[By Jeremy Grayson]
When he was first introduced back in 1986, the Tick was designed as a superhero parody – a deconstruction of the familiar tropes and clichés typically associated with the comic book brand. It was a tone that continued in the popular 1990s animated series, and in the early 2000s with the short-lived live-action series (which I wrote about earlier this week). Now, Ben Edlund and Amazon have brought us a new Tick – only this time (dramatic pause) it’s different.
Based on the new show so far (the first six episodes have just been released; the remainder of Season One will drop in 2018), the new Tick marks a significant change of pace from the Big Blue Bug we’ve come to know in years past. The new show is heavily serialized, and juggles multiple characters and storylines within each episode. It’s also free of network restrictions, allowing for multiple F-bombs and occasional graphic violence. (Don’t let the kids watch, is what I’m saying.) But the biggest change is that the new version of The Tick actually wants to be taken seriously.
This is no small order, mind you. Prior to this series, the world of the Tick was as loopy and ridiculous as you could imagine. Costumed heroes cracked wise nearly twice as often as they cracked heads, and liberal use of goofily pretentious narration gave the proceedings an off-the-wall feel. How else, we wonder, could you tell the story of a man who dresses as a giant blue bug?
But the new series aims to tell the story in a darker vein. Arthur, the Tick’s loyal sidekick (played here by Griffin Newman), is still the audience avatar, but he’s here saddled with a traumatic backstory and an initial reluctance to don his signature costume. (As with many streaming shows, The Tick bides its time in doling out character and story, moving more slowly than a weekly series would allow.) Villains like the electro-charged Ms. Lint (Jane the Virgin’s Yara Martinez) are given nuanced characterization. And there’s more dramatic storytelling in a single episode than in all nine installments of the 2001 series combined.
Yet at the same time, The Tick is still ostensibly a comedy, filled with plenty of broad performances, goofy ideas, and enough humorous quips to make a Marvel film blush. (There’s a snarky talking houseboat voiced by Alan Tudyk, and it’s just as great as that description made it sound.) This is chiefly due to the Tick himself. As played by Peter Serafinowicz, this rendition of the character isn’t far off from the one portrayed by Patrick Warburton – he delivers rambling monologues and lumbering one-liners, while expressing a distinctly gleeful energy whenever he stumbles upon a crime. Serafinowicz has the time of his life with the role, hamming up his every scene.
It’s fun to watch Serafinowicz (along with Newman, with whom he shares great chemistry) whenever he’s the camera’s focus. But the show’s knack for treating even the silliest plotlines with gritty seriousness winds up undercutting the blue guy’s comedy. In past versions, the Tick was the centerpiece of the story; here, his comedic musings are overshadowed by the hard-edged plotting. At times, he winds up feeling like a spectator in his own TV series.
Still, though, I can’t help wondering if this was not the intent. As I discussed in my earlier Tick article, the previous series aired before superhero films became a staple of the summer film season. Nowadays, though, they’re everywhere. People who’ve never read a comic book are now well-versed in the Avengers and the X-Men, thanks to the myriad films released in the last 15 years. To that end, there have lately been several superhero parodies (Hulu’s The Awesomes; NBC’s Powerless) which deconstruct the concepts in ways not dissimilar to earlier Tick versions. We’ve become so well-versed in superhero lore that we’ve even grown accustomed to superhero parody.
And this is where the new version of The Tick comes in. It is not, per se, a straightforward parody of superheroes. It’s more of a standard comic book story, punctuated by occasional bits of wacky comedy. It puts the Tick in a dramatic new environment, while also retaining what makes him funny.
The onscreen results are uneven, with drama and comedy occasionally stepping on each other’s toes. But nothing can erase the charm of such a strange and quirky character, particularly one embraced by an actor as committed as Serafinowicz. The Tick may need some time to iron out its flaws, but I commend it for not rehashing the same old spiel. And I look forward to seeing where Edlund and company will take him next.
The first six episodes of The Tick are currently streaming on Amazon Prime.