The Tick! The big blue superhero, more dense then steel, both physically and mentally is one of the most famous (deservedly so) and one of the most interesting superhero parodies ever created. The Tick has had a few different iterations since his creation in 1986 as a mascot for New England Comics, including a comic book, a cartoon, a previous live action series and even a video game. So now Amazon is taking a crack a new version. With one episode out for viewing, how does it fair? Pretty darn good, actually.
Warning: Spoilers to Follow
I have a long personal history with the character, having been introduced to the Tick as a kid, watching the brilliantly ahead of it’s time cartoon on Fox every Saturday morning. I loved it’s big, over the top style and it was just so fun and goofy. And as an adult, I have been able to go back and appreciate it on a new level, as Ben Edlund’s creation was filled to the brim with clever nods and subtle jokes that call out the silly tropes of decades of ongoing superhero comics. As a teenager I discovered the comic book series that came out in 1988, the series that would inspire the cartoon I was so fond of 6 years later in 1994. When the vastly underrated live action series that came out in 2001 was cancelled after only 9 episodes, I was heartbroken, as it managed to create something special out of something that was clearly built on a shoestring budget. Each iteration of the story is somewhat unique, always establishing it’s own tone, while trying to keep the spirit of the absurd title character intact. As such, each version has to work by it’s own merits.
Comparing the comic to the cartoon or the cartoon to the first live action series is difficult and unwise, because they are attempting to do different things. The comic favors wading through the tropes of the medium, playing on the silliness of secret identities and disproportionate physiques of comic book characters, and narrative dissonance inherent in sequential panel art that often distorts the readers sense of time and space within a comic world. The cartoon famously lambasted children’s cartoons of the day in a similar way, poking fun at overly dramatic voice performances and the talk down attitude that cartoons of the time had for kids. The live action show featuring the brilliantly cast Patrick Warburton tended to skew towards sitcom parody, featuring very little of the signature over the top action, making it arguably the most unique incarnation of the premise thus far. Each incarnation, spearheaded by it’s creator, Ben Edlund, used his loveable if not intelligent superhero to shine a light on an area of pop culture. Even the videogame that came out in the wake of the cartoon series, had fun lambasting the tropes of the most popular games of the day. The Tick doesn’t always hit subtly, but always jovially. Which brings us to today, with the release of Amazon’s pilot of the Tick.
Now, when it comes to a TV pilot, you’re not stuck with a lot of time to showcase everything the world you’re building has to offer. The best you can usually hope for is to put your best foot forward and hope that it’s grand enough to make your audience clamor for more. The Tick starts off with a pretty big bang. And I mean that literally. We immediately start with some opening narration by our titular hero (played by Peter Serafinowicz) in his grand, throaty baritone, a voice that feels like a throwback to the animated series. The decision to go that direction is immediately gratifying. The dialogue and the voice let fans of the original know that despite a new era and new format, the heart and soul of Big Blue will be maintained in this new medium. We are then shown the Tunguska Incident of 1908 being the arrival of the world’s first superhero, Superian (Brendan Hines).
We are quickly introduced to this show’s modern day world, one inhabited by superheroes and villains. We spend a lot of time in this episode getting introduced not just to Arthur (Griffin Newman), who fans will know immediately as the Tick’s partner (sidekick), but also the tone of the show and the world. Previous iterations of the Tick often embraced the absurdity of a world where super people walk the earth. Ben Edlund liked to suggest that a world that doesn’t give a flying person in a gaudy outfit a second glance, is a world that is topsy turvy, and as such, Arthur was often portrayed as the lone sane person in a world full of slightly crazy people, his best friend being the craziest. Amazon’s version seems to turn that idea on it’s head, building it’s world on the new norm of superhero shows and movies: grounded and realistic. It’s a world where yes, people embrace the idea of superheroes, but instead of existing along side the craziness of it, the people exist as outsiders to it, and have to deal with the consequences of it. As such Arthur is no longer the lone voice of sanity in the story. Indeed, he’s played as a traumatized young man who saw his father die in a pretty horrendous event where the world’s greatest supervillain, the Terror (Jackie Earle Haley) took down the world’s preeminent super team. It’s even suggested that he may suffer some mental health problems as a result (though there is some implication that he may not suffer from such issues at all, and that there might be some mystery to be unraveled further down the line).
It’s through Arthur’s perspective that we view the show, and it’s through his interest in unraveling a mystery that others believe are no more than delusions and hallucinations, that we are introduced to the hero of the show, the Tick. We are given a couple of light action scenes, and even a payoff of Arthur’s future as the Tick’s loyal partner (sidekick). But as expected, this episode is light on big developments, and focused mostly on introduction. And that’s fine. You are given an idea of what the show is building towards, and a pretty clear idea of what the tone through the show is going to be.
While it does hitch it’s wagon to the idea of a grounded superhero world, it does so with a knowing smirk. It’s never overly dour, and it actually works really well as a contrast to the absolute craziness of the Tick, who is very much the character he’s always been. Peter Serafinowicz was just a spot on choice to play the character, as he’s no stranger to this kind of absurdist comedy (I highly recommend his works on British programs like Spaced, Look Around You, and the Peter Serafinowicz Show), and he just perfectly embodies this character for a new era. Patrick Warburton is not forgotten, but I think the new guy might end up proving to be the definitive version of the character.
That said, I’m still a bit on the fence regarding his costume. I’m hoping it will grow on me, but the chitin like aesthetic feels a little too on the nose for the character. To me, one of the running jokes of the character, is that he’s not particularly tick-like. Other than insect like antennae, it always just felt like a name to call him because he needed a name. In a similar vein, I don’t know how I feel about the design of Arthur’s costume, or the need to give it an origin story. I can’t tell if this is just a pastiche on the idea modern superhero stories getting overly focused on explaining the why of every item in a superhero arsenal or just a way to explain why this guy would end up in a costume, but ultimately, I feel like I would have preferred something a little simpler, like they did with Superian’s costume. But perhaps I’ll come around on both my aesthetic issue with the Tick’s design and Arthur’s costume as the series progresses.
Other notable performances are from Griffin Newman and Jackie Earle Haley. Newman is playing a familiar yet different version of Arthur, and it really fits the tone of the series. Jackie Earle Haley get very limited screen time as the Terror in this first episode, but I’m hoping to see much more of him as the series progresses, because he is just a delight. He is just gleefully evil, and was so fun to watch in just a few minutes on screen.
I’m hoping that the Tick gets picked up for a full series, and you can help it do that by going to Amazon.com, checking it out, and then giving it a rating. It deserves a chance to move forward, and I’m excited to see more of what they have in mind. This could be a brand new era for our favorite big blue lunkhead. and that alone makes me want to go out and yell “SPOOOOOOOOOOOOON!”