Jean-Claude Van Johnson

TV review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
Jean-Claude Van Johnson TV Poster Image
Guns, action set pieces in hilarious spy send-up.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

This show satirizes many different things: Los Angeles, action movies, Hollywood agents, spy thrillers. At the same time, it repeats many movie clichés: the "bad guys" who are killed on every episode are faceless henchmen types, often in uniform; JCVD hooks up with equally faceless much younger women. A black man cast in a movie plays a character repeatedly referred to as "'N' word Jim" (he's starring in a Tom Sawyer adaptation). 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Van Damme is spoofing himself as much as movies and celeb culture, but he is still lit, photographed, and choreographed to look muscular and superhuman. We also see him in less attractive moments, too: paunchy and with under-eye bags. Women and people of color have powerful central roles, but Van Damme's main love interest is 18 years younger than him. She is, however, presented as a strong woman who is unafraid to set boundaries. 

Violence

Violence is of the choreographed action-y variety, but people are still hit in the face with batons, have their necks snapped and die instantly, punched in the face repeatedly, kicked. Bad guys attack one by one -- the show makes fun of it, too -- and quickly fall to the ground, generally with some blood but no gore. There are many slo-mo fights set to music, gun battles, crotch punches, a scene in which Van Damme and his girlfriend practice hitting a target as she coos seductively in his ear. 

 

Sex

In one scene, a 20-something woman billed in Amazon's actor ID X-Ray feature as "leggy model" pads naked across Van Damme's house; we see her naked rear and a disinterested Van Damme offering to "help her get dressed" (presumably to get her out of the house faster). Van Damme is also in love with his (18 years younger) ex; expect dating, flirting, kissing, romantic entanglements. 

Language

Cursing and language: "f--k," "goddamn," "s--t," "motherf----r," "hard-on." A character repeatedly referred to as "'N' word Jim" (he's starring in a Tom Sawyer adaptation).

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drugs play a part in Johnson's black ops work, including a made-up drug called HK. A brief scene shows someone snorting lines of white powder; more than one character vapes nicotine (or possibly marijuana). 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Jean-Claude Van Johnson is a satirical show set in a world where 1980s action superstar Jean-Claude Van Damme uses his movie career as a cover for his real-life black ops work. Violence is on a level similar to one of Van Damme's vintage actioners: violent set pieces include slo-mo kicks, spins, and splits set to music; faceless henchmen are dispatched by bloodless neck snaps; there are crotch punches and gun battles. Van Damme wakes up with a much younger woman who is seen walking naked from behind; he offers to help her get dressed to get her out of his house ASAP. It's also worth noting that his love interest on the show is 39 to Van Damme's 57. Several characters use vaporizers; we don't know what's in them. A brief scene shows someone snorting white lines, and drugs play a part in the show's black ops complications. Cursing and language includes "f--k," "goddamn," "s--t," "motherf----r,"  and "hard-on," and a character in a Tom Sawyer adaptation is called "'N' word Jim" repeatedly (though people of color have strong, major roles in general). 

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What's the story?

You thought Jean-Claude Van Damme was just an action star of the 1980s? You thought wrong. All along, behind the "muscles from Brussels" persona, Van Damme was living a double life as JEAN-CLAUDE VAN JOHNSON, the most terrifying undercover black ops agent around. He's out of the game, retired from acting, tooling around Hollywood taking it easy -- until a chance encounter with a lost love convinces him to contact his agent/secret operations director, Jane (Phylicia Rashad), to sign on for another mission. Johnson's back -- and if he's not careful, his latest mission really will be his last. 

Is it any good?

Jean-Claude Van Damme is back -- well, sorta, in the persona of Jean-Claude Van Johnson, black ops superspy posing as a faded actor in this bizarre, entertaining show. The whole thing gets rolling with a third-wall-breaking meta-exposition that sets the show's tone: "I used to be super famous," Van Damme informs us, sliding his feet into his JCVD-monogrammed slippers and splashing JCVD-labeled skincare products onto his now-weathered face. Bloodsport was his most famous role, Van Damme tells us: "Maybe you've seen it. It is on TV all of the time. Or maybe you've seen Timecop, it's like Looper starring Bruce Willis, but like a million times better." 

But that was then and this is now, when Van Damme is an exhausted retired action star living a lonely life in a particularly pretentious slice of Hollywood, reduced to riding a Segway down his drive to pick up his morning Variety. When a chance meeting with his ex-colleague (and, on their off hours, lover) Vanessa (Kat Foster) offers him the first frisson of excitement he's had in some time, he's ready to sign back up for a dangerous spy mission, and the movie role that will cover for it -- which, of course, gives this show an opportunity to simultaneously make fun of both action and cinematic clichés. Van Damme is clearly having a great time sending himself up, and you'll have a great time watching, even if you didn't love his splits and kicks in the '80s. Jean-Claude Van Johnson is sharp, and hilarious, and fresh, and weird -- give it a try if you like all that stuff. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what exactly is being mocked in Jean-Claude Van Johnson. Fame? The action or spy thriller movie genres? Celebrities making comebacks? Hollywood machinations? All of the above? 

  • Van Damme frequently refers to his most popular movies in this show, like Bloodsport or Timecop. Are these jokes still funny if you haven't seen the movies? Are they funnier if you have? Is it realistic that the people Van Damme meets would be familiar with these movies? Why? 

  • Did you notice that Van Damme's love interests are younger than he is? Are there frequently age differences between movie partners? Are the women ever older than the men? Why or why not? 

TV details

For kids who love action

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