Friday, September 15, 2017

20/20: #20 The Tick

[Like the "10 for 10" series but a little longer.  It's my endeavor to clean the backlog slate (with some things watched well over a year ago now) "this" month with 20 reviews written in 20 minutes (each) over 20-ish days...
That went well.]

2017, Amazon Prime - 6 episodes

The Tick comic book, when it emerged in, I want to say, 1989? was an underground success, to the point that Tick comics have been in continual creation ever since (though largely as a series of mini-series with sporadic publishing dates).  The Tick cartoon emerged in 1994 on Saturday morning Fox programming, and was a moderate hit with kids, but likewise a moderate hit with the college crowd.  I came to Tick with limited exposure through the comics and cartoon, but was fully on board with the Barry Sonnenfeld-produced, Patrick Warburton-starring live action the Tick in 2001, which, unfortunately, didn't even air all its episodes before Fox gave up on it.  It's had a healthy existence on DVD, which is more than I can say for the cartoon (where only 2 seasons have been released domestically, and even then each of the seasons is missing at least 1 episode).

Still, the Tick is kind of evergreen, it's a sort-of satire of superhero comics, but also just a straight-up lighthearted superhero tale.  It's never all that serious and it's genuinely fun.  Both my kids, with a 7-year-gap between them, love the Tick cartoon and they get it when my wife and I make casual or offhanded references from the show.  While the Tick is no Spider-Man or Batman or Mickey Mouse, the character and his strange, weird world have penetrated popular culture, and will continue to do so so long as its small and loyal fan base continues to dig what it dishes out.

The latest the Tick live action series from Amazon Prime certainly fills that need, but changes the scope of how the Tick has typically operated.  For the most part, in any media to this point, the Tick has been largely episodic, with self-contained stories and little narrative through line, but this run, which reunites the character with its creator Ben Edlund as showrunner, is servicing televisions modern, binge-minded nature. 

Arthur is, as he often is, the central focus, the grounding point. Here he's fleshed out as having some psychological disorders, anxiety and the like, which his sister Dot has made it her mission to keep in check.  Most of this stems back from childhood, where Arthur witnessed the super-villain the Terror force his favourite superhero team's ship to crash land on his dad, and then murder the super team in front of him, and then eat his ice cream.  Decades later Arthur is obsessed with the Terror, believing that he faked his own death, and spending most of his spare time looking for clues to his existence and whereabouts.  On one stakeout, he meets the Tick, and at first is unsure whether the Tick is a product of his own psychoses, or if he is actually the Tick, or if the Tick is indeed real.  He's very surreal, whatever the case.

The first episode was produced as part of Amazon's annual pilot projects, and was popular enough to be greenlit.  Nearly a year passed between the pilot and production of the remaining episodes but it's fairly seamless with the one major exception being the drastically different, and vibrantly bluer look to the Tick.  In the pilot the costume on Peter Serafinowicz is meant to evoke an insectoid feel, and a bit more of a natural sensibility, but going into production they wisely made him more flashy, bulkier and vibrant, more fitting with his place in the show.

The main thread of the 6 episodes has to do with Arthur and the Tick bonding, all while establishing the tremendous cast and their relationships with one another, and seeding in a bunch of background items, like the "Dinosaur Neal" analogue in "the very large man".  It's a darker version of the Tick, more cynical, more violent, plenty of swearing, but the Tick himself remains virtually unchanged.  From comics to animation to both live action, the big, blue dope has been fairly consistently written, exceptionally altruistic, equally oblivious, and utterly high spirited.  The endless enthusiasm Tick exerts would be exhausting if it weren't so amusing.  Here the Tick is used sparingly, perhaps too much so.  I really craved more and more Tick as it went on.

I've loved Serafinowicz since first really noticing him in an episode of Black Books, he's got an amazing charm and presence and I've enjoyed absolutely everything he's done, from Big Train to Spy to Guardians of the Galaxy to the little seen Will Arnette series Running Wilde.  That said, I was worried about him as the Tick... but then I shouldn't have been.  With incredible comedic timing and instincts, as well as a penchant for mimicry, he's able to replicate the Tick from the cartoon almost perfectly (a hint of his Britishness cuts through from time to time) but with his own panache to it.

Sure the effects are Janky and it's not as bizarre as the cartoon, but it remains boundlessly entertaining.  My biggest complaint would be the season is just too damn short.  Just like the last live action version of the Tick, I just want more.