Amazon’s The Tick delivers a fresh perspective on the typical superhero story, balancing biting satire with a funny, engaging adventure.
When The Tick premiered last year as part of Amazon’s Pilot Season program, it felt, in many ways, like a superhero show in search of its place among the surplus of comic book-inspired films and television series already in existence. Now, as the first full season kicks off on Amazon Prime Video, the latest iteration of the blue-suited truth-and-justice-loving numbskull, from creator Ben Edlund, finds itself in the unique position to benefit from the cultural dominance of not only the Marvel and DC film universes, but also The CW’s Arrowverse and Netflix’s Marvel series, like The Defenders. As both a solid parody of familiar comic book archetypes and a genuine superhero series in and of itself, The Tick delivers a fresh perspective on the typical comic book story, balancing biting satire with a funny, thrilling adventure.
This is the third television go-round for Edlund’s character, which was created in the 1980s for the New England Comics newsletter. The Tick headlined a well-liked animated series in the mid-’90s before giving way to a short-lived primetime live-action series on FOX in 2001. That version starred Patrick Warburton (Puddy from Seinfeld) and featured the likes of Ron Perlman and Nestor Carbonell in supporting roles. It also demonstrated just how mutable the series’ humor could be and how its penchant to lampoon comic book tropes also opened the door for its own brand of comic-based escapades.
This time around, Peter Serafinowicz, who admirably goes full in on his interpretation of the Tick, headlines a new series that once again proves the malleability of the show’s central conceit: that a nigh-invulnerable do-gooder with problematic gaps in his memory and his own unique way of navigating even the most straightforward of social interactions is always ready to fight crime, and in doing so hold a mirror up to superherodom in general.
One way this new series is successful in doing that is by positioning Tick’s less-than-heroic sidekick Arthur (Griffin Newman) as the true center of the show. In the pilot, Arthur was played as more than just a reluctant sidekick to the Tick; he was a mentally unstable young man who may have dreamed up the hero ruining his life. That angle, like the original suit that dramatically restricted Serafinowicz’ physical movements, is quickly swept under the rug once the series officially gets underway with the second episode. Seconds after Arthur comments on the Tick’s new look, his sister Dot (Valorie Curry) confirms that she can, indeed, see the big blue lug. The sense of relief is immediately evident, as Serafinowicz is given a far greater range of motion in the new fabric-based suit (one can only imagine how taxing it would be to do a full season in the other get-up), and the show is freed from the burden of having viewers constantly wondering whether or not the Tick is just a figment of Arthur’s imagination.
From the second episode on, the show benefits from the more straightforward approach to its bystander-becomes-a-hero tale. Arthur’s seemingly accidental acquisition of the winged super-suit that facilitates his eventually joining the Tick to fight crime makes for a fine introduction to this iteration of the character and the show’s darker, more mature, and serialized approach to storytelling.
Aside from the new cast the biggest change to the series is its tone and the type of content that comes along with it. Previous versions of The Tick were bound by the standards of broadcast television, meaning no F-bombs and the violence was usually PG-13 (for whatever that’s worth nowadays). There are no such restrictions on Amazon, and so the series is free to let the occasional (okay, pretty frequent) curse word fly and, in one early scene featuring a Punisher-style vigilante killing machine called, naturally, Overkill (Scott Speiser), he pretty much paints the screen red with the blood of his enemies. The violence is somewhat toned down in later episodes, but the show’s writers demonstrate a real penchant for profanity as a few choice words serve to augment more than one agitated conversation.
Overkill and his sidekick Dangerboat, an artificial intelligence voiced by Alan Tudyk that is, unsurprisingly, onboard a boat for which danger is more than its middle name, are just two of the many great supporting characters that bring the world of The Tick to life. Chief among them are Jackie Earle Haley as the Terror and his one-time partner in crime Ms. Lint (Yara Martinez) – an electrically charged supervillain with static cling issues. In just a few episodes, the series manages to craft strangely effecting backstory that not only grounds her (literally), but also humanizes her by giving the villain a handful of real-life problems, like a man bun-wearing ex-husband named Derek (Bryan Greenberg) who won’t move out of Ms. Lint’s condo/lair.
Edlund and Co. spends a lot of time pitting their superheroes and villains against the mundanity of everyday life and from that springs a lot of great comedy. There is something very funny about watching the Tick ooh and ah over the gifts Arthur’s stepfather opens at his birthday party, just as there are plenty of laughs in listening to Dangerboat and Overkill bicker like a married couple over the latter’s choice to eat canned meat for dinner.
Though it may be darker, more violent, and have a prominent potty mouth, The Tick still retains a welcome sweetness that its predecessors had. Though it’s essentially a spoof on superheroes in general, the series is neither cynical nor is there anything complex about the Tick or his motivations. He’s just a good guy who wants to use his powers to help people. The lack of moral ambiguity is refreshing, and the Tick’s earnestness becomes endearing as he begins to cling to Arthur for guidance – to be his brain and his voice as necessary – as their dynamic evolves into a more capable but no less dysfunctional hero/sidekick relationship.
And as that relationship blossoms, so too does The Tick. After an iffy pilot episode that strained at times to explain itself, later episodes in this first season quickly settle into a comfortable groove that brings plenty of humor to this superhero send up, while still being a fun superhero story all on its own.
The Tick season 1 is available in its entirety on Amazon Prime Video.
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