What Year Do You Think This Is
A Little Conversation About Trust
If You’re Lucky
Run To Nowhere
The World Needs Its Hero
Part parodical comedy, part spy thriller, Jean-Claude Van Johnson is as crazy as it is entertaining. With Jean-Claude playing himself and comedic references to his filmography littered through the 6 episodes, fans of Van Damme’s work will certainly get more out of this than those unfamiliar with the martial artist. It does feel overlong too, suffering from a distinct lack of humour and forced drama in the middle 3 episodes that detract from the overall comedic tone of the show. In many ways the episodic format is actually a hindrance, with the best comedy occurring during the first 2 episodes and the finale, perhaps Van Johnson would have been better suited in feature film format to keep the comedy strong. There’s still enough here to make this 6 episode series worth a watch but it also feels unnecessarily strung along.
The story follows global martial artist and actor Jean-Claude Van Damme who plays Jean-Claude Van Damme and his crime-fighting alter ego Jean-Claude Van Johnson. Coming out of retirement to chase his lost love Vanessa (Kat Foster), Jean-Claude stumbles into a more sinister plot at work behind the scenes whilst working on a brand new film. When the story works, it works well and the dialogue is witty, self realising and clever, especially with Van Damme’s stubborn denial to accept his old age. It’s these comedic moments where Van Johnson shines and although the first few episodes and the finale have the best laughs, there’s still a good dose of humour peppered through the middle slice of the series. It’s just a shame that this is overpowered by forced drama and lacklustre subplots that hurt the overall appeal. The story itself is still good but these dramatic moments lack the intensity and emotion needed to pull them off giving the show a distinctly weaker feel than it should.
It’s ultimately the self-aware parodical comedy that stands out and this is mainly the reason fans of Van Damme’s work will get more out of this. There are numerous references to his old films throughout the 6 episodes, paying homage to his martial art skills, Timecop, as well as the infamous splits he’s so well-known for. The way Van Damme manages to poke fun at himself whilst still delivering a serious character is testament to the man’s work. Although some of the action scenes feel a little slow with pedestrian choreography, especially the climactic fight during the finale between two characters, there’s a good mix of action and comedy to keep you entertained. Although not a deal breaker, it’s also worth mentioning that some of the editing is a little sloppy too, especially during the fourth episode.
Despite its obvious flaws, Van Johnson is still an enjoyable comedy series. There’s no denying the series wanes in the middle; the comedy wears thin and its bogged down by a lack of characterisation and unnecessary drama. The finale does do a good job of ending the series on a high even if the cliffhanger ending is disappointing, especially without a second season green lit. The parodical comedy and sharp dialogue help to elevate this show and when Van Johnson focuses solely on the comedy and away from the serious spy thriller genre it fails to imitate very well, the show is at its best. It’s ultimately the tonally confused genre switching and length that holds the show back from being great. Van Damme is as endearing as ever playing himself and if you can look past some of the issues inherent with the series, there’s a decent comedy at play here that’s sure to entertain.
Verdict - 6.5/10