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“Evil Wears Every Possible Mitten” — Josh Reviews Amazon’s The Tick!

December 19th, 2016

I’ve been a fan of Ben Edlund’s wonderful superhero parody, The Tick, since (almost) the very beginning.  Friends in high school turned me on to the wonderful black-and-white comic, published by New England Comics, soon after those early issues were published in the late eighties and early nineties.  Mr. Edlund wrote and illustrated twelve hilarious issues between 1988 and 1993 that hold up wonderfully to this day as not just spectacularly funny but also, even more impressively, an on-the-nose parody of super-hero comic-book tropes that also manages to elevate into a unique creation in its own right.  (Sadly, issue twelve ended on a cliffhanger that Mr. Edlund never completed.)  The Tick comic-book series has continued in a variety of forms in the subsequent two-decades-plus, by a variety of other creators, but it’s never matched Mr. Edlund’s original twelve issues.

However, the series has, remarkably, been adapted for television THREE TIMES and, even more remarkably, each adaptation has been a creatively successful undertaking.  First came a three-season run of an animated Saturday morning cartoon version for Fox that ran from 1994-1996.  It’s been a while since I’ve revisited that show, but I recall it being a very funny and very faithful adaptation that had a great theme song and made some great additions to the Tick cannon, most notably the characters of Die Fledermaus (a Batman parody) and American Maid.  In 2001, Fox aired a short-lived live-action version starring Seinfeld’s Patrick Warburton as the Tick and Lost’s Nestor Carbonell as Batmanuel (a genius name for very funny new character, brilliantly performed by Mr. Carbonell).  The show was quickly cancelled but a complete series DVD release years later (that included unaired episodes) demonstrated the show’s tremendous potential that was sadly cut short.  The pilot was directed by Barry Sonnenfeld (Men in Black) and the whole show was very clever and very funny.  So, of course, Fox killed it almost immediately.

Which brings us to this almost unprecedented THIRD iteration of The Tick: a pilot episode produced by Amazon (that, I am pleased to report, has recently been announced as going to a series order).  You can watch the Amazon pilot episode here.

I very much enjoyed this pilot episode.  Written by Ben Edlund (the original Tick creator who has, incredibly, remained in a key creative role throughout all three of The Tick’s TV series permutations) and directed by Wally Pfister (the incredible cinematographer behind Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy), this series succeeds in bringing the big blue goofball to life.

The biggest difference is that while The Tick’s previous incarnations (both the original comic book series and the first two TV shows) placed the Tick in world that was already a heightened, weird world of superheroes, this pilot episode is far more grounded.  The world of this new Amazon series feels very much like our own.  Thus the Tick and the other super-powered characters seen in the episode are contrasted with the otherwise very grounded look and feel of the show, which gives the show a far different tone from the previous versions.  This Tick is still very funny, but it’s a world that also feels far more dangerous than the other, more silly versions.  It’s a choice that surprised me at first, but I grew to enjoy it as the episode progressed.  I can certainly understand their wanting to differentiate this new version from what had come before, and ultimately I liked the choice and was left eager to see where this series might go from here.

Patrick Warburton was incredible as the Tick in the 2001 version.  It was hard for me to imagine another actor in the role.  But the incredibly talented and funny Peter Serafinowicz (who has recently killed in films such as Spy and Guardians of the Galaxy) does a terrific job.  It’s a different take than Mr. Warburton’s, a little less buffoonish and a little more weird, but I really liked this version.  I’m not yet in love with the new Tick costume — it’s good, though Mr. Warburton’s costume felt more like the “classic” look of the character from the original comic books.  I can understand the choices made, as this new look probably fits better into the “real world” look of the show, though I’m not sure I get the look of the weird textures on the costume, and I liked the slightly deeper blue of Mr. Warburton’s look.  But the antennae.

Griffin Newman is solid as Arthur, the mild-mannered young man destined to become the Tick’s sidekick.  I was intrigued that this pilot episode made explicit what previous versions have just danced around, that Arthur has some mental problems before meeting the Tick.  But I also liked the way this version emphasized Arthur’s heroism and innate sense of justice.  I also liked that they created a decent-sized role for Arthur’s sister (played by Valerie Curry) in this pilot.  I like this relationship and am eager to see how that develops.

I enjoyed Jackie Earle Haley (Watchmen)’s appearance as the villain The Terror.  This character has mostly been played for laughs in previous incarnations, but it fits that in this more real-world version that they’d attempt to make him more of a scary, genuine threat.

This pilot episode looked gorgeous.  No surprise, as Wally Pfister has an incredible eye.  The episode had some beautiful shots.  The Tick has never looked better on television.

Where the episode suffers a little bit is in its depiction of the super-heroics.  I could see the show straining against its budget.  For shows like these to work, the super-heroic visual effects have to be at least somewhat decent, not eye-rolling.  I was shocked at how bad these visuals were in the first series of Powers on the Playstation Network (I haven’t seen the second season yet), so bad they really impacted my enjoyment of the show.  Things came close to that in this pilot of The Tick.  I hope that in the season-to-come they find a way to solve this problem.

There are some classic Tick sequences that have, I believe, been in every different version of The Tick that somehow remain fun to see yet again.  One notable example would be the way the Tick wreaks havoc in Arthur’s apartment as he looks for the hidden level that will turn Arthur’s apartment into a super-hero’s lair.  It’s still funny.  There are also some familiar lines (like the Tick’s comment about feeling Justice pushing at the small of your back).  But there’s also lots of new business.  I enjoyed the balance this pilot struck at giving us a few of those moments that long-time Tick fans will be happy to see, while still making a very different version of the introduction to this world and these characters than what we have seen before.

The pilot episode starts a little slow but by the end things are really happening.  This first episode ends on a cliffhanger and I couldn’t believe, when it ended, that this was all that existed right now, with no more available to watch!!  I’m excited that this pilot is being continued in a full ten-episode first-season order.  The Tick has always had the potential to be a terrific TV series, and so far I think this new Amazon version has the right ingredients.  I can’t wait for more.

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