Movies · TV

It’s Time for The Tick

By  · Published on August 25th, 2016

A Fresh Perspective on Amazon’s Superhero Spectacle.

Arthur (Griffin Newman) awakes to find The Tick (Peter Serafinowicz) in his bed

I am too young to remember The Tick. I missed the era of Fox Kids with re-runs of the animated series and was too invested in cartoons to care about the live-action show in 2001. Sure, I’m familiar with the references littered throughout podcasts and articles in the years since it was on the air, but I entered my viewing of this Amazon Pilot Season entry with relatively fresh eyes. I consider myself lucky, as a show like The Tick is belabored by expectation. I didn’t care about the endless questions fans had about the adaptation:

“How can anyone follow Patrick Warburton’s character-defining take on the Blue Bug?”

“Didn’t the director shoot The Dark Knight?”

“What do you mean DARKER? You’ve seen what’s happening to DC, right?”

I just wanted to be entertained. And as much as it has flaws, The Tick is entertaining.

The Terror (Jackie Earle Haley) and his henchmen.

The series stars Griffin Newman as Arthur Everest: accountant by day, conspiracy theorist by night. His obsession with The Terror (Jackie Earle Haley), the “long-deceased” nemesis of the world-famous Superian (Brendan Hines) and perpetrator of his father’s murder, leads him to an encounter with The Tick (Peter Serafinowicz) outside of a criminal warehouse. Without getting into spoilers, the episode focuses on the tension between the insanity of crime-fighting and the stability of an adult life as personified in Arthur’s EMT sister, Dot (Valorie Curry).

Newman, who will also feature in the TBS series Search Party, balances Arthur’s overt desperation and underlying intelligence quite well, bringing physical tics like a nagging eye twitch to the forefront in his performance. Haley, fresh off of his memorable stint on Preacher, channels the contumacy of Odin Quincannon into his menacing role here, though his character only appears in a brief flashback. With an upcoming role in American Pastoral, I had hoped for more from Valorie Curry’s Dot, but the script leaves her with little more to do than play a variant of the caretaker trope.

It’s hard to blame The Tick creator and series writer Ben Edlund for this. Her character is the only lead without a costume, so the more exposition-heavy backstories get priority in a pilot. Still, if the show gets picked up for a full season, I hope he and the other writers make a concerted effort to add depth to the only female lead in the pilot and some complexity to the side of the debate she represents. If the non-costumed life is merely a caricature of a responsible adult, then Arthur’s continual decision to pursue crime-fighting becomes an afterthought, not the weighty struggle that the pilot sets it up to be.

However, the biggest surprise came in the form of Peter Serafinowicz. Before watching the pilot, he was yet another character actor whose face I couldn’t match with his name. In retrospect, I should have recognized him from one of his previous roles: He voiced Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace and S.A.M. in the underrated Adult Swim series NTSF:SD:SUV::, and he played Aldo, the lecherous Italian, in Spy. As the Tick, he manages to capture the earnest ego that accompanies “nigh-invulnerability” and the absurdity of his throwaway one-liners (“The struggle as old as time… but with a beat you can dance to” is a personal favorite). Another highlight of his (or his double’s) performance is the stunt choreography on display in the episode. In particular, his movements are hilarious because they mimic the indifference a truly invulnerable hero would have towards low-level goons.

Like its Pilot Season partners, I Love Dick and Jean-Claude Van Johnson, the show is rough around the edges. Its tone oscillates between the melancholy of Arthur’s personal traumas and the delight of the Tick’s costumed escapades; some leads are better written than others; and it neglects to set up compelling stakes on both sides of Arthur’s conflict. Nonetheless, the show is funny and its greater mysteries pose an opportunity to examine superhero culture in a different way at an all too opportune moment in the zeitgeist. The success of Deadpool demonstrated a demand for more meta takes on our comic book heroes. With a few tweaks, and many positive reviews, this show could end up a successful series on Amazon. Without them, it’ll end up on the chopping block.

The Tick is available for streaming on Amazon.

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