The Big Blue Bug of Justice has had a fitful life on TV screens. After three seasons in animated form in the 1990s and a paltry nine-episode live-action run in 2001, ‘The Tick’ returns in a new reboot on Amazon streaming with a new star and some new supporting characters, but plenty of the same goofy superhero antics.
Cartoonist Ben Edlund created the character in comic book form in the late 1980s and has maintained pretty tight control over the property ever since, including running all three of the TV versions. The last live-action incarnation starring Patrick Warburton was a ratings disaster during its brief broadcast window, but was beloved among a very small cult audience. Amazon saw enough potential in the concept to commission a pilot episode that debuted in August of last year. Reaction to it was apparently strong enough to move forward with a 12-episode season, the first half of which premiered a couple weeks ago.
Peter Serafinowicz takes over the title role, but the new show is actually centered around his sidekick, Arthur, played by Griffin Newman doing everything in his power to make you confuse him for Johnny Galecki. A mild-mannered accountant with some mental health issues, Arthur is obsessed with trying to prove a conspiracy theory that the presumed-dead supervillain named The Terror (Jackie Earle Haley under heavy makeup) is still alive and running the criminal underworld in his city. Nobody believes him until one day a dim-witted but indestructible superhero calling himself The Tick appears out of nowhere to help him in his mission.
The Tick has memory issues and can’t remember where he comes from or even what he was doing prior to meeting Arthur, but doesn’t seem bothered by this in the slightest. All he knows is that it’s his duty to fight crime, which he has a joyful enthusiasm to accomplish. At first, Arthur believes he’s had a breakdown and that The Tick is a figment of his imagination, but soon enough discovers that other people can see and interact with him as well. After Arthur mistakenly comes into possession of a prototype Russian super-suit that gives him the ability to fly (while looking rather foolishly like a butterfly), he winds up in the crosshairs of villainess Ms. Lint (Yara Martinez), whose power of firing deadly electrical bolts has the unfortunate side effect of creating a constant static charge that draws dust and lint to her wherever she goes.
Other notable characters include the Superman wannabe Superian (Brendan Hines), the Ancient Egyptian-themed crime boss Ramses IV (Michael Cerveris), antihero vigilante Overkill (Scott Speiser), and Overkill’s snarky A.I. sidekick Dangerboat (voiced by Alan Tudyk).
Serafinowicz strikes pretty much the same note of oblivious do-goodery as Warburton brought to the role, while also overtly channeling Adam West’s Batman (including repeatedly calling Arthur “chum”). He’s pretty much note-perfect for what the material demands. The rest of the show around him, however, has some issues.
Honestly, I’m surprised that last year’s pilot got picked up for series. In addition to giving The Tick a very cheap-looking and ugly costume, the episode had serious tonal problems. Director Wally Pfister (the former cinematographer who helmed the Johnny Depp flop ‘Transcendence’) didn’t seem to get the message that the show was a parody of superhero movies, and instead treated it like he was shooting another ‘Dark Knight’ sequel, full of dark and brooding photography (in scope widescreen 2.35:1), strong violence and murder. All of this jarred very badly with the very silly sitcom dialogue and plotting.
Although Pfister returns for the second episode, the photography brightens up a little and switches to an aspect ratio around 2:1. More importantly, the ugly costume is promptly replaced with an equally cheap-looking but far more appropriate design. Unfortunately, the tone for the remaining episodes is still all over the place. The frequent outbursts of adult profanity and sudden violence never stop seeming out of place in what in other respects plays like a kid-friendly comedy.
Also, The Tick never says “Spoon!” Not even once.
Still, the show has a number of scenes and ideas that are extremely clever and funny. It could get better as it finds its footing. A half dozen half-hour episodes also go down easily enough as a short binge-watch when you don’t feel like committing to something longer or more complex.