It’s hard to believe that in this time of Peak TV we haven’t reached Peak Superhero (especially when you consider the cinematic universes), yet still they come. As it gets increasingly difficult to differentiate between the similar storylines and emphasis on dark/gritty takes, there is one superhero series that has found a way to stand out: Amazon’s The Tick, which produced a popular pilot last year and has now been given a full, 12-episode series.
The half-hour live-action show (the latest iteration of this character) remembers something essential when it comes to super-powered TV: it should be fun. Even shows that started off lighthearted have been reduced to too much focus on doom and gloom (looking at you, The Flash). And while The Tick isn’t going to win any awards for its production value or for taking on emotionally intense narratives, it is an incredibly weird and unique series that is helping to mitigate superhero fatigue.
The show follows the exploits of a lowly account, Arthur (Griffin Newman), who is the only person who believes The Terror (Jackie Earle Hayley) is alive. In The Tick’s world, superheroes (and villains) have been around and normalized for a long time, and while most aren’t taking the possibility of The Terror seriously, Arthur knows differently. By the end of the pilot, Arthur has teamed up with an unlikely hero, The Tick himself (Peter Serafinowitz), who becomes the brawn to his brains.
For once, a character like Arthur’s reluctance to become a superhero makes sense. He wasn’t born with gifts or feels burdened by the enormity of his power. He has no powers of his own, he suffers from anxiety and emotional issues, and he’s not particularly brave. Though The Tick sources him a super suit, that then becomes the nexus of their problems, as various shadowy villain groups attempt to take that (very powerful) suit back.
Those villains, and their interactions with Arthur and The Tick, all play into the series’ off-kilter but finely-honed sense of humor. Ben Edlund, who created the series, also created the character and its two other TV iterations (both previously on Fox, with one animated and one live-action version). So as expected, he has a solid sense of exactly what he wants this story be and what this character should look and sound like (an upgraded suit after the first episode also helps immensely, though the mobile antennae remain slightly disconcerting).
Sound is one of the most important parts of The Tick, with Serafinowitz absolutely nailing the heroes’ bombastic cadence and wonderfully odd word choice (“Wicked men! Look at you wheedling away at your dung hill of contraband. I am The Tick! And I say unto you, stop your evil ways!”) But that careful diction filters down to every facet of the series, like when the supposed hero Katmandu (a cat man) is framed for a mauling. “It wasn’t a mauling but a mangling!” he protests on local news as he’s being put into a police car, “I’ve been framed by The Mangler!”
One of the key villains to start the season is the one-eyed Ms Lint (Yara Martinez), who can control static electricity and is, thusly, often covered with or attracting lint towards her. As Arthur tries to escape from her in one scene, she blows open a vacuum bag and recoils in terror at the amount of dust and debris flying towards her.
So yes, The Tick is very silly, but it’s not for kids. There’s plenty of profanity and gruesome violence, though there is a certain kind of tenderness to the storytelling. Arthur is checked in on by his sister Dot (Valorie Curry), who is an EMT, and The Tick soon comes to care for Arthur as well in a kind of father-son relationship (though the dynamics of it are always changing; The Tick is fiercely protective of Arthur, but is also lost without him).
Another of the series’ strengths is that it keeps its super-powered plots grounded in real-life. The Tick shows up to Arthur’s dad’s birthday party, while a villain destroys his office looking for Arthur’s suit. And yet it’s all treated with wonderful mundanity as if this kind of thing happens all the time (apparently it does — it’s also reminiscent of what NBC’s Powerless wanted to accomplish, but its tone was never quite right).
The series’ winking self-awareness makes for a fun, weird, intriguing show that has a strong sense of itself and the world it portrays. The Tick embraces superheroes at a time when most have become apathetic to their existence, especially with the threat of The Terror supposedly at bay. It’s refreshing, really, to then see the real hero embodied by a small, neurotic guy who is genuinely just trying to do the right thing. He just so happens to be friends with a giant blue man who has the muscles to help him accomplish it — with more than a few mishaps in between.
Rating: ★★★★ Very good
The Tick premieres Friday, August 25th on Amazon Prime.