Ben Edlund’s “The Tick” is quite the malleable property. It has existed in one form or another, pretty solidly, since 1986. Since then it’s spanned just over 100 issues, yet somehow remains a cult hit and pretty elusive as a work of comic booking. The releases have been irregular and have taken place over dozens of specials and different miniseries, but it has maintained its quality throughout its entire span. Unlikely as it may seem, it’s spawned a Saturday morning cartoon, a slice of life sitcom in the early 2000’s, a beat-em-up style video game, and now this latest live-action adaptation, through the ubiquitous Amazon Studios. Amazon will be releasing new episodes starting August 25th, 2017, and I’m delighted to announce that I’ll be covering them for Multiversity Comics. One episode a week, starting today with the pilot episode. Let’s go!
1. Casting this Demented Duo
It would be difficult to buy into a new adaptation of “The Tick” if you don’t nail the casting of the actor playing him. Arthur’s casting, too, is pretty integral to recreating the surreal dynamic of Edlund’s version of the dynamic duo. I can happily say that they got this aspect of the show absolutely right with Peter Serafinowicz and Griffin Newman.
Serafinowicz is a veteran British comedian (I highly recommend the hilarious Look Around You as a great example of Serafinowicz playing pretty straight with some surreal concepts) who embraces even the most absurd roles with aplomb. His Tick may not match the muscular, over-stuffed version that can be found in Edlund’s comics, but the insane glint in his eye and boundless energy is still there. Part of that comic book physicality acted as a parody of the inhuman proportions of the average comic book superhero, while Serafinowicz’s version hues a lot closer to the overly “realistic” and busy styles of costuming common in modern adaptations. Instead of being a solid blue spandex onesie, this Tick costume featured detailed articulation and a more slender build. It’s the Christian Bale Batman version of the Tick we’ve come to know. Serafinowicz plays the Tick as a gleeful mischief maker with an Adam West cadence. An alpha influencer who seems like he’s not listening to you as he pushes his agenda on you, and yet is listening very intently, attuned with the machinations of the world around him. There’s been speculation that this version of the Tick is a figment of Arthur’s imagination, and while I don’t think that’s ultimately going to be true, Serafinowicz very much leans into that interpretation in the way he centers himself in Arthur’s world.
Griffin Newman is more of a relative newcomer, but made a big impression on me as a minor character in TBS’s Search Party, playing one of the most weirdly unsettling characters I’ve seen on TV. Here in “The Tick”, he plays a much more straightforward awkward normie character. Arthur has lived a life of tragedy and now operates as a slightly paranoid loner, mostly trying to stay out of the spotlight and keeping to himself. He’s a nervous guy, hesitant to take the jump he needs to help solve what he sees as a vast criminal conspiracy. Newman exudes this with nervous body language and incredulity. It remains to be seen what sort of character Arthur will become once he wears the moth suit, but for now, Newman appropriately embodies a beta foil for The Tick’s bombastic personality.
2. The Grim & Gritty Reboot?
One thing that stood out in this adaptation as being different from any of the other versions of “The Tick” is the addition of actual pathos. The previous Tick sitcom focused on the mundane aspects of life, despite the presence of costumed heroes. The cartoon, on the other hand, hue closest to the surrealism of the comic – a very faithful adaptation. Amazon’s “The Tick” is attempting to add a grievous origin story for Arthur, as we learn that he lost his father when a superhero aircraft unceremoniously crashed on top of him. Arthur’s life since then carries a solemn reminder that superheroes and villains are the cause of much of the pain in his life – so much so that he asks a cabbie to turn off the radio when a heated discussion of superheroes is taking place. Mercifully, “The Tick” doesn’t maintain this somber nature for more than passing moments. In that way, it’s a welcome aspect of the show, but one that doesn’t overshadow or undermine the wackiness. It is new thematic territory for the property though, and one wonders how often this pathos will make its way into future episodes.Continued below
3. That Weird Wild Stuff
One of the only aspects of the pilot that gives me pause for the remainder of the series is the relative lack of absurd characters. The main villain, The Terror (played by Jackie Earle Haley, ever so briefly), is a pretty standard “evil” guy – a withered old man in a Magneto-style helmet. Other than that, we get a glimpse of Superian, the Superman-esque “first super” of Earth, and a variety of generic henchmen. One of the hallmarks of “The Tick” as a comic was the constant injection of new heroes and villains with absurd concepts and even more absurd visuals. It’s hard to imagine Chairface Chippendale appearing in his classic visual form in the context of this more realistic-looking show, but who knows? At this point, all we’ve seen is a pilot. Will we see classic villains like The Human Ton and Handy? Mr. Mental? The Chainsaw Vigilante? An injection of a number of these heroes could take Amazon’s “The Tick” into the realm of next level comic book television.
4. A New Age of Heroes
Perhaps a literal explanation for why we weren’t inundated with wacky visuals in the pilot episode is because the new age of heroes appears to just be getting started? We learn that the most famous superteam “The Flag Five” is no more. The Terror is something of an urban legend, which only people like Arthur seem to be piecing together as the center of a criminal conspiracy. The Tick shows up calling for the beginning of a new kind of team to replace the Flag Five, presumably he and Arthur would be the start of that effort. I could see this as the beginning of something that spirals out into a bigger cast of wacky heroes and villains, or I could see the production using the first season to simply flesh out The Terror and keep The Tick and Arthur as fairly self-contained participants in some sort of secret war. I hope it’s more the former than the latter.
5. “Spoon!” watch
When it comes to any adaptation of “The Tick”, it’s paramount to nail the idiosyncratic language of the titular character. Whether it’s an inspiring declaration or an exclamation of surprise, the things that come out of the Tick’s mouth rarely make 100% sense in context, which usually makes them wildly funny (especially out of context). This Amazon adaptation is no exception, and I think it warrants specific coverage each week. So, here are my 3 favorite surreal quotes from episode 1:
The Tick: “Come on over. It’s good. It’s warm. Like the inside of bread.”
Superian: “Whoopie, the authorities found all of his teeth stuck in the wall of a crater that I made…out of him.”
The Tick: “Evil wears every possible mitten.”