The practice of TV-show making is all about generating buzz, and two new shows on streaming services are upping the ante.
At first glance, it looks like a bad sign for broadcast TV. Amazon’s new sitcom “Jean-Claude Van Johnson” and Cinedigm’s cable drama “Blindspot” are both developed for streaming outlets, creating the possibility of a two-tier, somewhat inferior programming universe. But “Jean-Claude Van Johnson” has a plot so minute, and its star so wayward, that most outlets might come out ahead. And “Blindspot” is a drama that’s much more likely to succeed on the cultural radar, because its subject matter has all the potential for story flourish.
In both cases, the shows receive their fair share of criticism.
“Jean-Claude Van Johnson” stars Jean-Claude Van Damme as a highly skilled secret agent named Jean-Claude Van Johnson. He is played by Van Damme in his mid-40s and several decades older, whose abilities seem to burn brighter with age. At one point, when a small movie audience has woken up to find the talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel scolding Van Damme for some past indiscretion, he tells Kimmel that Jean-Claude Van Johnson is, at least temporarily, a “chippie.” In the pilot, after a successful mission to eliminate a human trafficking ring in South America, he lounges on the couch, fast asleep, in the driver’s seat of his car.
There are some jaded corners of the Internet (with apologies to Lil B), but the show might actually be something fun to watch. Considering that casting Van Damme isn’t as easy as it looks, this show’s quality level might surprise viewers.
“Blindspot” is a more standard procedural. It stars Jaimie Alexander as Jane Doe, who, for some reason, has amnesia. We later learn that she has been with mysterious assassin known as Sloane, played by the genre actor Sullivan Stapleton. The connection is their shared obsession with an ancient evil known as The Carillon. It turns out that “Blindspot” is Jaimie Alexander’s movie career.
You’re right that the premise of “Blindspot” would seem a whole lot more interesting if the show had been narrated by this character (just one of the names on the show’s guest list). It’s not the difference between the original Marlon Brando-starring film, “The Wild Bunch,” and a campy, younger “Blindspot” like, well, we all know how that one turns out.
But the show seems capable of having a unique voice. The pilot, directed by McG, is really, really exciting, with breathtaking visuals and a non-linear storytelling approach that shifts the focus so quickly that some previous stories aren’t resolved in time. The franchise’s style is eerily cinematic, going from ludicrous or exotic to gritty and populated by characters whose bad intentions aren’t immediately clear. It could be an intriguing little show, but it’s about halfway through the first episode of the series and is likely to disappoint. (But if you need to keep tabs on the action without giving the story away, you have an excellent way to do so.)
Time will tell if Netflix’s “Haunting of Hill House” or HBO’s “Sharp Objects” feel unique enough to join the ranks of the genre-defining shows. But it’s fair to note that with their episodes lasting only between 10 and 12 minutes apiece, streaming services are already knocking away at the idea of greatness.