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.

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Peter Serafinowicz dons the big blue suit this time. Superpowers include: Superhuman strength, near invincibility; Weaknesses: Sensitive antlers, comically low intellect. Dude’s hella dumb, is what I’m saying.

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.

The MacGuffin of the season is the mysterious suit Arthur acquires which only he can operate and all the villains want.

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).

Poor Arthur just wants his life back.

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.

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Posted by Kelly Konda

Grew up obsessing over movies and TV shows. Worked in a video store. Minored in film at college because my college didn't offer a film major. Worked in academia for a while. Have been freelance writing and running this blog since 2013.

18 Comments

  1. I never read the comic. I saw maybe 2 episodes of the cartoon (and hated it). Watched all of Warburton’s The Tick and loved it — but it was all corn and no commentary. For example, it featured a Mexican super hero called, “Bat Manuel”.

    Warburton played The Tick masterfully. But really there was no substance to the show at all. Just a bunch of slapstick.

    This new version is fascinating. I do think the combining of tragedy, sadness, and loneliness with comedy works here.

    I actually think I felt the most sympathy for the super villain Lint.

    When I saw the pilot months ago, I enjoyed it though this new actor for The Tick took me a while to get used to. Now I think he’s perfect for it.

    I’m not sure what to make of the “Finding Nemo” element of The Tick not having any memory prior to meeting Arthur, or even being able to think well when not with Arthur. As you said, they’re clearly not making The Tick an imaginary character, but there must be SOMETHING to this idea that The Tick doesn’t really exist without him.

    I’m curious to see if they ever actually address that.

    Finally, my through hurts whenever I hear The Terror speak. That can’t have been an easy voice to do for hours a day during filming. In fact, I went to Google to see if Jackie Earle Haley actually damaged his vocal chords and this is his actual voice, now. But that does not appear to be the case.

    Reply

    1. Correction: “My THROAT hurts whenever I hear The Terror speak”.

      Reply

    2. From what I’ve been able to gather, the new show is definitely going for a bit more depth than the original show.

      I didn’t even realize that was Jackie Earle Haley until until maybe the third or so episode he was in. What’s funny is he kinda, sorta looks like his Freddy Kreuger but sounds totally (!) different. I, too, wondered what putting in hours on set with that voice would do to a guy long term. Glad to hear nothing long term. Guessing he’s drinking lots of tea and other such vocal chord remedies at the end of those days.

      Also from what I gather The Tick’s memory loss has always been there, just with slight variations from medium to medium. But I’m obviously no expert. I like what they’re doing with it here. It gives him such a sad quality. He’s this superstrong dude in this suit acting out the life of a superhero but he can barely hold an intelligent thought for too long and has some kind of brain damage or other such tragic back story.

      Reply

      1. –> “He’s this superstrong dude in this suit acting out the life of a superhero but he can barely hold an intelligent thought for too long”

        In the Wharburton version, they had an episode that focused on The Tick’s “suit”. They tried to remove it and came to the conclusion it’s not a suit. It’s his actual skin — or exoskeleton.

        They hinted at the same in this series when Overkill grabbed The Tick’s antennae. It actually hurt The Tick.

      2. Again, I misspoke. He is literally a man in a suit because it’s a TV show and that’s an actor. However, yes, in the world of the show I was beginning to suspect the suit might actually be a part of him otherwise the antennae gag makes no sense. I’d actually caught myself looking closer at his face to figure out how exactly it would make sense for most of him to be blue but have a human face. But it’s superhero shit. Reality is inherently malleable. They’ll figure it out.

      3. It was a particularly sad (and somewhat funny) scene when Arthur left Tick on the street and said good bye. Then Arthur noticed Tick was just standing there with a goofy grin, and asked him if he had a place to call home. Tick replies, “I must have!”

        It seemed clear Tick was planning on standing there all night until Arhur returned.

      4. “It seemed clear Tick was planning on standing there all night until Arhur returned.”

        That’s 100% what he was going to do. It’s likely what he’d been doing since he couldn’t even seem to remember where he’d even been staying all those times he wasn’t around Arthur.

  2. I like this review. Its the second one I’ve read that recs this new version. I have about the same level of exposure to The Tick that you do. In fact, most everything I now abut it, I heard from people who read the comic books, watched the cartoon, or liked the live action show. But now that you’ve mentioned Ben Edlund, I’m going to check it out.

    Reply

    1. Glad the review was helpful. With fewer and fewer movies and TV shows coming at us from a wholly original place, we always have to establish exactly what our relationship is to the latest franchise getting the reboot/sequel/revival/whatever. It just so happens that our mutual experiences with The Tick align, and as such I’m glad I pitched my review from a place of complete honesty and saying, “Look. I know jack squat about this character. I’m just watching the show cold, and I’m only really here for Ben Edlund.”

      Reply

  3. I have Not heard of the Tick either. How does it compare yo the legendary comics such as the old school batman and superman comics? Have you heard Naruto?

    Reply

    1. It’s funny you would ask that because even though The Tick is arriving at peak superhero time it’s satirical aim isn’t so much at what’s currently going on int he superhero game but instead what used to happen. To put it another, this is not a parody of modern Batman, Superman or anyone in the MCU; it’s a parody of old school Batman and Superman, particularly the latter. It’s just that you have a Golden Age idiot superhero dropped into a pretty bleak world with slight Venture Bros/Incredibles-esque jokes about superheroes on the side. That being said, the Overkill character is clearly a parody of The Punisher, and pretty much The Punisher of any era, be he the one on Netflix or in the comics in the 80s. And I actually have not heard Naruto. What is that?

      Reply

      1. I see a trailer of the Tick he just living in a modern word and it felt like a comedy show. No real issue within the story or anything. Naruto was of the most popular Shows in Japan

      2. Naruto was a popular show in Japan. Their also a manga series. Naruto is a ninja who dream about being a Hokage, which it the leader of his village. I wanted to mention that the village is a small place it huge place. The village is similar to a town. It has Supplies stores, and restaurants. On his journey he meets these two other ninja who names are sukura, sasuke. They become a team and their leader is kakashi. The form a team and all three go on different mission together. Their many different mission the do inorder to become stronger and fight off the enemys. Also their different villages too. They wear the same head band if their from the same village. Every village is known for something. For example the hidden leaf village is for most powerful ninja. But a villege like the wind would have a special power of wind techniques. That it. Naurto Become popular in the U.S.A. It still top shows of all time along with Dragon Ball Z. Here a link to the T.v. series intro it shows the 3 main character and the other teams. https://youtu.be/F5dZfuQXOiw

  4. Thelegend, it might be a BIT like Adam West’s Batman, but even campier. As the review suggested, it’s a very strange mix of camp, slapstick, violence, and real emotion.

    Reply

  5. I have a deep longterm commitment regarding The Tick (the 90’s Saturday morning cartoon and the other Live Action show, but not as far back as the original comics, and I’ve followed Edlund ever since.

    THIS series’s pilot seemed like something I should either love or hate, and I’m not yet sure where I stand on it.Having it on Amazon instead of a more ChromeCast-able format just pisses me off, but them’s the brreaks

    Reply

    1. Yeah, Amazon are kind of dicks about forcing you onto their format. Not Apple bad, of course, but annoying. I can say the last time I looked Amazon Prime app is available on Roku. Plus, obviously, there’s FireTV and the FireTV sticks. So, there’s that.

      As for the pilot, I’d argue that the series gets a lot better after the pilot, mostly because it does a better job of mixing its competing tones. Of course, as per my own review I don’t think they’ve mastered that yet, but at least episodes 2-6 are better at it than episode 1.

      Reply

      1. I believe you can still watch the full short series of the earlier live action show on Netflix. Youtube will have at least a few of the 90s cartoon episodes.

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