F Scott Fitzgerald is often misquoted and misinterpreted as saying that “There are no second acts in American life.” What he actually wrote in the essay “My Lost City,” one of the two texts in which the idea appears, was that “I once thought that there were no second acts in American lives, but there was certainly to be a second act to New York’s boom days.” It’s a subtle but important distinction. The write had once dismissed the idea, but was now beginning to realize that life recovered, repeated and resurrected itself in ways he hadn’t previously considered.
Even so, the number of acts in the life of the average American entertainment property would have thrown Fitzgerald for a loop. Franchises are resurrected and reimagined with increasing frequency. Shows are rebooted and relaunched. And sometimes stars themselves are even rehabilitated and redirected.
Look at the fascinating career path of one Jean-Claude Van Damme, for instance, and you’ll find at least a few extra acts to the Muscles from Brussels’s boom days: Body building and martial arts champion. Burgeoning action star (No Retreat, No Surrender). Legit action star (Kickboxer, Bloodsport). Fading action star (Universal Soldier: The Return). Redeemed and newly self-aware action star (2008‘s stunningly candid JCVD, Expendables 2). Potentially serious again action star (Kickboxer: Vengeance).
And now, in a near perfect marriage of message and medium, JCVD, the man with one of the most adaptive and indestructible careers in modern Hollywood, is coming to the world of streaming services, a creative and business model that has turned relaunches into an industry in of itself. Amazon, the service behind the award-winning Transparent and the almost completely unknown but critically acclaimed Mozart in the Jungle, as well as the forthcoming new Jeremy Clarkson project, has just picked up the pilot for a long-promised new series called Jean-Claude Van Johnson. Produced by Scott Free Television (Numb3rs, The Good Wife) and written by Expendables scribe Dave Callaham, JCVJ is an action/ comedy series that stars JCVD as a movie star and deadly undercover agent.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, who broke the story earlier this week, the plot goes a little something like this: “Jean-Claude Van Johnson will star Van Damme as a version of himself—a famous actor and martial-arts pro who comes out of retirement to resume his alter-ego: an undercover private contractor by the name of Jean-Claude Van Johnson. The comedy-action thriller will see Johnson's cover as the lead role in a reimagined action film version of Huckleberry Finn that lands him back in the midst of the danger he secretly always craves. It also brings him back in the orbit of Vanessa, his fellow operative and the love of his life that got away.”
Slashfilm’s Ethan Anderton offered a few more promising details in his exclusive on the show: “Jean-Claude Van Damme is just the persona that Jean-Claude Van Johnson puts on in order to do dangerous private contractor work. Projects like Double Team with Dennis Rodman and the awful Street Fighter movie were only done to provide cover for Van Johnson’s secret operations. But now, not unlike Van Damme, Van Johnson finds himself out of his prime. He can’t do the splits to avoid getting hit with a metal pipe, he’s depressed by the family photos in the holiday cards he gets sent by Dolph Lundgren, and he’s just not the man he used to be.
“This is a project that features Van Damme poking fun at himself on a level far above JCVD, cocky about his career, both in film and private contracting. It exists in a world where there are plenty more covert operatives working undercover as actors, such as David Schwimmer (who isn’t necessarily confirmed to be part of the cast just yet) as Van Johnson’s rival, working for the same organization.”
It will be interesting to see how Van Damme balances the cheeky, self-deprecating tone of this pilot, which is expected to start shooting in May, with his more earnest and straightforward side in the allegedly forthcoming Kickboxer: Vengeance. JCVD has been many things over the course of his decades-long career, but he’s never been those things all at once until now.
Even if this pilot doesn’t work out, though—and we really hope it does, in all of its ludicrous glory—there’s one thing we can probably count on: Jean-Claude Van Damme won’t stay down for long. And whatever he does next will confuse/impress/amuse us in ways we probably never expected.
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