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A disclaimer before I begin my review: I know nothing about The Tick beyond what I watched in the four episodes Amazon provided for my review. I didn’t watch the 2001 live-action series with Patrick Warburton (although I’ve heard some great things about it). I didn’t watch the 1994 cartoon. I’ve never read the comic. So, I came into this live-action version of The Tick completely without any foreknowledge. Which means I can’t compare it to anything that came before. All I can do is review it based on what I’ve seen. And, for the record, I really enjoyed what I saw.
We’re supersaturated in live-action superhero offerings at the moment. It seems that each year there are more superhero TV shows, and more Marvel and DC tent-pole films, with productions scraping the bottom of the superhero barrel (do we really need Inhumans . . . especially if it’s as bad as everyone says it is?). And, far too often (especially on TV), the superhero tales we get are bogged down with dread and existential pain (looking at you, Oliver Queen). Darkness and a struggle for a sense of self are necessary elements of any superhero story, but with all that we have to deal with in our real day-to-day lives, is it too much to ask for some levity in our entertainment? After all, look at how great Wonder Woman was when it played things a bit more loose than her Justice League compatriots had in the past. Oh, and let’s not forget the delight of Supergirl and Barry Allen sharing ice cream on Supergirl. There’s room for some fun in the dark and dirty work of a superhero. And that’s the exact niche The Tick can fill in this overcrowded landscape.
For the uninitiated (like me), The Tick takes place in a world where superheros are real. Unfortunately, the superheros in the City were taken out years ago by super villain The Terror, leaving the City bereft of support. Enter the perfectly normal (if completely emotionally and possibly mentally traumatized by events from his past is normal) Arthur Everest (played perfectly by Griffin Newman), who is convinced The Terror has been orchestrating evil events in the City since his infamous disappearance years ago. Naturally, while trying to stake out some information on the latest scheme, Arthur runs into a super powered man, who claims to be a hero named The Tick (played with just enough charm and and an edge of darkness by Peter Serafinowicz). From there, confusion and adventures follow.
As with Legion, The Tick has the baseline question of how much of what is happening is simply in the head of a traumatized character and how much is really happening. The complex dance of the first two episodes has Arthur and the audience questioning if The Tick is simply a manifestation of his imagination, or even Arthur himself, acting out in an unconscious state of some sort. But, no, The Tick is real (confirmation is given when Arthur’s sister, Dot, sees both of them as separate people). Where he came from and why he’s here are questions left for later episodes.
For The Tick to work, two things need to happen. First, we have to want both Arthur and The Tick to succeed. That bar is easily met, as Newman and Serafinowicz make you care about their characters from the get go. The second key is the show’s humor. There are serious things that happen within the show, and awful things happen to good people. But within that darkness, the series manages to nail the comedy. The Tick may be strong and powerful, but he’s lacking in any and all social graces. Arthur lacks power of his own, but he has a dogged focus on the end goal of their mission. Neither character is perfect on his own; they desperately need one another to be whole. And Dot, who would normally be treated as the anchor weighing down our leads and preventing their transformation into real heroes, is a fun character who truly loves her brother and just wants what’s best for him. It’s a nice change.
Is The Tick a life-changing series? Nope. But it is fun, and had just enough mystery (is The Terror- played as a completely awful villain by Jackie Earle Haley- really back?) to hook an audience into caring about the various adventures our heroes go on. Plus, each episode is only a half hour, getting enough jokes in to balance out the action and drama. The Tick may not be an award winning series, but it just might be the superhero series we need right now.