The Tick is one of the more bizarre cases in the spurt of indie-book superheroes, a group of often-parodic, often-all-too-serious heroes that cropped up in the late 80s and early 90s to wildly varying success. He never quite hit the total mainstream name recognition of someone like Spawn or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but never resting as a solid cult favorite like The Maxx.
Created by Ben Edlund, The Tick, a possible psychopath of a man with a love of superheroing who has no knowledge of his time before he donned the big blue bug costume that gave him his name, had his name-making cartoon in 1994, a delightful thing with plenty of silly villains and straight-faced ridiculousness, and a live-action take starring Patrick Warburton from 2001, a similarly delightful thing with a more adult tinge to it. The former had some mainstream success, the latter firmly rests in the world of cult classicdom.
I’ve always found a delight in the Tick. Partially just because a hero that has villains like Man-Eating Cow or Chairface is going to tickle a weird funny bone of mine, but partially because there’s a really deep cleverness in the construction of The Tick as a parody hero. The parody is not “Isn’t this stuff so stupid?” but rather thinking through the logical ridiculousness that someone who was in love with the concept of being a superhero. The Tick is a comic book version of that person you know who got WAY too into their job, to the point of it sublimating the whole rest of their public identity. Come on, you know that person.
It also seems like there’s no time like the present to put out a good old-fashioned bit of superhero parody, now that we’ve seen their total cultural domination. Hell, Deadpool showed the surprisingly lucrative ends of being Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? in red tights. On that end, The Tick, the Amazon Studios series pilot starring Peter Serafinowicz and Griffin Newman and executive produced by Edlund, may not necessarily succeed.
There’s a few things here and there, but none that feel like parody. More like the right shading. The whole premise of the pilot put out by Amazon is introducing us to Arthur (Griffin Newman), a young man afflicted with all manner of psychosis after he watched his family killed as collateral damage in a battle against feared villain The Terror, who Arthur is now obsessed with. Comedy gold, I know.
In a year with both Batman v Superman and Civil War, it’s not hard to feel a bit pointed when you’re doing a superhero story about collateral damage. It’s also hard not to feel pointed the first time we see Peter Serafinowicz’s Tick, decked out this time in an overly textured muscle suit that feels like the overly-realistic reimaginings we saw in Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight, which is of course the trilogy that made the name of Wally Pfister, the director of the pilot.
That choice is another fun little detail, bringing in the man that made the look of the trilogy that arguably made the modern superhero genre what it is. But like I said, none of this feels as though it’s mocking, or even satirizing. Rather, it feels like the necessary points of detail to flesh out the world we might now recognize, the modern superhero landscape, and tell a story of the people who might live within it. Again, come the logical conclusion of the earlier The Tick mission statement, that it’s a parody that takes it to the logical ends rather than mocks it.
In that end, it succeeds. Part of the magic of the live-action The Tick of 2001 was that in being an “adult” work, what it did was induce a bit of real-world psychosis. The idea that perhaps dressing up in costumes and beating people up isn’t the healthiest activity, and it used that to ground the relationships and the actions.
What works in this one is that it brings that idea to the forefront. Arthur is a broken man from his childhood trauma, and his superhero obsessions are almost the way he makes sense of all that’s happened to him since. The Tick is something that ultimately provides order to his world, who fills out what he tries to make work in his brain. The id he wishes he could actually be able to express.
The shift in the show is then grounded by a subdued wackiness. These are still people in ridiculous costumes with superpowers. The Tick is still an over-the-top goofy dude in love with the sound of his own voice. It’s a dark show that colors itself with something far more bizarre and delightful.
That’s an end I can support. Thankfully, it’s in a show that’s got just enough to love about it to fill out its weaker edges.
Peter Serafinowicz does an extraordinary job as The Tick. He’s stepping into some very big, Warburton-shaped shoes and actually manages to bring his own flavoring to the role. He’s convincingly cavalier and 100% committed, his baritone voice selling every bizarre word and declaration that comes out of his mouth.
Griffin Newman, an actor I can’t say I knew much of before now, is also an interesting Arthur. It isn’t as though “Broken Man” is an uncommon TV character now, but he plays him on some interesting lines and I think he could easily join the ranks of people like Hamm or Arnett given time.
The major drawback on this one is that the filmmaking can’t be said to be all there just yet. Pfister has an eye for composition, and gets some solid shooting in, but he’s definitely not selling any of the more comedic bits. It comes off as the dry humor of The Dark Knight Trilogy, which may be what they’re going for but leaves it feels like it’s all on the acting and writing to sell stuff. That’s largely a pilot problem though, and there’s a lot of reasons to not worry too much.
It’s also just the concern that this one could easily lose itself in its darker miasma of mental illness and delusion. There’s an angling towards a twist that’s been done in another show that I shamefully haven’t watched that seems all wrong for The Tick as it stands. This has the potential to not just be a half-hour prestige drama, but something more cleverly in line with the Golden Age of Comedy shows on right now. That line is still thin though, and only a full series order can tell.
At this stage, I’m cautiously optimistic about The Tick. It seems a show with the most potential for a future and a show I’d be very excited to see continue. If you’ve got Amazon Prime, give it a watch.
The very least is that hearing Serafinowicz declare, with all the pomp and conviction he can muster, “ENOUGH OF YOUR HOT LITTLE BULLETS” is worth the price of admission on its own.