“The Tick” Review: An “Adam West” Superhero in a “Zack Snyder” World

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Griffin Newman as Arthur and Peter Serafinowicz as The Tick

Amazon’s new TV series The Tick is a tribute to/critique of the superhero movies exemplified by the work of Zack Snyder adapting DC Comics properties; think Watchmen more than Batman v Superman. How did what was supposed to be a wacky satire (in the mold of the 2001 Tick series from FOX) become somewhat of a gritty-yet-goofy statement on contemporary comics culture? And how well does that work for this new Tick?

Let’s start with the original pilot from last year, and work our way through the current chunk of Season 1 now on Amazon. Spoilers abound!

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the original costume of the 2016 pilot

The 2016 pilot of The Tick wore its Mr. Robot influences on its sleeve; socially-awkward loner Arthur—traumatized as a child by watching his father die as the result of an attack by The Terror—develops a tall blue alter-ego named after his own facial tick. There were some funny moments, mostly delivered by the exuberant Adam West-like performance of Peter Serafinowicz as the title character. Visually, it was reminscient of the Watchmen movie (having Jackie Earle Hayley as The Terror doesn’t hurt), and the message was clear: this is not your previous half-a-generation’s Tick. Times are tough, and The Tick is tougher!

But this pilot has been retooled for the official show launch, adding some extra scenes and in general lightening up things just a smidge. But the bigger changes are evident from episode 2 onward, as Tick gets a completely different costume and the Mr. Robot elements have been dialed back considerably if not taken out of the equation completely.

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And I do have to stop for a second and take a closer look at this costume change, because in a way I think it is integral to the slight change in direction the series has taken since the pilot. (I go into this in detail, with comparative photos, in this post) Gone is the textured look of basketball skin, and the blue is darker. Visually, it’s more like the 2001 Tick of Patrick Warburton (who incidentally is one of the producers of the current show)—which to me says it’s going a bit more in a comedic direction.

But the mask now (which includes a prominent cleft chin) is also more “open,” giving us a better view of Serafinowicz’s face—letting the actor emote more, and bring extra humanity to the role.

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As for the alternation in Tick’s “status” as possibly an invisible alter ego of Arthur in the Elliot Alderson/Mr. Robot mold…this is slightly more problematic and confusing for me. Because before, you clearly had other people not being able to see The Tick, and cutting away to show Arthur talking to nobody. And you even see that like another episode in. But then it switches to Arthur’s sister Dot being able to see him, and then everybody sees him.

The only explanation I can find here is: Tick is still connected to Arthur personally by the latter’s facial Tick and the fact the boy’s blue nightlight “spoke” to him with the Tick voice. So maybe the Tick is dependent on Arthur for his existence—certainly, he claims to have no memory before meeting the young man.

So maybe the inconsistency with The Tick’s visibility is that he is some sort of “thoughtform” created by Arthur that only gains more visibility and solidity the more Arthur “opens up” to other people and shares his “creation.” A lot more in this series to explore on that front, for sure.

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Ms. Lint, the “Angry Lightning Lady”

Moving on to the storyline, which has Arthur becoming “bonded” to a flying supersuit and then being pursued by the villainous Ms. Lint, the Osiris crime organization, and the vigilante Overkill. Behind it all seems to be The Terror, who everybody assumes is dead (killed by the Superman-like character Superian). In the middle of all this is, of course, The Tick with his bombastically positive pronouncements.

In a superhero universe that is pretty violent (if not exaggeratedly so), The Tick is an anomaly. As he cautions Arthur after Overkill gorily dispatches some goons: he doesn’t approve of those methods. And so we have this contrast between the dark Christopher Nolan/Zack Snyder superhero universes and this smiling, brightly-colored icon that seemingly comes from a gentler age. (It should be pointed out that the first two episides were directed by The Dark Knight cinematogrpaher Wally Pfister) Which impulse will win out? It seems as if Arthur represents the “soul” of the current superhero fan.

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The Terror

A subplot in which the one-eyed Ms. Lint (who physically lives up to her name) pines for her former paramour The Terror is interesting—as well as hints of a love triangle with Overkill—and there’s some unexpected laughs when Haley eventually shows up as the glib smaller-than-life Terror.

The one criticism I have about the show—in addition to the confusing status of Tick’s “realness”—it’s that these episodes don’t “flow” particularly well in discrete 30-minute pieces. What I mean to say is—this is a streaming-exclusive show that seems to be made for binge-watching. Since many people binge-watch anyhow, that shouldn’t be too much of a problem, and the first 6 eps Amazon recently made live should be an easy viewing.

But pacing-wise…some of these episodes feel kind of disjointed and weird. Sort of too much of one thing, and then something else “cut off.” Again: this series feels like it was made for the binge-watch, in which everything runs together as like an extended movie. And maybe this is tge trend for these Amazon/Netflix shows in general.

Overall, I liked The Tick—I think it brings a fresh perspective to the superhero genre, and actors Serafinowicz and Griffin Newman (Arthur) do an amazing job with great chemistry. Binge it if you can.

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Binging “BoJack Horseman” Season One

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