One of the biggest surprises of Amazon’s The Tick in season 1 was that the 12-episode season was split in two parts, with the second half premiering six months after the first. A hiatus of that magnitude doesn’t instill a ton of confidence in a series that began with a shaky pilot that felt as uncertain of where the show was headed as the audience was. Still, TV series have rough starts all the time. Moreover, the first half of season 1 was often pretty funny and engaging, and it boasted a pair of engaging performances from Peter Serafinowicz and Griffin Newman, along with a solid supporting cast that included Jackie Earle Haley as the season’s main villain, The Terror. The patient and optimistic television watcher might look at the hiatus as a bit of necessary maintenance and a sign the show’s kinks were being worked out, so when The Tick returned it would have a better grasp on what its big idea was and where the story was headed.
With that much time to regroup and refocus, then, it is somewhat disappointing that the second half of The Tick season 1 gets mired in an overly serialized plot that’s weird but not nearly weird enough, stretching The Terror’s plan to kill Superian (Brendan Hines) over six half-hour episodes. It’s easy to see why the series chose to go this route, as the series clearly knows what a commodity it has in Hayley’s Terror, putting him at the center of not only the main plot but many of his own scenes. Yet, even as the series divides its time among the plan to kill Superian, the Terror’s public relaunch of his villainous persona, and Tick and Arthur discovering themselves through their heroic endeavors, the issues with The Tick season 1B really come down to pacing.
That is to say, there’s a lot going on in every episode. Dot (Valorie Curry) finds herself teamed up with Overkill (Scott Speiser) more often than not. Ms. Lint continues her love-hate relationship with the aforementioned super-violent vigilante, and Tinfoil Kevin (Devin Ratray) continues to surprise by catering to some very specific plot needs almost as soon as they pop up. There’s also a mad scientist and a talking dog named Midnight who, unfortunately, is pretty much just a talking dog and never really does anything else. Yet, despite having all these elements packed into an average 22-minute episode, The Tick never gets to where its going. After the first two episodes of season 1B, it’s apparent these episodes are only really interested in building toward a confrontation between Tick, Arthur, and The Terror, and so everything else that happens inevitably begins to feel like a stalling tactic to delay that eventual climax.
The most telling sign is the way scenes go on for too long, almost like they’re searching for a joke that’s never going to materialize. Working comedy into a superhero plot can’t be easy and for the most part The Tick understands how to infuse humor into the action. Serafinowicz in particular has a knack for making Tick’s hulking, dim-witted heroics laughable in a good way, but those moments don’t come often enough and they’re never as weird as they need to be. Instead, the character spends a lot of time questioning who or what he is. At one point Tick comes to believe he’s a robot without ever exploring the possibility that he actually is or demonstrating he’s not. There nothing inherently wrong with the show pursuing a question like this, but The Tick also never presents a convincing argument that this is the question the show needs to be asking. It also doesn’t help that there’s no indication an answer of any kind is on the horizon or ever will be.
The biggest downside of character’s literally asking questions that the show can’t or won’t answer, then, is that it begins to feel like a stalling tactic, a mystery meant to inject intrigue to a show that’s still figuring out what it is and what it wants to be. Right now, The Tick is a bit of a television melting pot. There’s a lot going on; some of it works, some of it doesn’t. By the end of the season, the show seems to have settled on destiny and identity as its defining themes. You know this because the characters mention it repeatedly.
The search for identity seems oddly meta in this case, as the show still doesn’t have one quite yet. A lot of that has to do with the fine line The Tick walks between spoofing superhero conventions and aligning itself with them. This iteration of the concept is darker and more grounded than what’s come before on television, and with that tonal difference comes the tendency to treat the characters and their situations with greater gravity. Arthur coming to terms with the loss of his father and the role it played in his discovering his “destiny” lends the season a surprisingly weighty origin story. But it still doesn’t feel like that’s what The Tick is ultimately about. Instead, Arthur becoming a card-carrying superhero is just one of many elements offered up by the season, most of which come up short as far as defining it.
Ultimately, The Tick could stand to get a lot weirder as the series moves forward. The VLM, Big Bizmuth, Superian being a tool, Overkill’s former life as Straight Shooter, and The Terror running a cola company, are all strong story ideas. But they’re story ideas deserving of an episode dedicated to telling that one story. As it stands, along with really embracing its weirdness and letting its freak flag fly, The Tick might want to think about becoming less serialized and more episodic to really get the most out of what has already proven three times over to be a winning formula.
The Tick season 1 is streaming in its entirety on Amazon Prime Video.