Directed by: Wally Pfister.
Written by: Ben Edlund.
Starring: Peter Serafinowicz, Griffin Newman, Valorie Curry, Jackie Earl Haley.
It would have been impossible to know that things would end up in such a different place. Ben Edlund’s comedic creation, The Tick, has spent the better part of two decades lampooning the brave and righteous superhero idiom by being… well, brave and righteous, but in a very ‘Tick’ kind of way.
There really is no character quite like him, sure his stories comment on comics like Deadpool’s do, but they are generally bloodless and The Tick is very noble. It just so happens that he is also insane.
Anyone who saw the short-run live action series, helmed by Patrick Warburton as the big blue lunk, will surely remember it for its minuscule budget and fantastic chemistry between the main cast. That superhero sitcom was about the writing and characters. It had to be, they had no money for anything else, except the Tick’s costume with some frankly adorable animatronic antennae.
Now, when this pilot and casting was announced, many were sceptical. Understandably, given the slew of reboot and superhero projects out there, all revolving around well-trodden franchises. Serafinowicz is one of the funniest people in British comedy (check out his perfect parody of 70s/80s UK educational videos ‘Look Around You’), but from ‘Black Books’ and ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ to The Tick? Most people seemed to have some degree of misgiving.
It has been said that creator Ben Edlund didn’t get to do what he wanted with the original TV show, and watching this new pilot, we can assume that last time executives and producers curtailed him greatly. This is a much darker and intricate take on the light-hearted character than we’re used to.
Superheroes exist everywhere in the world of this show, and are treated like movie stars or sports personalities, as the first hero ‘Superian’ (arrived from space in a massive chunk of Bismuth) is all over papers and interviewed by Whoopi Goldberg for her show. Sure there’s still not any gore, but there is a great deal of angst, and The Tick’s sidekick Arthur (aka Mothman) gets one hell of a backstory that is actually affecting.
The main plot revolves around the mentally-disturbed but driven Arthur as he scopes out a criminal gang importing weapons, reassuring his sister by phone that he is still on his meds. There he meets The Tick, who is also watching the gang and is itching to dish out some justice. The blue behemoth senses that Arthur has many of the same drives he does, and takes an immediate liking to him. However, Arthur is arrested (who takes a taxi to a private, locked dockyard warehouse? Silly man) and it is here while being grilled by the police that we get an intense flashback.
His own father is crushed by a falling superhero ship, and then he is confronted by main villain The Terror, arriving with his goons to finish off the crashed heroes. ‘You’re the kid from the photo, you poor broken man’ intones the interviewer, and we get a look at a Time Magazine cover where child Arthur watches in abject fear, as The Terror taunts him by eating the boys ice cream. It is worth noting that Jack Earl Haley is clearly having a great time onscreen, getting to add whimsy to his trademark menace.
This, combined with a later flashback to Arthur being encouraged to a heroic path by his glowing blue nightlight, his sister reminding him that without his medication Arthur sees things – and a scene the night after his arrest where The Tick arrives at his apartment – seem to loosely suggest that The Tick could be the result of his straining psyche trying to reconcile his urge for closure and inability to do so himself. Throughout the episode you’ll see why this theory is being strongly touted online in various spheres.
Such notions are heavy on conjecture of course, and indeed Arthur does take his meds further into the episode. The Tick does mount his attack on the gang and causes a massive explosion, bringing a surviving armoured suit to Arthur – so the waters are muddied, despite the deliberate foreshadowing by Edlund. It could be that Ben always wanted to play with his audience and bring parody of the superhero genre into a newer, multi-faceted realm, designed perhaps to fuel the growing trend for Reddit/Youtube theorising and troll them with red herrings.
We’re left with Arthur putting on the armoured moth suit, just in time for the gang to arrive at his apartment, guns at the ready, with The Tick stood on a roof about to assist his new friend. While the build up is great and the new tensions add plenty to what could have been a standard re-tread, there are a couple of snags.
Serafinowicz is great, and unnerving as he is breezy. Watching him wander cheerfully into a wall of gunfire while quipping and laughing uncontrollably is equally fun and distressing. However, he is less huge than other depictions, and the rubber suit less form-fitting – thus it is notably loose in places, making him less believable. Also, while Griffin Newman is also excellent as Arthur, only Peter and Jackie do a similarly admirable job – the supporting cast are remarkably wooden or mildly amateurish. Perhaps this is where the budget was strained, as hiring some big stars and splashing on costumes/effects work left them little to hire more seasoned people to populate the world.
In any case, the show is an immediately intriguing prospect, and the one occasion where I would urge viewers to visit Amazon’s Pilot Season site and tell them emphatically that we want more of The Tick.
The Tick: Pilot gets 4 out of 5 Antenae