The Tick has latched on to Amazon’s new lineup of shows, but one thing is for sure: it definitely doesn’t suck.
When the first images for Amazon’s The Tick surfaced, I groaned a little. A gritty reinvention of Ben Edlund’s superhero parody? Yeah, no, I’m good. Tick does not have a place in smoky brown warehouses like he’s in Arrow.
But Wally Pfister and Tick creator Ben Edlund’s new effort for the streaming service is something else. Combining razor-sharp wit and emotional devastation, Amazon’s The Tick is inexplicably more fulfilling in 22 minutes than the slice of comedy gold that was the cult 2001 show with Patrick Warburton. Because of the profound impression that iteration of The Tick left, you might be curious what’s new and what’s so great about a reboot no one asked for. Turns out, there’s a lot.
It stars The Tick, but the real hero is Arthur.
On paper, giving Arthur a tragic backstory is a bad idea. Just like the comic book (and cartoon, and 2001 show), giving these characters real motivations feels misguided; having virtually no origin actually spoke volumes about the superhero genre. In the new pilot, The Tick (played hysterically and perfectly by Peter Serafinowicz) still comes out of nowhere, but Arthur’s origin with the loss of his family is straight out of a Batman graphic novel — a good one, like from the ‘80s or something.
Arthur (Griffin Newman) is a real, believable character, and is the true central character of The Tick. He’s wrecked with guilt and suspicion against all superheroes who populate his world, and there’s just a hint that Arthur plans to use the Tick as his pawn for revenge against the dastardly Terror.
Speaking of the Terror…
The Terror is equal parts parody and genuinely sinister.
The Terror was one of many super-villains in both The Tick cartoon and TV show, but keeping up with the sensibilities of those shows, he wasn’t a serious threat. He was the author of a “workout book” for aging super-villains. Like most of the previous shows, he was an elaborate joke.
Now, as he’s played by Jackie Earle Haley, the Terror is a real son of a bitch who fits into this superhero world like a square peg in a round hole. In his first appearance (via flashback), he gruesomely blinds and kills the Flag Five, the famed superhero team who lived and fought in The Tick before the blue bug’s arrival. The Terror still looks a little bit like a low-budget sci-fi villain from the ‘90s, but his demeanor and presence in the new series is something to actually fear, and you feel for Arthur who meets him at such a young age.
Don’t fret, the Terror is still kind of funny too. He’s just not a joke to take lightly.
The production value is pretty impressive!
Amazon doesn’t slouch when it comes to its programming, and it spoke volumes that it hired Oscar-winner Wally Pfister to direct this thing. The result is something genuinely unique from most other superhero TV shows, of which our current era is ripe of.
Almost comparable to Marvel’s Daredevil or CW’s Arrow, Amazon’s The Tick is elaborately decorated and gritty. The world feels both alive and scary outside the frame, and it’s just a little jarring for something that’s so funny. Mel Brooks specialized in elaborately-produced comedies, but you still get the sense that everything lived and died in the frame, like theatre. That’s what The Tick felt like previously, but now it’s like The Tick has been watching Heat and The Dark Knight over and over but didn’t give up its knack for jokes.
There’s a real sense of world-building and history of superheroes.
Even if it was done with laughs, Pfister’s The Tick starts with the beginning of superheroes and speeds through it in an impressively brisk way. Unlike previous Ticks the reboot establishes a serious world of superheroes, where there are leagues and histories and conspiracy theories. It doesn’t quite add to the humor — not yet, anyway, remember it’s still just the pilot — but it’s a remarkable feature to The Tick and something it accomplished in less than two dozen minutes. DC couldn’t do that in one season of TV, introducing The Flash more than halfway into its second season.
In the original Tick shows, superheroes were, y’know, there. But in Amazon’s The Tick, superheroes are alive, and they can die before your eyes. So it’s good to have fun with them while it lasts.
The pilot for The Tick is now streaming on Amazon Prime.