When I was a kid, my dad walked in on me and my siblings gathered happily under the glow of our TV, watching the dedicatedly loony antics of a big blue superhero whose catchphrase was “Spoon!” It was at a moment in the cartoon show where the brawny buffoon’s head was wedged under a kitchen sink, so all my dad saw when he walked in was a big blue butt wiggling back and forth. “What is this?” he yelped with a confused tug to his lips. Our collective answer, spouted through mouths stuffed with sugary cereal was, of course, “The Tick.”
Whatever the incarnation, The Tick must be weird. So weird it makes the uninitiated scratch their heads and wonder, “WTF?” Whatever the moment that introduces them to this jovial defender of justice, it’s a dare to dive into his weird world of mixed metaphors, bonkers baddies, and overzealous and often reckless dedication to lady law. Whether it’s Ben Edlund‘s comics, the 1990s animated series, or the short-lived, “Seinfeld”-esque live-action revamp of 2001, being thoroughly ludicrous is key to getting The Tick right.
Now, Amazon Studios has resurrected the property as a gritty reboot with a pilot helmed by Wally Pfister, best-known as the celebrated cinematographer behind “The Dark Knight Trilogy,” worst-known as the director of the infuriatingly dull “Transcendence.” A “gritty” Tick should never work — and yet, Amazon and Pfister found a balance that brings a new edge to the property, while maintaining it’s wide-eyed goofiness.
Be assured, The Tick you’ve come to know and love is true to form.
English comedian Peter Serafinowicz brings a suitably pronounced chin, an unhinged zeal, and an Adam West-styled American accent to the role, providing appropriately broad bravado to lines like, “You’re not going crazy! You’re going sane in a crazy world!” and, “We’ll cross that bridge when we’ve burned it!” His tall stature and brawn isn’t on a level of Patrick Warburton’s larger-than-life presence in the last incarnation, but with a swaggering step and a crooked smile, he ably sells Tick’s powers, which include “nigh” invincibility, the “reflexes of an Olympic jungle cat,” and the strength of “a crowded bus stop of men!”
The grit of this new reboot comes from the setting, and — unexpectedly — from Tick’s signature nebbish sidekick Arthur Everest (Griffin Newman). Both play a brilliant foil to the strange superhero with no apparent past and an unflappable drive to do good. For his part, Arthur wants very badly to do good. The pilot focuses heavily on his backstory, which avoids the “bored office worker” trope in favor of a more dramatic origin that includes a traumatic childhood moment, and an obsession with The Terror, a supervillain long thought dead. Under-medicated, obsessed and possibly delusional, Arthur is desperate to prove to the world and his doting sister Dot (Valorie Curry) that The Terror is still a threat, and that this bespectacled screw-up is more than a “poor, broken man.” He’s a — well, not a hero, but a sidekick!
There are some rough spots and obvious signs of low-budget in the pilot. The edit cuts around stunts like big jumps, a massive explosion is only shown from afar, and the big action sequence is little more than The Tick slapping sneering lackeys out of his way as bullets ping off his textured blue body suit. (The costume takes “gritty reboot” a shade too literally.) But “The Tick” has got the goods, setting up an intriguing world where villains take no prisoners. Jackie Earle Haley (“The Watchmen”) brings solid menace with a touch of mania to The Terror in a creepy flashback that shows the notorious criminal as merciless and wildly petty, stealing ice cream from a child already in shock at the horror he’s witnessed. It’s disturbing, but as Haley dribbles vanilla soft serve over his maw and cowl, it’s also jarringly, satisfyingly funny.
All in all, “The Tick” is a promising pilot. Amazon’s version stays true to the daffy humor of its doofy hero, though he’s used with restraint in this introduction. The key here is really the sidekick. By transforming the typically timid accountant into a mentally unstable conspiracy theorist living in a truly dangerous metropolis, the show offers a fresh angle and edge that makes this “Tick” uniquely compelling.
Here’s hoping we’ll get more. I’d raise a spoon to that.
“The Tick” pilot is now available on Amazon Prime.
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