When Ben Edlund spoke at this year’s Comic-Con panel celebrating the 30th anniversary of his creation, the blue-costumed superhero parody known as The Tick, he promised the audience that the new live-action show—the comic-book character has already had incarnations as a Saturday morning cartoon and a live-action version starring Patrick Warburton as the “Spoon!”-yelling lunk—would be unlike those two ventures.
Now that the 30-minute pilot has been released for viewing and voting on by Amazon as part of its 2016 pilot season, Edlund’s promise turns out to be as true blue as his creation. While it’s hard to judge an entire series based on just a pilot, the episode shows a lot of promise for the Tick’s adventures ahead.
Marrying the best parts of the original comic, the cartoon, and the previous live-action show, “The Tick” gets off to a strong start, ending with a cliffhanger that will hopefully get enough people, both fans and newcomers, to vote for Amazon to order a full series of Edlund’s new, but thankfully still skewed, vision.
The show is funny, poignant, and, well, pretty darn violent—in Edlund’s world, superheroes get interviewed by Whoopi Goldberg (playing herself), and heroes and villains, as well as innocent civilians, die rather brutally.
That the tone of the new series hews closer to that of the comics than either the cartoon or previous live-action version did should please long-time fans who’ve wanted to see that aspect portrayed on-screen. The anarchy of the cartoon, while somewhat muted by the poignant character arc given to Arthur (Griffin Newman), is also still present.
In the new series, The City doesn’t seem to have a superhero since the first one to ever appear, Superian (Brendan Hines), defeated (read: killed) supreme villain The Terror (Jackie Earle Haley, relishing the role).
The Tick (Peter Serafinowicz), who narrates the pilot, utterly convinced of his superheroic destiny and with the strength of 10—or 20 or more—men , as well as being impervious to bullets and all forms of harm, walks through life seemingly impervious as well to life’s nuances. Arthur, previously portrayed as an accountant, here is a depressed, medicated, sad sack who’s obsessed with The Terror, and for good reason: When Arthur was a child, his father died a horrible death before his eyes, a casualty of The Terror’s fight with a local Superhero team. As an added insult, The Terror guzzles the remains of young Arthur’s melting ice cream before continuing on his murderous way.
Arthur’s sister, Dot (Valorie Curry), an EMT we first meet while she’s working and spattered with blood, worries that Arthur’s obsession is causing him to hear voices again; in fact, it’s strongly suggested that Arthur may think he’s hallucinating the presence of The Tick.
As Edlund mentioned during the Comic-Con panel, he has a weird sense of humor, and it’s on full and glorious display throughout the quickly paced 30 minutes. For example, when the Tick, prone to tortured metaphors extolling his ideas of justice, strides forward towards the bad guys who are peppering him with “hot bullets” that bounce harmlessly off him, he proclaims, “Go tell it on the mountain!” It’s the type of non-sequitur the Tick is known for and it’s delightful.
As a nod to the more adult nature of this version, too, we find out The Terror defeated the a local Superhero team” “weaponized syphilis” before his henchmen shot them dead. It’s played for both hilarity and tragedy, and Edlund’s script mixes the two tones together well.
The series is well-cast; besides Haley’s scary, demented Terror, there’s Serafinowicz’s confident, cheerful (and maybe a touch psychopathic) glee as The Tick, using a voice that’s equal parts Adam West-era Batman and Townsend Coleman’s animated Tick, with a splash of Patrick Warburton’s live-action version topped with Serafinowicz’s own off-kilter spin. His Tick is, in a word, keen.
Newman also makes a strong impression as a more fragile Arthur that we’ve seen before. Putting him next to very tall Serafinowicz gives a Mutt and Jeff feel. Cinematographer Wally Pfister (who has worked extensively with Christopher Nolan and won an Academy Award for his work on Nolan’s Inception) contributes strong direction that keeps the antics zipping along, pausing only to heighten Arthur’s vulnerability before giving in to the Tickness of the proceedings.
It makes for a heady and entertaining brew, not just for Tick fans, but for fans of strange-yet-playful television. Head over to Amazon to watch the pilot for free (no Prime membership required) and then take the survey (and if you really liked the show, leave comments, which Amazon also takes into account when deciding which series to give a full order. You can reach both at: https://www.amazon.com/b?node=9940930011. Your funny bone, brain, and heart will thank you.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some SPOON!-ing to do.
Désirée I. Guzzetta is a freelance writer and poet who loves movies, books, music, and nerdy things, not necessarily in that order.