“We need superheroes!” says a radio phone-in caller in The Tick pilot, a demand TV and film could scarcely be catering to more fully right now. Superheroes of all stripes—gritty, damaged, ironic or R-rated—aren’t something we lack for.
That wasn’t the case thirty years ago when Ben Edlund created satirical comic book hero The Tick, nor when the character appeared in a 1994 Fox animated series or, briefly, a 2001 live-action comedy. The current glut either makes now the perfect time for a revival of Edlund’s character (every dominant cultural product needs a subversive sidekick) or risks it feeling crowded-out and irrelevant.
After all, post-Deadpool and Kick-Ass and The Incredibles and Guardians Of The Galaxy and Adam West on Family Guy and Joss Whedon’s shawarma-eating Avengers, is there any longer a need to poke fun at the lantern-jawed, latex-bound superhero?
Edlund has countered the potential irrelevancy of The Tick’s schtick by keeping this new pilot light on its titular character (Peter Serafinowicz) and focusing instead on sidekick Arthur (Griffin Newman). Serafinowicz’s Tick remains the absurd, great gag he ever was, but Arthur’s had the full 3D character makeover.
The result is a more or less straight superhero show peppered with the odd moment of knowingly camp buffoonery. It strikes an—understandably at this early stage—uneven tone brightened up enormously by Edlund’s brilliantly weird turns of phrase.
Turns of phrase that Serafinowicz feels born to say: “You fingered foul fruit, friend”, “Enough of your hot little bullets!”, “Evil wears every possible mitten”… Another line, another t-shirt slogan, a quality that Sony surely won’t fail to capitalise on should Amazon pick it up to series.
The pilot also has a noticeable eye on longevity. Character development, themes, relationships, season arcs, structure and payoffs… that’s what Edlund has spent the last decade honing on the likes of Supernatural and Gotham and that’s the ground he lays here. Perhaps knowing that the comedy The Tick originated has since been absorbed into the genre proper and may no longer be enough to sustain a show solo, more work has gone into story than gags.
To that effect, the pilot is essentially Arthur’s origin tale. It establishes his outsider status, flashes back to his childhood trauma at the hands of super villain The Terror (Jackie Earle Haley) and ends with him reluctantly donning the bullet-proof moth suit that, in time-honoured tradition, looks more like a rabbit. It also introduces a contemporary mental health strand in which Arthur is medicated for obsessive delusional behaviour. We know that superheroes really exist in this universe, but there are question marks over the reality of what Arthur sees. It’s no coincidence that in moments of stress, he suffers from a ‘tick’ of the facial variety…
The sense you’re left with is that if The Tick gets a series order, it has a plan. It also has an A-grade score courtesy of Chris Bacon, and an enviable eye for an attractive city skyline at night, presumably courtesy of director Wally Pfister.
Ultimately though, the pilot falls between two posts. The work that’s gone into making this version of The Tick’s story sustainable leaves it awkwardly close to the material it once parodied. However fondly you might feel towards the character and those involved in this revival, you’re left wondering if its purpose is still to skewer the superhero genre, or to jump on the bandwagon.
The Tick pilot is available to Amazon Prime subscribers now. Watch it and vote at Amazon.co.uk/pilotseason.