The Tick was invented to satirize superheroes. Now, the iconic doofus is going to make an effort to fit in.
When Ben Edlund created The Tick in 1986, he was an 18-year-old comic book fan with a preternatural grip on irony. The Tick, who began as the mascot for Edlund’s local comic shop in Massachusetts, was a giant man clad in spandex and antennae, a spoof on the traditional superhero. His first comic kicked off with the mighty amnesiac breaking out of a mental institution, and three decades of TV adaptations and comic books turned his lack of self-awareness or coherent backstory into running jokes. So given the modern moment is dominated by earnest superheroes and obsessive fans, it would figure that the character wouldn’t be an obvious fit for this landscape. But that disconnect is actually what excited Edlund about reviving The Tick for this third TV series, which premieres on Amazon on August 25th.
“There was a turning point in whether it was worth doing it anymore, adding anymore to this, and it came from sort of the germ of the answer to the questions about The Tick that had never been confronted before,” Edlund tells Inverse. “I feel like there was a point where I understood why I wanted to get engaged with the story again. I think a lot of shows that come out now, they’re a premise, and then there’s an improv free-styling on the premise for a number of years, and then it ends, and you go, okay, I enjoyed that as a temporal experience. Then there are other things that live like entities in your comprehension long after.”
“Temporal experience” would in some ways be apt descriptions of the first two versions of The Tick, which went three seasons in the mid-90s as a cartoon and then less than a full season as a live-action show in 2001. Both series, each cult classics, functioned as irreverent joke machines, dispensing silliness with every other line. They lasted as fan favorites, but more for their gags than their hero’s journey.
Edlund’s shifting vision of the character’s purpose is partially a product of his own evolution as a storyteller. After the quick demise of the second Tick series, Edlund joined producer Joss Whedon’s Mutant Enemy production company, writing on shows such as Fireflyand Angel and then directing episodes of Supernatural, which provided his education in making television.
Those were hour-long dramas, while once again, The Tick is a half-hour comedy. Yet they were instructive. Edlund sees the new show as a kind of hybrid, with season-long arcs mixed peppered with action, irreverence, and plenty of stupidity. And as much as he’s proud of the short-lived 2001 show, he now recognizes its shortcomings, at least when compared to modern TV.
“This is what we would do differently,” he says, when asked how he would change the last iteration now that he’s spent a decade and a half working in TV. “The biggest difference here is taking The Tick and Arthur’s hero’s journey more seriously. It doesn’t mean we don’t go right to the hilt with the jokes, but this is a serious hero’s journey. That was not what was taking place in 2001.”
In a brilliant stroke of casting, British comedy star Peter Serafinowicz was tapped to play the titular superhero. The actor, best known to Americans for his role in Guardians of the Galaxy, brings nuance to the character, infusing the lovable muscle-bound dunce (the prevailing feature of Patrick Warburton’s 2001 take on The Tick) with a more human and empathetic element. Whereas before he’d happily bust crime and crack heads without a second thought, the idea now is that he’s trying to figure out just why he’s doing that.
“Each iteration of The Tick has been a kind of broad satire of the superhero climate of its time,” Serafinowicz says. “Now, it’s a TV show, and TV has evolved in many ways and you can’t have a long series in which the main character does not develop.”
The Tick’s lack of an origin story has fueled fan speculation for years, and for a time, not answering that question was part of the fun. Now, the gag goes to the next level, as the producers plan on teasing audiences with different possibilities throughout the show’s run.
“We are able to play in all the versions of the Tick would possibly be,” producer David Fury, who also worked on the 2001 version, says. “There’s so many theories out there. He’s a robot, he’s an alien, he’s a madman, he’s a product of mad scientist.”
As before, The Tick latches on to a mild-mannered accountant named Arthur. This version of the character, played by Griffin Newman, has a very distinct origin story: He was permanently traumatized when a crashing plane filled with superheroes flattened his father in front of his very eyes, and is obsessed with finding the villain responsible. He pushes The Tick to pursue his own backstory — the guy can’t remember beyond a few weeks prior — and into what Fury calls an “existential crisis” in his hunt.
“When these two characters meet, it’s like Arthur teaches The Tick, ‘Oh, I have to think about why I’m doing stuff,’” Newman says. “And he’s actually putting thought into everything around him, and he’s paying attention in a way he hasn’t before.”
But perhaps there is no ultimate answer, no exact reason why The Tick is there in the first place: Serafinowicz says that “Ben [Edlund] doesn’t know” the character’s origin story, at least not yet, and that suits the actor just fine.
“We’re kind of maybe too obsessed with origin stories now; I get they’re formative and whatever, but so what?” he says. “There’s a lot of other stuff that happens in your life that help form your character, and it’s not just that one time that your parents were murdered and there were some bats around.”
And here’s where we’re reminded that jokes and riffing are still the driving force of this new iteration of The Tick.
“Right, right,” Newman says, affirming his co-stars sentiment. “Get over it, Batman.”
“Look, I don’t want to appear unsympathetic to Bruce Wayne,” Serafinowicz replies, backtracking.
“Yeah, that guy’s had a real rough go of it,” Newman says, joining that side of the argument.
“Yeah, I mean, look, I know he’s a billionaire and stuff, but he’s a person too,” Serafinowicz adds. “He’s a real person.”
“You forget that sometimes,” Newman confirms. “You get so caught up in the myth that you forget that Bruce Wayne is an actual person.”
So, safe to say, even with new elements of backstory and emotional growth, The Tick is still sending up conventional superheroes.