As we previously featured on the Winchester Family Business, Ben Edlund's latest live action reboot of "The Tick" has been running as a Pilot Preview on Amazon for the last month. Nate Winchester, Percysowner, and Alice Jester all watched and have a few observations on this latest rendition and it's potential as a series. It's a special edition of the WFB crew review, blue superhero edition!
Oh the Tick.
While not the household name that Superman, Batman, and Spiderman might be, he seems to be a character that has left a huge impact on popular culture. The "too-dumb-to-live-yet-somehow-does" archetype probably existed long before Ben Edlund's character debuted in '86, but it was much less prevalent. For example, just look how many webcomics nowadays have a Tick-like character as one of the main protagonists or a prominent support character. Off the top of my head, Fighter from 8-bit Theater is probably one of the best written examples (I'm sure you're probably thinking of other, less-well written ones right now if you've read many webcomics). But it's not just there as I argue Deadpool (who recently had a hit movie) is an ideological grandchild to the big blue basher. Still, while he has spawned many imitators, it's hard to top the original who was always lovable as he went around the city like a hurricane for justice.
So intentional or not, it is very fitting that the latest Tick show this time looks set to spoof the current arc of TV superheroes.
Don't get me wrong. As my many reviews of "The Flash," "Supergirl," and "Legends of Tomorrow" on TV For The Rest Of Us prove, I really love the current paradigm in Superhero TV programming adopting general arc stories and delving deeper into characters and the worlds via season-long arcs. Nonetheless, even the best of something can still be parodied and judging from the first episode, it looks like the Tick aims to craft a longer joke than have each episode stand as its own punchline. It will be a bit of a shock for fans expecting something like the previous two outings. This time we see far more of Arthur and understand more about why he is sad as a person than just being shown that he is sad. His suit is a good metaphor here. Previously why Arthur is wearing the moth suit that he does is never explained, it just 'is'. In this first episode, we are given an origin story for what it is and how he acquired it. The Tick is as boisterous as ever, though seemingly with a slight (very slight) uptick in intelligence - probably so that an arcing story can be carried by him. While I wasn't at first sold on the actor, by episode's end I was drawn into his enthusiasm to the point that I was ready to step into Arthur's suit and join the Tick if Arthur wasn't going to. That the villains look to be the bigger, schemer, and more evil than ever should make the Tick's triumphs all the sweeter - and his mishaps even funnier.
So if you liked the previous Tick shows, you can like this one, but must be ready for a very different experience from the others. It's different, and that makes me pretty interested in seeing where it's all going to go.
The Tick is a project dear to the heart of Ben Edlund. He created the character when he was in high school as a mascot for his school paper. He continued to expand on the character in comics, an animated series and a short lived live action series. Ben got another chance to reboot the series this year when Amazon added it to their list of Pilots that viewers could vote to become a series.
I'm a Tick virgin. I never read the comics or saw either of the series. I viewed the pilot with no expectations, other than that it would be a Ben Edlund script.
The Tick starts with the Dawn of the Age of Superheroes. Superheroes arrived on earth in 1908 and have become part of the landscape. Cities have their own Superheroes to help fight crime. However, Brooklyn N.Y. lost its group of Superheros, the Flag Five, to an attack by the Super-villain The Terror (Jackie Earle Haley), when he weaponized syphilis and blinded them. One year later he was supposedly killed by Superian, (Brenden Hines) the first Superhero to reach earth.
The story centers on Arthur Everest (Griffin Newman), who, as a young boy, saw his father killed during the attack on the Flag Five. He was confronted by The Terror and, since the encounter was caught on camera and put on the cover of Time, became the face of the tragedy of the Flag Five as well as the face of the power of The Terror. This left Arthur convinced that The Terror was not killed by Superian but instead is planning a new take over of the world while hiding in secret. Unfortunately, Arthur suffers from mental illness, having been in and out of mental hospitals for hallucinations and obsessive thoughts. His efforts to prove that The Terror is out there are labeled as part of his mental illness. This does not stop him from gathering evidence of the existence of The Terror.
On night while spying on the minions of The Terror, he meets The Tick (Peter Serafinowicz), a Superhero dressed in Blue. The Tick declares he is guided by destiny. The Tick later blows up the complex harboring weapons saving only one thing, a superhero suit that fits Arthur. The Tick declares that Arthur should be his sidekick.
Peter Serafinowicz is wonderful as the Tick. He is the epitome of confidence, and extrovert who is sure of his path and his calling. He completely believes that DESTINY is calling him and Arthur to action. And yes, he does talk in all caps, all the time.
Griffin Newman captures the vulnerability and the determination of Arthur. Arthur knows he is right about The Terror, but is incapable of getting anyone to believe him.
There are several questions left open by this pilot. The first is whether or not The Terror is really dead. Superian notes that they found all of The Terror's teeth after their battle. This brings up the question, “Did The Terror have a dentist? How did they get dental records to know it was him?”.
Then there is the Flag Five, the former superheroes of the city. First we only saw three get out of the ship, can people not count? Second, The Terror orders one member of the Flag Five be left alive, only having his hands crushed. Why? Will this member of the Flag Five become part of the fight against evil?
The biggest question is what is the relationship between The Tick and Arthur. Arthur has a noticable tick in his eye. Does this signify a connection to The Tick? Arthur has a flashback, or maybe a dream, about being asked by The Tick “What are you going to do about it?” (The Terror) when he was a child. Was this real. If so, why did The Tick take so long to appear.
The pilot is a good introduction to the show. It does a lot of the necessary world building. It establishes both Arthur and The Tick as characters. It has an interesting story. Mostly it contains Edlund's signiture funny dialog and presents absurd situations, that are totally believable. This is worth a half hour of your time. I hope it makes the cut as a show on Amazon. It is certainly not like anything out there currently.
All the Edlundian touches were there. Absurdity galore and it made me as happy as a pig in shoes (name the “Supernatural” episode that had that Edlund line). Those subtle bits of humor we've grown to expect were there from the start with the very campy and slightly absurd, “Dawn of the Age of Superheroes.”
Once the story settles in though, it became obvious that this is not a super funny or ordinary superhero story. Those looking for a pure comedy will be disappointed, this is more of a dramedy. Everything unfolds in the dark and depressing Brooklyn, NY, where ordinary people are just trying to get by in an unsettling place. The focus is not on the very unusual superhero in blue who suddenly turns up out of nowhere during a warehouse surveillance. The story is centered on the ordinary and very troubled Arthur, a schizophrenic young man looking for answers in a world where everyone lives under the false sense of security of superheroes.
The theme is clearly what can an ordinary guy with no powers do in a world of superheroes? Arthur ever since he was a kid wanted to make the world a better place, and devotion that has worked in his detriment. It drove him crazy. Still, he can’t let go and still traces the conspiracy that the villain that killed his father is still out there. He’s not deterred by the repeated mention of the evidence of “they found his teeth.” It was quite nice to see that Arthur keeps a conspiracy wall of clippings in his apartment, a la The Winchesters in “Supernatural.” I adore that Edlund hasn’t forgotten!
The thirty minutes in this pilot is barely enough to tackle the most basic premise, which is both frustrating and exciting. It’s frustrating because it felt like it ended just when things were getting started. It’s exciting because the possibilities opened up in this setup gives the series the potential to run for a while.
But sad story aside, there was plenty of crazy dialogue and those oh so dry humor touches in scenes that your expect in an Edlund venture. Take Arthur’s sister, a paramedic who is working her shift with a huge bloody handprint on the right shoulder of her uniform and people screaming in pain in the background. Or the Manchurians in the hills that blankly witness the arrival of Superian on earth. “Your reindeer are on fire.” Or the bad guy after the big explosion that was still there hanging from a building, completely ignored by his cohorts inspecting the wreckage despite his pleas for help. But you’re not going to get as nuts as the bad guys disabling the good guys with weaponized Syphilis.
Then there’s Arthur and the coincidence that he has a nervous tick with his blinking right eye. So is that what connects him to a superhero named The Tick? Or is this a clue about the Superhero’s origin? We can only find out if the show continues.
The line stealer is none other than The Tick himself, and Peter Serafinowicz is brilliant in the bright blue suit.
“We’ll cross that bridge after we’ve burned it.”
“You’re not going crazy. You’re going sane in a crazy world.”
“Come on over. It’s warm, like the inside of bread.”
“A struggle as old as time, but with a beat you can dance to.”
“Destiny’s got her hand way way up in their puppets. It’s an unpleasant tingling. The deepest of wriggles. And it’s only reward is drama!”
But yes, for those expecting classic Tick, Edlund is taking some liberties here. This is a whole new series and concept using a familiar character with a modern twist. He isn’t the first to be doing this re-invention in the sci-fi genre of late and no doubt he sees the potential by going outside of those boundaries. Luckily, it’s obvious that despite the quirky humor in parts the show is not trying to be a comedy, thus it doesn’t leave the feeling that it fell flat in those attempts.
All in all, The Tick has potential and requires trust in its creator that this version can be something never seen before. I can’t think of a more skilled writer who has earned such trust than Ben Edlund. For those feeling nostalgic for The Tick of old, this adaptation is not for you. For those of us that see the potential though, this is a series that could easily run for a few years.
Need more? Here are a couple of great videos that explain the history of The Tick and why this new version is so worthwhile: