The Tick was once very much ahead of its time. Now, it’s entirely of the moment and after an entertaining, but flawed debut season the series hits new creative highs in its altogether brilliant second go of it.
Blame Emmy deadlines, Game of Thrones, the streaming apocalypse or the polar vortex – whatever the excuse, the truth remains the same: we are getting absolutely crushed with new TV right now. That’s been the state of things for the past couple of years, but it seems especially bad at this very moment, a time when entirely worthy shows like (deep breath) The Magicians, Star Trek: Discovery, Veep, Happy!, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Now Apocalypse, Warrior, Brockmire, Fosse/Verdon, The Good Fight, Killing Eve, The Act, The Case Against Adnan Syed, Santa Clarita Diet, Barry, Legends of Tomorrow, Hanna, Fleabag, The Twilight Zone, and Doom Patrol are rolling out new episodes at the same time.
To pick any one of those means the exclusion of another unless you’ve someone found a way to live in a time bubble or simply had your need for sleep removed. As a result, the reality is a lot of you are going to sleep on The Tick’s newly released second season, not out of disinterest but simply because of #peaktvfatigue. Still, if you are someone with even a remote interest in superhero stories or if you ever watched and liked the superhero satire stylings of Dr. Horrible then The Tick is absolutely worth your time.
The Tick – Ben Edlund’s cult classic story about a big, blue amnesiac superhero with scary strength but equally scary stupidity and his very human sidekick Arthur – first debuted as a comic book store mascot. Decades of expansion into comic books, animated TV, live-action broadcast TV, merch, and video games soon followed.
The franchise entered its inevitable reboot phase when Amazon ordered a 12-episode first season for a 2017 debut. With Edlund on board as showrunner and a brilliant cast led by Peter Serafinowicz as The Tick and Griffin Newman as Arthur, the series seemed destined for greatness.
That’s exactly what it achieved – in spurts. In a world filled with more superheroes than even a Flerken could swallow, The Tick’s satire finally landed with some resonance. As Edlund told SFX, “This is crazy. The Tick is at the forefront of a major contemporary corporate powerhouse. We’re involved in high exposure messaging, so we’re about as non-culty as we’ve ever been!”
As a whole, however, the story told across the 12 episodes encountered sporadic tonal whiplash and was consistently undercut by surprisingly B-grade special effects. On a purely cosmetic level, The Tick’s blue muscle suit never totally worked. We’re meant to wonder if he’s really a man in a suit or an actual human-tick hybrid, but what they put Serafinowicz in was clearly a Schumacher-style muscle suit.
Also not helping: Amazon opted to split the season in half, releasing it in six-episode chunks separated by half a year meaning many who actually did binge the first 6 episodes might not even be aware there are 6 more to go before you’ve truly finished the season.
With all of that feedback firmly received, Amazon opted for a new Tick costume. Like an insect molting, he literally sheds his old costume in the opening minutes of the premiere, kicking off a shorter second season – just 10 episodes – with a bigger per-episode budget. Amazon gave them an extra-long post-production period to get the special effects right, which is why we’re only just now getting the season even though they finished filming 9 months ago.
This means, with the occasional exception, the show enjoys a noticeable visual facelift this season, but it also means it’s been a minute since we last dropped in on The Tick and his ever-growing team of superhero crime fighters. You’d think a recap would be in order, but one of the refreshing aspects of the second season is how easily you can jump in cold.
The “Need to Knows”
The “what you need to know” is the same: The Tick is super strong, invincible, and solely devoted to following a Golden Age concept of the hero’s path, but he has no memory of where he came from and is so childlike in intellect that it’s almost dangerous to ever really leave him alone. Someone that strong and that dumb can do a lot of damage without meaning to. Ultimately, though, it’s hard not to love him.
His partner Arthur is an accountant by day who has a super suit which is wired to only work for him. They live in a world populated by superheroes, vigilantes and supervillains, including a dim-witted and vain Superman stand-in called Superion and a trigger-happy Punisher parody called Overkill. Arthur’s sister Dot – a trained EMT/Krav Maga enthusiast – is eager to break out of just being a bit player in Arthur’s story and forge a path of her own. Armed with her own secret superpower, she’s increasingly drawn to Overkill’s way of doing things.
Oh, also, there’s a spy ship called Dangerboat which is ruled by a sentient A.I. (voiced by Alan Tudyk) which just might have a crush on Arthur. Totally normal superhero story stuff.
Where the Season Starts
We pick up shortly after Tick and Arthur’s greatest professional triumph. They’ve just saved the world and defeated a supervillain, scattering his underlings to the wind (chiefly Yara Martinez’s villainous Ms. Lint who undergoes a hilarious rebranding this season) and emerging as public heroes in the process. As a direct result, they are invited to join A.E.G.I.S., a SHIELD style organization charged with applying bureaucratic control to the superhero population.
Tick, always eager for the grand confrontation, chafes at the amount of red tape they now have to go through. Arthur, on the other hand, thrives, finally finding the perfect blending of his accountant training and superhero aspirations. If they play their cards right, they might just end up on a newly reformed version of The Flag Five, a Justice League-stand in which brings with it certain perks like health insurance and their own room at AEGIS headquarters.
This new turn for The Tick effectively lends it a new workplace comedy vibe. There are, for example, an inordinate number of scenes this season set in the AEGIS employee break room where superheroes like a black Doctor Strange figure called Sage (Cle Bennet) and Plastic Man stand-in Flexon (GTA 5’s Steven Ogg) casually shoot the shit and rave about the croissants. It’s the perfect marriage of the show’s satirical heart and pragmatic depiction of the mundanity that would come with living in a world full of superheroes.
This isn’t suddenly Powerless, though. (Gold star to you if you’re someone who actually remembers Powerless.) The occasional workplace setting is but one new element of the show’s DNA. The Tick and Arthur are still based out of the latter’s mediocre apartment, and they still rush off into battle against cartoonish enemies, with this season’s supervillain being someone (or something?) called Lobstercules.
Neither Lobstercules nor AEGIS turns out to be exactly what Tick and Arthur expect, guaranteeing nonstop end-of-episode twists which make binging mandatory. Dot and Overkill, meanwhile, embark on their own side mission until – as per usual – all storylines organically merge near the end. There are individual episodes which excel, such as a bottle episode set on Dangerboat, but it mostly all blends together seamlessly.
Beyond the specifics of the season’s story, though, The Tick excels at simply presenting a universe and characters you consistently want to revisit. There is such an affable sweetness to Tick and Arthur’s friendship as well as a naturally evolving tenderness to Dot and Overkill’s potential romance. Few other shows could pull off a concept like a PTSD-suffering, clingy spy ship called Dangerboat with such surprising sincerity.
That they all exist in such a deeply weird world is not lost on any of them – well, except for Tick. Eventually, they all suffer a crisis moment of some kind, but “grow in the weird, twisted Edlund way,” as E.P. Barry Josephson put it in a SFX Magazine interview.
In that same interview, Josephson spelled out the true theme of the season: family. “Last season was a lot about the loss of Arthur’s father and his obsession with The Terror (Jackie Earle Haley). This season is about his true family around him – his mom, his stepdad, his sister – and how do we grow that? And how does that impact on Tick? This is his first family too now Arthur and his family have adopted him.”
Now imagine him saying that in a Dom Toretto voice and laugh because, yes, “family” is an overused theme in superhero and superhero-adjacent storytelling these days.
However, outside of the Ant-Man franchise no one does it with quite the mixture of laughs and sincerity as The Tick.
Odd takeaway: the insect-themed superhero stories have all the heart these days. Clearly.
THE BOTTOM LINE
To wildly misquote the A-Team, “I just love it when a good show becomes a great one.” Out of everything happening in the live-action superhero space on film right now, The Tick is easily the most cartoonish of the bunch, yet it’s also one of the most inviting. Like the characters in the show, we are all just living in the age of superheroes, but very few of them are as good-natured as The Tick, Arthur, and Dot.
RANDOM PARTING THOUGHT
- Easter Egg Alert 1: Lobstercules is voiced by Liz Vassey, who played one of the regular characters on the short-lived Patrick Warburton Tick series.
- Easter Egg Alert 2: Superion’s method of dealing with his very own Alex Jones-style critic will delight anyone who remembers Richard Donner’s Superman.