The Tick “Pilot” REVIEW
Available on Amazon Instant Video
Creator/writer: Ben Edlund
Director: Wally Pfister
Essential Plot Points:
- Arthur Everest has been on meds ever since – as a boy – he witnessed his father crushed by a private aircraft belonging to a superteam called Flag 5, which was brought down by supervillain the Terror.
- The rest of the world now thinks the Terror is dead, killed by the world’s first superhero, the eternally young Superian. The grown-up Arthur isn’t convinced, and is determined to prove the Terror is still alive and secretly controlling crime in Midtown.
- Everyone else regards Arthur as a conspiracy nutter.
- One night Arthur is on a surveillance mission and discovers a group of criminal henchtypes smuggling dodgy tech (including what looks like a bulletproof bunny suit) through Midtown docks.
- As he watches them, a big, blue, nonsense-spouting superhero bounds in, calling himself the Tick and offering to take the crims out.
- Arthur urges him not to, saying that they need the crims to lead them to their boss.
- But then the police arrive and Arthur is arrested for trespass while the Tick vanishes.
- The cops eventually let Arthur go when his sister agrees to take responsibility for him
- Meanwhile the Tick decides he cannot play things sensibly any longer and wades in to beat up the crims. He accidentally blows up their ship in the process, but the bulletproof bunny suit survives.
- So next morning the Tick unexpectedly turns up in Arthur’s bedroom offering him the bunny suit and telling him it’s their destiny to team up.
- Arthur isn’t convinced, but after the Tick leaps out of his window he curiously tries on the suit… and discovers it has wings! It’s a moth suit, not bunny suit; the “bunny ears” are actually antennae.
- Then the henchtypes burst into his apartment all guns blazing.
Amazingly, the big, blue bug of justice has been around since 1988, created by a teenage Ben Edlund as the mascot for a local comic store. Since then the Tick’s graduated to indie comics, a successful three-season animated series and a less successful nine-episode live-action series. Along the way, the slightly buffoonish, mixed-metaphor-spouting superhero parody has carved himself a place in the geek zeitgeist.
Meanwhile Edlund has gone on to write some of the best and funniest episodes of shows like Buffy, Firefly, Gotham and Supernatural. But he can’t seem to get the Tick out of his system, and so here’s the latest attempt to get him back on screen, courtesy of Amazon’s pilot season.
And it’s a very different take on the material. A very “Amazon/Netflix” take, you might say, but it’s a sensible choice. This is darker, but not just for the sake of being darker. The previous incarnations of the Tick were parodying a more colourful, simpler, more straightforward brand of superheroics, so the comedy was broad and even absurdist. Now, though, general audiences are more familiar with the “tortured” superhero; you can thank Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy for that, though even Marvel’s more traditional cinematic superhero universe has its fair share of grit and angst.
So this new The Tick is a reflection of that. Arthur here suffers mental issues while there’s something almost disturbing behind Peter Serafinowicz’s bluster as the latest Tick. Way, way back in the early indie comics, it was suggested that the Tick (whose past has always remained largely obscure) had escaped from a mental institution, and you could almost believe that’s the case here.
The Tick himself is hilarious, spouting his nonsense like it’s Shakespearean soliloquy. Elsewhere the humour is low-key to non-existant. Aside from a bizarre prologue and one blackly humorous flashback to arch villain the Terror taking out a superteam called Flag 5 with a syphilis bomb, it’s rarely laugh-out loud funny when the Tick’s not around. Instead the show opts instead for a more melancholic tone that feels like Wilfred meets Watchmen. There are a couple of “amusing” lines (Arthur’s paramedic sister Dot apologising that, “I’ve gotta go. Somebody new is bleeding”) but mostly it’s actors playing odd situations dead straight.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Low-key, black comedy seems to be the kind of vibe that serves Amazon well. It’s just that here that tone clashes with the more on-the-nose Tick moments, and the pacing feels all over the place. To be fair, this is a pilot, and most shows take a while perfecting their balancing acts; in the case of the Tick there’s even a chance that the jarring shifts in tone could be tweaked to become a bonus – the show’s USP, maybe. Don’t fight the bizarre; embrace it.
The only other main problem with the pilot – possibly compacted by the fact that’s it’s a half-hour comedy not a 45-50 minute drama – is that the world in which it takes place remains rather vague. You get some idea about the history of superheroes in this reality but you never quite feel you’ve got a handle on the details. Again, a full series would presumably address this, but since the show is fighting for the chance to be turned into a full series as part of Amazon’s pilot season, you’d think it’d try a little harder to put new viewers in the picture.
While far from perfect, this new version of The Tick is certainly intriguing enough to make you want to see more. So Amazon, our vote is: commission a series, please. (It’s definitely more deserving than dreary Kevin Bacon relationship comedy I Love Dick though Jean-Claude Van Johnson is all kinds of fun too.)
- Every line that comes out of the Tick’s mouth:
“When destiny speaks she speaks to me. She says hi by the way.”
“Evil wears every possible mitten.”
- Griffen Newman might not be tubby enough for purists’ liking, but he creates a very loveable new take on Arthur.
- The backstory of the universe in which the action takes place already feels rich in mythology, ready to be mined. It’s almost a Loony Tunes version of Watchmen.
- The one big action scene is suitably pulse-pounding and silly.
- Apart from the Tick himself, the script’s not particularly funny.
- Dot is pretty much wasted.
- The tone is uneven; the show can’t decide if it’s Wilfred or Mystery Men.
- The cliffhanger is mystifying.
And The Random:
- Harry B Miller, who apparently wrote this newspaper story, is actually the film editor on The Tick.
- Bryce Fortner, the “writer” of this article is The Tick’s Director of Photography. Alex Hillkurtz, credited as a photographer, isn’t listed in the show’s credits, but he has worked in the art department (usually as a storyboard artist) of various Hollywood film and TV series, so we reckon that’s a reference to him.
- Director Wally Pfister made his name as one of Hollywood’s most sought-after cinematographers; he worked with Christopher Nolan on all three of his Dark Knight Batman films. He made his directing debut with the SF film Transcendence (2014)
- We think this is the first time that the city in which The Tick has been set has been given the name Midtown.
- Peter Serafinowicz was the voice of Darth Maul in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
- The villainous Ms Lint tell the thug on the right that he’ll be testing the “bunny suit”. Considering the Tick later tells Arthur the suit is perfect for his tiny proportions, we dread to think how that guy was going to fit into it.
- ONE SLIGHT WORRY: With the emphasis on Arthur’s mental illness and the fact that he “sees things”, we’re hoping the show doesn’t try to sell the Tick as a figment of Arthur’s imagination. It seems highly unlikely (how could the Tick beat up the henchtypes while Arthur was in custody if he were imaginary?) but this kind of thing is in vogue at the moment.
Review by Jonathan Norton