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The Tick: A Promising but Uneven Superhero Parody

Superhero movies and TV shows are at an all-time high.  We’re approaching a regular output of six to eight major blockbusters in the genre per year, with no sign of slowing down.  So logically, it’s the perfect time for a ridiculous, over-the-top parody of the superhero genre.  This, in a nutshell, is The Tick.

In this world, the dawn of superheroes came about a hundred years ago, and has stuck ever since.  Superian (every bit the obvious mockery of Superman as he sounds) is a major celebrity and the world’s primary supervillain, The Terror, has supposedly been killed.  Our protagonist, Arthur, whose father was killed by the villain, refuses to believe it.  His bumbling, nervous investigation brings him face-to-face with a giant blue walking cliche: The Tick.

This all sounds amusing, but amusing in the way that a five-minute YouTube video goes viral for a week, not the kind of amusing that makes a long-lasting show.  Curiously enough, this is a property that’s been around for a while.  He had his own comic book series in the late eighties and was most well-known for an animated series in the mid-nineties which, believe it or not, has a fairly significant cult following.  It thrives on unbridled absurdity (The Tick villain Man-Eating Cow is a good example of that) and an over-the-top dramatic voice that would give even Adam West a run for his money.

In this iteration from Amazon Video, the focus is not so much on the absurd superhero as it is on the more accessible Arthur, destined to become the sidekick.  Having watched his father die in front of him, he’s been diagnosed with a slew of psychiatric problems, despite appearing to the viewer as quite normal, especially given the circumstances.  This, I suspect, plays into what will probably become a growing level of irony in the show: Arthur is the only sane one in an insane world, which by definition makes him the crazy one.  That set-up, however, creates an initial sense of conflict that The Tick may not be real, after all.  We may suspect that isn’t true, but a kernel of doubt is placed in our minds, even if it is short-lived.

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While that’s a clever idea, it also plays out to the pilot’s greatest weakness.  It doesn’t seem to be quite sure if it’s going to be an absurdist spoof or an action-drama with heart.  It’s nigh impossible to do both of these things well in the same show, and this one seems torn between them.  Griffin Newman’s portrayal of Arthur does have a lot of heart, and Peter Serafinowicz has a mastery over The Tick’s comical dramatism, but the conflicting tones seem to pull away from each other, rather than complementing each other.

But when parts do strike the right chord, the show is everything that a superhero parody should be.  Serafinowicz’s mastery of The Tick’s dramatism really cannot be overstated, and it’s absolutely clear that he’s having an absolute blast filming this show.  Elements of self-awareness are a joy too, like when he clarifies “Don’t worry, I’m not in space” during a voiceover, paces while chanting “must maintain finesse” or knocks over Arthur’s lamp, sure that he’s found an entrance to a nonexistent secret HQ.  His interactions with Arthur, though they are few in this pilot, show a lot of promise, and the intersection of The Tick’s theatrics with Arthur’s self-conscious awkwardness could be the makings of a great show, as long as it learns not to take itself too seriously.

Like most comedies, approach this one not with the intent of learning some great lesson, but just to laugh and have a good time.  There’s certainly a theme of good versus evil, and no indication that this will be turned on its head in some sort of reversing of values.  In fact, this really would be a great film for parents to watch with their kids, had the creators of the show not seen fit to add profanity into the mix (the pilot is rated TV-14 for language and violence).

Right now, the show needs a little bit of work, particularly where the tonal differences are concerned.  But there are certainly elements of great comedy and parody here, and the excellent casting and charm of the characters makes me think that this could become a much better show down the line.

Rating: 7/10

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