“What if you were awesome?”
There are two moments that define this newest iteration of The Tick for me, and they both come in the fifth episode. In the first, the titular Tick and a series antagonist – grimdark Punisher parody Overkill – are gearing up for an Earth-shaking CGI battle when tiny Dot Everest just…walks through them. As she pushes past to hug her brother and tell him how much she loves him despite everything, Overkill frustratedly points out: “Uh, we’re trying to have a fight here?”
Ben Edlund – the Tick’s creator and showrunner of every series that’s borne the character’s name, including this one – probably understands superheroes better than anyone alive. When they existed primarily as comic book characters, The Tick was a comic book. When they made the move to Saturday morning cartoons, The Tick managed to out-frenetic even his most frenetic competition. Now the only superhero that matters has been re-rebooted as a darker, more grounded streaming television show, because it’s 2017, and of course he has. But what makes this show great isn’t the serialized storytelling, as genuinely engaging as it is, or Arthur’s struggles with mental illness, as much as they make him a richer, more interesting character. It’s the fact that, after spending decades pointing out the flaws and faults of the superhero genre, Amazon’s The Tick is here to remind us what, exactly, makes superheroes great: their power to give us hope. To make us believe – if only for a moment – that we, too, can fly.
“We’re trying to have a fight here,” cry the likes of Batman V Superman and Civil War and last week’s dreary Defenders. Oh, we know. But we’re not interested in your angry self-loathing right now. Wicked men, you face The Tick.
Considering that this cult icon has suddenly started appearing on billboards, in movie theaters, and even has a catchy new theme song courtesy of Bastille, it’s entirely possible that this is the first many of our readers have heard of the Big Blue Bug of Justice. The Tick is…well, he’s sort of hard to explain. He’s giant wall of a man in a bright blue latex suit who’s armed with “nigh-invulnerable” skin and a childlike sense of right and wrong. “But my real power is this,” this latest incarnation explains: “When Destiny speaks…she speaks to me.” Though as the last live-action Tick explained, he’s not on a first-name basis with lucidity: “I have to call it Mister Lucidity, and that’s no good in a pinch.”
If you’re an old fan, let’s get the most important issue out of the way: yes, the little antennae on his head still wiggle independently. But to answer the second-most important question: yes, Peter Serafinowicz does an amazing job. For many folks – myself included – Patrick Warburton (who’s helping to produce the new season) defined the role with his trademark deadpan delivery. Serafinowicz (who you probably know best for calling the Guardians of the Galaxy “a bunch of a-holes”) takes the character in a slightly different direction, channeling the manic dramatic energy of a 1940s radio broadcaster, but about five minutes into the second episode I completely forgot that it was a different actor. It’s a different performance, yes, but it’s still fundamentally The Tick, in all his mighty monologuing glory, and watching Serafinowicz flex his considerable comedy chops is an absolute delight.
But of course, the Wild Blue Yonder is nothing without his trusty sidekick, Arthur Everest. And it’s in this character – portrayed to perfection by Griffin Newman – that the new series really finds its voice. You see, Arthur has traditionally been defined by his overwhelming desire to leave his soul-sucking accounting job and become a caped crusader. When we see the new Arthur’s backstory, you might reasonably assume that we’re in for more of the same: after all, he watched The Terror kill his father when he was just a kid, and we’ve all seen Batman Begins enough times to know how that goes, right? Yep, that’s right – he was scarred for life and now has to take anti-psychotic drugs to even function in society, with even the mere suggestion of danger sending him into a full-blown anxiety attack.
Oh. Right. A lot of kids go through traumatic experiences in their youth, and so far exactly zero of them have actually become caped crusaders. And yet, in a way, that’s what makes Arthur’s inevitable heroism all the more super.
I mentioned before that two scenes define The Tick for me. Here’s the second: in a conversation with Arthur’s sister, who acts as her brother’s legal guardian, Tick suddenly drops the overblown persona for a second and simply asks, “What if Arthur is awesome?” Sure, he’s a coward. Sure, he’s a fundamentally broken man. And yes, he has no actual superpowers. But what if Arthur is awesome? Far from making the show a depressing slog like many of us feared, Arthur’s deep-seated mental health issues give him something to rise above, something which I know hits home for myself and many others who are going through similar (much less severe) forms of the same illness. We all doubt ourselves. We’re all intimately familiar with our own flaws. But what if we were awesome? Once upon a time, that was the question at the heart of characters like Batman, who rose above his own childhood trauma, or Thor, who used to have to walk with a cane.
So, yes, The Tick is a show about loneliness. And it’s a show that’s taking much more time to develop that loneliness in its main cast, whether it’s the villainous (yet still, perhaps, redeemable) Ms. Lint, who I might go so far as to call the show’s breakout character, or the aforementioned sandpaper-throated Overkill. Oh, don’t get me wrong – these characters are still as hilarious as any Batmanuel or American Maid – Overkill’s partner is a talking boat, for goodness’ sake. But they’re a little more real, now, a little more human, and I for one appreciate the fact that we’re at a point where even goofy characters can be used to tell a real story about accepting yourself and finding your place in a world that couldn’t give two shits whether you live or die.
And even if you leave aside the show’s philosophy, it’s just a great superhero adventure story. When the Tick and Overkill do finally get their big-budget fight, it felt like everything the Daredevil/Punisher Netflix team-up should have been and wasn’t. Jackie Earle Haley’s The Terror is the sort of absolutely nightmarish villain you’d expect from the man who was (briefly) Freddy Krueger, and the slow reveal of his return to power and ultimate evil plan will have you on the edge of your seat. Longtime fans like myself will also enjoy the numerous references to previous Tick canon (including an amazing cameo by Townsend Coleman, the character’s original voice.) And the comedy, of course, is top-notch – twice in the first six episodes I had to pause because I had laughed myself into a coughing fit.
If I have any complaint about the series, it’s the ridiculous release schedule. Rather than releasing all twelve episodes of the season at once in the manner we’ve become accustomed to, the producers have chosen to hold the back half of the season hostage until 2018 in order to “build anticipation.” Some people (like me) might argue that the last 16 years have been anticipation enough, but whatever. It’s fine. It’s fine. The Tick is back, and he’s not only the best thing on Amazon – he might just be the best thing on television.
Who can deny the snazzy of that?
Final Verdict: 5 / 5
The Tick is currently streaming its first six episodes on Amazon Prime.