The Tick Season 2: Griffin Newman Can’t Help Seeing Himself In Arthur
Griffin Newman talks about his Tick Season 2 character’s many insecurities and triumphs and how they relate to his own career.
After surviving the since-discontinued pilot season format in which Amazon Prime members’ views and votes would determine which shows would survive (and which wouldn’t), The Tick went on to put out a fantastic full season’s worth of satirical superhero TV. Now it’s back for The Tick Season 2 for more misadventures with the Tick (Peter Serafinowicz), his trusty sidekick Arthur (Griffin Newman), and the rest of the gang for a new series of adventures.
The Tick Season 2 is as satisfying as it is wonderful. To dig into what makes creator Ben Edlund’s farcical show so good and deep, we spoke to Newman, who also hosts the popular Blank Check podcast, about the experience, as well as what it’s like for him as a professional actor and critic to straddle the line between the two art forms.
DEN OF GEEK: Season one was released in chunks, but season two is going to stream all at once. Was the production process for these two seasons different as a result, and if so, what was that experience like?
GRIFFIN NEWMAN: What’s weird is that we shot all of season one together in one batch, so production-wise, there wasn’t really any difference between the two. The only real difference was that season one was longer because we were doing 12 episodes, and we knew in advance it was going to be released as two batches, minus the pilot since we had done it much earlier. This time we only did 10 episodes. So in both cases, we’ve known from the outset how it was going to be released, which was it a little nerve-wracking for me. I kept wondering if people were going to stay on the hook with such a big gap in between episodes.
Why did they do it that way?
It was two-fold. First, one of the things about being on a service like Amazon or Netflix or Hulu or any of these streamers is that they’re constantly experimenting with different release strategies. So we were kind of a guinea pig of sorts for that particular release model, though Amazon ultimately realized it didn’t work to our benefit. At least, that’s what they told me. But I do think it’s much nicer to have the whole story dropping all at once. That way, people can process it all as one big thing, though I’m also a weirdly old-fashioned guy in that I don’t love binge-watching. I tend to like watching episodes that are spaced out.
I agree. I grew up watching episodic TV. Don’t get me wrong, though, because I’ll sit down and binge something that I like, but I do prefer treating TV as an episodic mode of storytelling, as opposed to one giant movie.
I really like having the time to digest each episode on its own. I miss that culture of TV watching, where you watch one episode and then spend some time thinking about what happened and hypothesizing what happens next rather than immediately auto-playing the next episode. There’s this weird thing for actors and others in the industry, where you spend months of your life working on a TV show, then it comes out and three hours later you have people tweeting at you asking when the next season is going to happen.
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It’s such a long, labor-intensive project that people are digesting so quickly, then immediately asking for the next thing. It’s a little frustrating because it takes a while for shows to get made. I think there’s a great benefit to taking longer to watch and process something before you start thinking about what’s next. People are so impatient now. But I’m not going to be an old fuddy-duddy. I don’t want to be an old man on his lawn, yelling at kids about how they should take their time when watching TV.
Binge-watching is so much the cultural norm now that it makes me wonder what’s going to replace it.
It’s so bizarre. Often, I’ll hear people say that they don’t want to go see this movie or that because it’s so long, but these are the same people who will sit down and watch six hours of TV in one sitting. They’ll binge an entire season of TV without leaving their couch.
Recently, I’ve gotten into certain serialized YouTube shows and I was recommending one to a friend and he was like, “How long are the episodes?” When I told him they were 30 minutes each, he was like, “That’s too long. I’m not going to watch that.” He’d never had any reservations about watching a half-hour show on TV before, but because it’s on YouTube, it feels like it’s too long. It’s the same weird thing as watching six hours of TV but not wanting to sit in a theater for two or two and a half hours.
For example, people complaining about how long Avengers: Endgame is going to be, but having no qualms with binge-watching an entire season of Game of Thrones.
It’s very weird. We’ve tried to get around it on The Tick. Both seasons have a season-long arc. Even with the season one split, the story was also split so as to give the audience some relief. We tried to make each half a single, complete part of a much bigger story. But the creator, Ben Edlund, also tries to make each episode work as a single story. Each one has its own tone and theme and conflict. Even if they end up adding to the larger story, he still wants them to stand apart. I don’t think any of us want to make something that just feels like a five-hour movie. We want 10 half-hour episodes that add up to something bigger.
This was something I specifically wanted to ask you about because, unlike most streaming shows that release entire seasons or batches of seasons at once, The Tick still feels like an episodic series. I’m specifically thinking of the season two episode in which the gang gets stuck on Dangerboat.
We did this weird thing for season two where we would shoot two episodes at the same time. On any given day, we would be going back and forth between two wildly different scripts or sets. So when we did episodes five and six together, we were sometimes juggling multiple things for one and only one or two big things for the other. It sounds really confusing, and in a lot of ways it is, but having read the scripts, there were enough connections between the differentiating factors in each episode for it all to make sense.
There’s a real effort put into making each episode stand out from the others, and it usually has to do with the locations we’re in. That, or the different directors we had coming in and out for these episodes, which is a common thing on TV. I think Ben was very deliberate about which directors they would hire for each episode. Sometimes it was someone from more of a special effects or superhero TV background, other times it’s people from purely a comedy or drama background. I mean Kate Dennis, who is amazing and got an Emmy nomination for directing The Handmaid’s Tale, was brought in to do episodes with deeper emotional themes.
You’ve spoken before about acting in shows like The Tick and reviewing directors’ filmographies on the Blank Check podcast, and whether doing both has been difficult or easy. But you recently had John Hodgman on the podcast as a guest, and you co-star with him in this season of The Tick. Has anything like that happened before?
The funny thing is, we shot this season a while ago, so when I first met John we were just working on the show. But we got along very well and there’s so much downtime whenever you’re on a set that you end up spending a lot of it talking with the other people there. John and I started coming up with bits in conversation and talking about whatever movies we had seen. We quickly realized we were both very opinionated about pop culture, and at some point after that, he started listening to Blank Check. He started coming to the set with complaints about things I’d said or agreeable comments about my opinions. So it felt natural by then to ask John to come on the podcast.
Even then, we’ve had Valorie Curry on the show before. We did a weird special episode with Peter Serafinowicz. Plus, Michael Cerveris, who was in season one, was just on the podcast. I feel like most actors, especially the ones I like working with, are also good fits for the podcast because I tend to like people who think about their work and the work of others that deeply.
You’ve also told a story before about how your manager didn’t think doing a podcast like Blank Check was a good idea, from a casting or auditions perspective. Since then, you’ve continued to straddle the two modes of entertainment quite successfully. Has anything changed for you?
I don’t know. It’s really hard to tell. A lot of times, I certainly fear that I might be cutting off career opportunities whenever I speak so openly about specific things on the podcast, but I don’t have any evidence of that. I’m not someone who has such a high impression of my own work that if I’m not getting big jobs, I’m thinking that it must be because of the podcast. It’s also very possible that people just don’t want to hire me.
Then again, I have had people call me in for meetings, like writers and studio executives and actors and people like that, who specifically because they like the podcast. They like the way I approach and talk about things. Literally, I’ve had meetings where these people have said, “I listen to the show and I wanted to meet you. Maybe we’ll work on something someday.”
Speaking of art, criticism and interpreting things, I hope you don’t mind me indulging myself, but I couldn’t help but connect your working as an actor and a podcaster to Arthur’s struggle to choose between living a normal life and becoming a full-time superhero. It was a big part of the first season, and the season two premiere tackles it head-on. Does the comparison sound apt or am I just bloviating?
I definitely didn’t think about it like that, but I like that you did because that’s very much in the mode of how I usually talk about stuff on Blank Check. I love meta-narrative, especially when an actor’s career coincides with whatever role they’re playing at a particular moment. That, or when the story the director chooses coincides with what’s going on in their personal life. I love stuff like that and I feel like, a lot of times, it seeps in unconsciously.
Often, I’ll find myself relating to Arthur and whatever he’s facing, especially in his struggle to figure out how to be a superhero. Like when we were doing the pilot and Arthur was trying to prove to everyone that he wasn’t crazy. It felt very one-on-one for me when I was auditioning for the show. I was trying to prove to everyone that I wasn’t crazy for thinking I could play this part.
In season one, it felt like the universe was calling Arthur’s bluff. At one point the Tick says, “Okay, if you think you can do this then come do it with me.” Meanwhile, Arthur is constantly fighting with himself and others about whether or not he can do this while juggling the other responsibilities in his life. As for season two, it definitely connects to my own wonderings about whether I can keep this going. I fought so hard for my shot to show everyone I could do something, and now that I’ve proven it, what do I do now? How do I keep it fresh and interesting? I definitely think about all of that stuff. It’s definitely not a very long walk between whatever insecurities I’m feeling about my career and the insecurities that Arthur’s feeling about being a superhero.
The Tick Season 2 streams Friday, April 5 on Amazon Prime.