
For people unfamiliar with the pilot, here is the premise. Do you remember all those 80’s and 90’s flops that Van Damme made? The ones gathering dust in charity stores? All these films were merely a cover for JCVD’s real job – the world greatest undercover private contractor named Jean-Claude Van Johnson. Van Johnson was a legend in his industry. Doing the splits and knocking out villains one at a time with high kicks were all in a day’s work for JCVJ.
Jean-Claude Van Johnson depicts Hollywood and hipster culture fantastically. As mentioned in the definition of satire above, JCVJ portrays both topics as exaggerated and ridiculous. From the pop up “dry ramen” restaurant experience to the stupid scripts presented to Van Damme when he comes out of retirement to the pretentious vaping director explaining why 80’s movie fighting styles don’t capture audiences because they are not realistic.
The scripts offered to JCVD, and the film he ends up taking as a cover are so absurd (an action re-imagining of the Adventures of Huckleberry Fin) that I wouldn’t be surprised if they made their way to the big screen one day (they did make the action packed ‘Alice in Wonderland’ after all). All this comedy and satire is played off expertly. No one in the show sign posts a gag or waits for a laugh. The show is banking on the fact that the audience is in on the joke and just gets on with it.
Amazon Prime Video and Netflix
There did seem to be some parallels between Amazon’s Jean-Claude Van Johnson and Netflix’s Bojack Horseman. Both shows feature a washed up actor trying to make a comeback in their own way and provide a fantastic commentary on celebrity culture and Hollywood. Van Johnson doesn’t seem to be as cynical in its approach to the subject material but if Jean-Claude Van Johnson gets picked up, I am interested in seeing the direction the show will go in.
In Jean-Claude Van Johnson, Van Damme’s character is well conceptualised and, if the show doesn’t make it to being a full season, this could go down as one of his best roles. JCVD’s co-stars, his love interest/former colleague (played by Kat Foster) and his agent/handler (played by Phylicia Rashad) add to a ridiculously absurd yet oddly believable universe. High points for me were Van Damme debating the different time travel paradoxes between ‘TimeCop’ and ‘Looper’ as well as the fight scene at the end. I sincerely hope that Jean-Claude Van Johnson is picked up as a full series because when the pilot finished, all I wanted was a second episode.
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