How have I gone this long without seeing The Tick?
That might seem like a strange question to ponder after binging the 6-episode first season of Amazon’s The Tick. Because, seriously, it’s the first season, and it’s only been out now for 7 days. Give yourself a break, man.
True, but that’s not really what I meant. Like so much else in pop culture these days The Tick is not some fresh idea; it’s a new spin on a very old idea. There was a live-action Tick TV show starring Patrick Warburton that lasted for just 9 episodes in 2001. Before that was an animated series which ran for three seasons in the mid-90s. Before that there were the comic books, with the Tick starting as a mascot for Boston area comic book stores in 1986 before evolving into a full blown, satire-laden comic book series a couple of years later.
Yet, apart from one minute clips here or there I’ve gone this entire time without really reading or watching anything Tick-related. And I call myself a comic book nerd? For shame.
Contrary to most other comic book characters, The Tick’s original creator, Ben Edlund, has been with him every step of the way, serving as a key creative force behind the animated series, the first live-action series and now this Amazon reboot. Moreover, the now 48-year-old Edlund parlayed the connections he made while riding The Tick into the TV industry into a successful career as a TV writer, making him a familiar name to genre fans who might not know The Tick but sure as hell know The Venture Bros., Firefly, Angel, Dr. Horrible, Supernatural and Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Gotham.
And that’s who Ben Edlund has been to me for the past decade or so. He’s the guy who wrote Angel’s “Smile Time” and Supernatural’s best “funny” episodes. I was vaguely aware he also created The Tick, but I mostly knew that as that weird show with Puddy from Seinfeld walking around in a big blue suit with antlers. It was a satire of superheroes, I guessed, but in 2001 who the heck really needed that. The world was only a year removed from the first X-Men movie and a year away from the first Spider-Man movie. Superhero satire? What’s the point, I say ignorantly, angering the internet in the process.
My how things have changed. Now we’ve got Avengers and Defenders and Justice Leaguers up the wazoo, and the faint possibility of two separate Joker movies (for some reason). Yes, please, someone other than Deadpool, come along and take the piss out of this superhero thing because wow is this genre ripe for parody.
That’s…well, not that’s not solely what The Tick reboot is aiming for. As orchestrated by Edlund and co-showrunner David Fury (a fellow Mutant Enemy alum), there are plenty of jokes best appreciated by comic book nerds and superhero movie fans, such as an overheard conversation debating the practical, lung capacity-related reasons a Giant Man wouldn’t survive very long. The titular Tick is an effective send-up of the more simplistic impulses of superhero do-gooders of times past, saving a grocery store owner in one second and then leaving him to the mercy of the local mob the next since the thought “the bad guys might just wait for you to leave” never occurs to him.
He talks like a Golden Age hero, but one who tends to lose his way in the middle of inspirational speeches, meaning many of his proclamations inspire “so corny” groans or simple confusion. He won’t shut up about heroic destinies and all that. And there is an antihero named Overkill who is a spot-on parody of The Punisher (the Overkill name is wholly appropriate once you see the bloody massacres he unleashes).
However, at its core this new Tick is about loneliness, mental trauma and the jarring impact of living in a world overrun by the superpowered. There is an unmistakable tinge of sadness to the Tick’s quixotic pursuits and ongoing need for companionship, but he’s not even the main character; his reluctant sidekick Arthur (Griffin Newman) is. When we meet him in the pilot, he’s a grown man still struggling to put his life back together after a childhood incident in which debris from an aerial superhero vs. supervillain battle dropped to the surface in front of him, crushing his father in the process.
Thus we have the antics of The Tick, Overkill and some cartoonish B-level villains like Ramses IV and Ms. Lint (a fantastic Yara Martinez), who are attempting to fill void left by supposedly departed big bad The Terror (Jackie Earle Haley), rubbing up against Arthur’s ongoing efforts to simply be normal. He’s aided in his efforts by his ever-present, astonishingly insistent EMT sister (Valorie Curry), who lives in constant fear that Arthur will relapse into the mental episodes which ended with him staring down a steady diet of pills to curb his obsessions, depression and occasional visions. The two now share the mantra “normal is as normal does,” even though they are secretly living lives of extreme weirdness, him unsuccessfully attempting to shake The Tick’s insistence that they form a superhero duo, her patching up supervillain goons in exchange for free rent.
As Vox argued:
Edlund’s newest take on the Tick’s bizarro world values the bleak realism of Arthur’s teetering mental state as much as it does finding new ways to joke about the inherent silliness of superheroes. It delights in making fun of itself, but also seriously considers how jarring it would be to have heroes scattered throughout the very real, often depressing world, like the Technicolor marshmallows in a bowl of otherwise disappointing Lucky Charms.
This combination is not always successful, though, as the supreme camp contrasted with Arthur’s grim past and mentally concerning present creates a dissonance which, though likely intentional on Edlund and Fury’s part, proves insurmountable at times. And, on a more superficial level, the special effects are fairly thrift store grade in appearance, somewhat surprisingly so for a show distributed by a company (i.e., Amazon) with more money than God (to be fair, Sony Pictures Television is listed as co-producer on the show with Amazon).
These flaws aren’t so much deal breakers, though, as they are mere kinks to be worked out in the next 6 episodes (for the record, Edlund and Fury split their 12-episode season in half to force us to actually sit and ruminate a bit before getting to see what happens next).
As is, at a combined 3 hours of running time these 6 episodes make for a fun binge. Serafinowicz and Newman are a perfectly paired as Tick and Arthur, the latter’s nervousness complementing the former’s well-meaning, but hopeless grandstanding. Martinez’s annoyance with the amateur hour unfolding around her is never not funny. Edlund and Fury’s Whedon-honed knack for genre deconstruction and satire is on full display, sometimes isolated to little asides such as a G.I. Joe-esque PSA featuring an uncaring Superman stand-in, other times forming the backbone of entire episode, such as in “Where’s My Mind” when Arthur begins to suspect (as the audience likely already has) that The Tick is just in his head (Spoiler: No, they’re not pulling a Fight Club/A Beautiful Mind/Mr. Robot on us).
I haven’t seen any of the old Tick TV shows nor have I read any of the comics. I’m a couple decades late to the party, really. However, this is The Tick’s chance to be discovered by people like me and an entire generation of pop culture fanatics who, much like Arthur in the show, have never really known a life without superheroes and comic book movies/TV shows. The first 6 episodes, flaws and all, are a nice start and easy recommend.
What about you? What’s your level of exposure to The Tick? Have you watched the Amazon series yet? Will Patrick Warburton always be your Tick, no matter what? Let me know in the comments.