PILOT LITE: The Tick (2016 Amazon pilot)

Posted: August 25, 2016 in Pilot Lite
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The Tick is a character who has been around since the mid 80’s. But I’d be willing to bet that there is a good number of fans of his who didn’t realize that he was a comic book character for a long time (or maybe ever). I know my first encounter with the character had nothing to do with comics. However, completist that I am, once I discovered his black and white origins, I quickly went to the source and voraciously consumed as much of his comic series as my little eyes could take.
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Created by Ben Edlund, the character and his universe are so wacky that it’s amazing he’s ever been adapted at all, let alone on three separate occasions. The Tick was essentially written as a spoof of the superhero form of storytelling. He has incredibly ill defined powers (including the power of “drama” which means his powers grow the more dire a situation becomes) and speaks in a heightened vernacular that throws around simile and metaphor like…ah! I had something for this…oh well.

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Ticks Past.

Prior to this pilot, The Tick had been adapted twice. The first was a 1994 animated series from Fox Kids that aired for three seasons and the second was as a live-action sitcom in 2001. It only lasted one short season before cancellation. Regardless, both adaptations have taken on somewhat of a cult following with fans of the character. The animated series especially stuck in the public consciousness long after it had been pulled from the airwaves and continued to be rerun a decade or so after its cancellation.

As such, it was only a matter of time before the character who started as a newsletter mascot would play the adaptation game again. Amazon announced in 2014 that they were discussing reviving the 2001 version of the character with Patrick Warburton reprising the role. However, that turned out to be only partly true. Warburton stayed on as producer, but the role went to Peter Serafinowicz (of “that guy” fame). The new series is in no way a continuation of the old and for the tone it’s going for, that makes sense.

A lot has happened with comics since 2001 and this series perfectly reflects the changing tide that modern culture has for the medium. This series has a noticeably darker streak than either of the past adaptations but that is displaced by a healthy dose of ridiculous Tick-like humor. The darkness also doesn’t betray the central premise or the core characters. In fact, if anything, it enhances them and gives meaning behind traits or idiosyncrasies. I’m sure there are some fans who will see this as “disrespecting the legacy” of these characters or some such nonsense. To them I’ll just point out that this pilot was created and written by Ben Edlund…you know, the guy who created these characters in the first place?

Mixed in with that wackiness is the title role’s speech patterns that lean toward the verbose. Serfinowicz and his stylized arachnid-like costume were the subject of a great deal of criticism pre-release, however after hearing a single line of dialogue in his smooth, buttery voice it’s clear that he is absolutely the right person for the job. He doesn’t mimic Warburton or Townsend Coleman (who voiced the role in the animated series) but absolutely nails the cadence and mannerisms of the mighty blue hero. In fact, this may be one of the few characters where I can see every single actor who has played the role being considered “definitive”, which is very interesting from a critical standpoint.
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One of the freshest aspects of this take on the characters is the ascension of Arthur. Always depicted as The Tick’s put-upon sidekick but also frequently the “POV Character”, this time Arthur takes center stage, essentially supplanting The Tick as the lead. He gets a heart-breaking origin story, a lions-share of character development and even the implication that the titular hero is a figment of his imagination. Played by Griffin Newman, this take on Arthur feels like a real person trying their damnedest to survive in a world full of god-like, immortal heroes and villains with the ability to weaponize syphilis.

terrI’m not going to go into detail about Arthur’s origin, because it’s a very intense scene that provides an incredible amount of pathos for his neurotic everyman. However, I will say that the scene features Jackie Earle Haley as The Terror. He’s portrayed as the world’s most evil villain and something of a combination between Lex Luthor and The Joker. Haley is no stranger to creepy comic characters (just this year he played Odin Quincannon on Preacher in another supremely off-putting performance). The Terror is also notable for being the only villain (thus far) to appear in the comics as well as every adaptation, making him as close to an arch-villain to The Tick as there can be.

This new series premiere is a part of Amazon’s “Pilot Season”, which is something they’ve done for the last few years. They showcase a handful of new pilots and based on the strength of viewers as well as customer feedback, the series are either picked up or killed off. Critical word on The Tick seems to be mostly positive thus far, but nothing is ever certain in this game. If you have Amazon Prime, I’d highly recommend giving this pilot a shot. It’s a more mature version of the character, for sure, but it still retains the trademark soul of the comic as well as the other adaptations. So far, it seems like The Tick may be the only character to have all of his distinct and different adaptations be equally worthy of praise and respect.

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