“Jean-Claude Van Johnson”
“’Timecop’ is like ‘Looper’ with Bruce Willis, but a million times better,” is just one of the gems spoken in “Jean-Claude Van Johnson” which is as gloriously ridiculous as its title.
What the Amazon pilot lacks in plot — action star Jean-Claude Van Damme comes out of retirement to act as a private contractor specializing in kicking ass and doing the splits — it makes up for with indiscriminate jabs at everything and anyone, including its star, Hollywood, pretentious foodies and even America’s Undulating Beefcake, Channing Tatum. A surprising appearance by Phylicia Rashad, who gamely plays Jean-Claude’s agent, is a comic revelation. She delivers the most absurd movie pitches with such enthusiasm that we’re ready to sign up for the “P.F. Chang’s” biopic ourselves.
The only real disappointment is the lackluster treatment of Jean-Claude’s love interest Vanessa (Kat Foster), who isn’t given much to work with story-wise. In such an irreverent comedy, this significant chunk of plot is a snore that The Muscles from Brussels himself would head-butt into oblivion. Nevertheless, this Jean-Claude-flavored jaunt is enjoyable enough that it could go to series, if only to provide more opportunities for Tinseltown cameos and send-ups. Channing Tatum, you’re on notice. — Hanh Nguyen
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Of the three pilots we’re evaluating this round, “The Tick” is probably the one that came in with the most expectations attached to it, given how it was preceded by two relatively beloved on-screen interpretations. Both the Fox animated series, which ran from 1994-1996, and the 2001 live-action version starring Patrick Warburton were relatively short-lived, but attracted cult followings and made a lasting impact.
That said, it’s a different era — one much more engaged with superhero culture — and this new interpretation of “The Tick,” starring Peter Serafinowicz as the muscular blue avenger, benefits enormously from that. Rather than go the live-action cartoon route, director Wally Pfister and creator Ben Edlund (who first created “The Tick” in 1986) craft a heightened yet familiar universe, letting the always hapless Arthur (a perfectly cast Griffin Newman) draw us deeper into a reality where it makes perfect sense that good faces off against evil while wearing tights — but a reality where it also makes sense for Whoopi Goldberg (as herself) to host a talk show called “Whoop.”
There are details that might inspire nitpicking (as just one hypothetical scenario, three rambunctious critics might have found themselves devoting a great deal of time yesterday to analyzing whether or not the Tick’s antennae are animated just right). But while Serafinowicz might not have the accent exactly perfect, he does otherwise embody the character’s special brand of weird, and the pilot does a solid job of building a foundation for many more episodes to come. The third time is (hopefully) the charm. — Liz Shannon Miller
“I Love Dick”
A tone poem set to the rhythm of its writers, “I Love Dick” blends the high-brow mentality of a gender studies grad student with the low-brow lust of anyone who’s ever thought, “Kevin Bacon can get it.” While co-writer/director Jill Soloway and co-writer/creator Sarah Gubbins’ offering may alienate those looking for instant empathy with their characters, the question being asked (in a pilot that becomes more and more compelling as it progresses) makes an excellent case for a series’ order: “Why are we attracted to people who are wrong for us?”
Plopped down between Sylvere, a dumbly frustrating husband (Griffin Dunne), and Dick, his cleverly frustrating new mentor (Bacon), Kathryn Hahn’s Chris is faced with a particularly feminine dilemma: the fool or the fucker. While both portend intellectualism, Sylvere proves himself woefully out of touch with reality over the course of the 30-minute pilot. Dick, meanwhile, presents ideas meant to challenge Chris’ established beliefs, but it’s impossible to tell if he believes them or if they’re meant to draw out her artistic side. Either way, he comes off as an asshole — an asshole she can’t help but lust over, both for his body and his mind.
The mysterious genius isn’t exactly a new conceit, but the manner in which “I Love Dick” unfolds — as well as the electric chemistry between Bacon and Hahn, both of whom elevate the elaborate double entendres heavily peppered into their dialogue — makes the pilot well worth a pickup. It’s treading a delicate line, but “I Love Dick” feels ready to move past foreplay. — Ben Travers
All three pilots are streaming for free right now on Amazon Prime. Vote for your favorite below.