Amazon's new version of the superhero comedy The Tick is a meditation on how loneliness breaks us. Which doesn't sound like a lot of fun, right? But it is. A lot of fun, that is. And it's also very sad, and hopeful and unlike any of the previous iterations of The Tick.
It's also probably the most original superhero show this year since FX's Legion.
First created in 1986 by writer/artist Ben Edlund, the super strong, super naïve, super blue superhero The Tick had a popular cult run in comic books, before being adapted as an animated kids series on Fox in 1994. Then in 2001, Edlund again adapted his property for Fox, this time in live action starring Patrick Warburton. And as of today, Amazon has officially launched Edlund's latest take, a higher budget superhero comedy with Peter Serafinowicz in the title role.
In the interim, Edlund has worked on shows like Firefly, Angel, Gotham, and most notably Supernatural. Versus the broad comedy of the comic and animated series, or the sitcom take from 2001, Edlund's facility with the structure and serial nature of genre TV are well on display in this new Tick. It's still a parody of superhero conventions: from blatantly calling out the heroes journey, to the ridiculous nature of the heroes and villains (a talking religious dog, and a lint powered villainess come to mind). But differing from its titular hero, this iteration has a lot more on its mind.
Unlike previous adaptations, this Tick focuses not on big blue, but his "sidekick" Arthur (Griffin Newman). When he was younger, the former superhero fan watched his father flattened by the villainous Terror (Jackie Earle Haley), who proceeded to kill this universe's equivalent of the Justice League. This leads to a life of actual terror for Arthur, who suffers multiple mental breaks only relieved by the constant attention from his sister, Dot (Valorie Curry). Years later, he's trying to prove The Terror is still alive when he meets the mysterious Tick, who immediately imprints on Arthur like an insanely strong puppy.
At six sub-30 minute episodes, you should really take the time and discover what happens yourself — part of the joy of the first few episodes in particular is figuring out what is real, and what Arthur is imagining. But what's abundantly clear is how sad everyone is, and how this adventure helps bring them together — as well as ultimately a degree of happiness.
Arthur doesn't want anything to do with anyone, he's only obsessed with finding The Terror. Dot has devoted her life to Arthur, at the expense of anything else. And The Tick literally has no memory of anything that happens when he's not around Arthur. Add in an extreme vigilante named Overkill (Scott Speiser) who refuses to spend time with his talking boat (played by Alan Tudyk) — who insists "he's" a roommate, not a domicile --and you have a series of characters used to living life alone who actually need each other.
Nowhere is this better on display than the sympathetic villain Ms. Lint (Yara Martinez). She was abandoned years earlier when her mentor The Terror was killed, and now lives in an apartment with her douchebro ex-husband (his slogan shirts, by the way, are one of the best running jokes in the series), trying to somehow get back to the villainous pinnacle where she was happy.
What makes this so unique in the superhero genre isn't just that it's very funny, but that undercurrent of sadness gets to something that hasn't really been explored in either shows or movies. Superheroes inspire people, they give them hope; but ultimately it's a lonely life that takes and takes and never gives back. In later episodes, an enormous, naked man underscores this as he silently wanders the country-side, mostly looking confused as to why he's so large.
The Tick rejects this premise. Not knowingly, because that would take an ounce of self-awareness he doesn't have. But he's the force that brings people together, because he doesn't understand that people think they want to be alone. He invites a homeless man to live in Arthur's apartment. He bonds with the mother of the local bodega owner, against Arthur's wishes. And like Olaf from Frozen, he teaches his new protégé the power of warm hugs.
It's not too much of a spoiler that The Tick's unerring misunderstanding of the isolated human condition — after all, we're just wandering around alone, minds trapped in fleshy meat sacks — leads to the characters starting to connect, and feel for each other. They resist their loneliness, embrace their heroic destinies, and find themselves terrified at the idea that happiness might be achievable.
These are broken people, who have been hurt in the worst ways imaginable (in some cases physically, and in all, mentally). The Tick, on the other hand, is unbreakable. He's solid. He blindly looks ahead and doesn't doubt anything he, or anyone else does is wrong. His barreling straight through works in the delightful action sequences, but more than anything it works as an agent of change. Fighting loneliness, just as he fights sticky, wet crime.
Maybe we could all use a Tick in our lives. At least in the real world, we've got these six episodes.
The Tick is now streaming on Amazon. Part 2 of the first season will air some time in 2018.