“The Tick” on Amazon
“The Tick” began life some 30 years ago as a surreal superhero parody by comic book writer/artist Ben Edlund. It quickly transitioned to a popular Saturday morning cartoon series. By 2001 it became a short-lived live-action series on FOX. Throughout his many iterations, however, The Tick has maintained his durable cult status. Now, the Big Blue Guy returns, newly revamped in a live-action pilot from Amazon Studios, available for streaming at Amazon.com.
Darker and more serious in this version, “The Tick” plays out as a traditional origin story—the sort of nicety other iterations never bothered with. Our focus this time around is Arthur (Griffin Newman), a mild-mannered conspiracy theorist trying to prove the continued existence of allegedly expired supervillain The Terror (the wonderfully unhinged Jackie Earle Haley, pulling off a comic book hat trick after Watchmen and “Preacher”). No longer a simple accountant with a superhero dream, Arthur is now deeply psychologically unbalanced thanks to a childhood trauma. While investigating various leads on The Terror’s whereabouts, Arthur crosses paths with a “nigh-invulnerable” dude in a blue costume calling himself “The Tick.”
Peter Serafinowicz (Guardians of the Galaxy, Shaun of the Dead) provides most of the new show’s laughs as the looney tunes superhero in search of a sidekick. His go-for-broke performance is certainly funny stuff. And The Tick’s trademark clueless bravado is still intact. But even so, there are hints of genuine mental illness bubbling under the surface of that mask. “You’re not going crazy, Arthur. You’re going sane in a crazy world,” advises The Tick in a trademark line. But now it elicits a nervous chuckle, making “The Tick” feel like it’s got more in common with the bent perspective of USA’s “Mr. Robot.”
The dark-complected pilot is written and produced by Edlund, so the original chain of command remains unbroken. Barry Sonnenfeld and Patrick Warburton (who gave us the still-amusing, still-popular 2001 version) are on board as producers. Wally Pfister, who served as Christopher Nolan’s cinematographer on the Dark Knight movies, directs. It’s this last name that seems to have had the most influence on the overall feel of the pilot. There are moments when “The Tick” looks a hell of a lot like FOX’s retro-gloomy “Gotham.” (Not so surprising, I suppose, given that Edlund spent some time penning episodes of the Batman prequel). Still, it’s an odd direction to go for a story that’s normally built around silly non sequiturs and goofy comic book satire. I suppose it could be argued that this reboot of “The Tick” is now more a parody of today’s grimdark superhero movies (Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad). That’s a credible argument, but—so far anyway—the other versions are a lot more fun.
At a brief 30 minutes, the pilot has some highlights. The flashback with Jackie Earle Haley is easily the show’s best moment. But there’s plenty of downtime as well—lots of set up and not a lot of jokes. It is only a “test” pilot, though, and the fate of future episodes rests on viewer response to this one. Personally, I’m skeptical of the new direction—but I’d be curious to see more. More Tick. More heroes. More humor.