Embracing the parody source material and leaving behind the pilot’s uneven tone, Amazon’s The Tick is a continually entertaining story about the commonplace, the heroic, and how sometimes those are the same.
Like many boys, Arthur grew up obsessed with superheroes. There was just one difference. In Arthur’s world, superheroes are real. But so are supervillains. And in his tragic childhood, a supervillain known as The Terror crushed his father with all of his favorite superheroes. The trauma that ensued, which included treatment for mental illness (hearing voices, seeing things that aren’t there, etc.) and incessant worrying from his sister, Dot. Then a giant dramatic superhero who calls himself “The Tick” shows up out of the blue (heh, “the blue”) and launches Arthur into a whirlwind of adventure.
The charm of the show, like previous adaptations of The Tick, is drawn largely from its self-referential humor and parody. In many ways, it’s a callback to the old campy superhero shows of the ’60s and ’70s, particularly the Adam West Batman series. This becomes an especially entertaining contrast when a violent vigilante comes on the scene that circumstances force Tick and Arthur to work with (“Isn’t he a little . . . murder-y?” Tick says at one point).
But while the show primarily functions as a comedy, it also has moments of heart. Dot and Arthur’s relationship is very loving, and Dot frequently turns out to be more understanding than Arthur anticipates, even if she is continually critical of his being involved in any way, shape, or form with superheroes. This focus on relationship expands out to the moments we get via flashbacks of Arthur with his father. Even the villains are shown working through relationships, including a villain who has to split a condo with her ex-husband.
. . . Okay, maybe that wasn’t the best example. Nevertheless, it is character that takes the forefront focus here, despite the series itself being a meta-level commentary on the absurdity of superheroes, and our ever-continuing love for them. The show still gives us plenty to love through those relationships, and revels in what should be the normalcy of these characters. In fact, it credits that normalcy with being the cause of their heroism. Arthur is someone who has very little confidence. It’s implied that this may be a result of those around him treating him too much like a child, afraid of the delicacy that may result from his mental issues. But The Tick, whom Arthur isn’t sure is even real at first, continually tells Arthur that he does have a special purpose, and that Destiny chose him, even if a man dressed as a giant blue bug is hardly the most reliable life coach. This reminds me of something another great philosopher (The Doctor) once said: “900 years of time and space and I’ve never met someone who wasn’t important.”
The combination of lampoon and heart combines surprisingly well, striking a nice balance between the two and settling into a cohesive tone (something that I noted was missing when reviewing the pilot episode prior to the release of the full series). However, that tone, at least in the first couple of episodes, becomes a bit jarring due to the more adult context. Villains (and occasionally others) spout R-rated profanity, and stylized violence includes springing fountains of blood from the excessive tactics of an antihero. This tends to clash with the cartoonish aesthetic of the series, and casts out of the family viewing arena that it could easily have been suited for. Even disregarding that last fact, by the time audiences have a chance to adjust to these odd conglomeration of tones, the series’s six episodes are over. While many shows benefit from short seasons, this one is perhaps too short, and it’s easy to feel shortchanged.
The Tick is hardly the first television series to extol the virtues of the common man. Neither is it the first to parody superheroes. But it does do both of these things effectively, through a story that’s insane, comical, and fun, even if it does feel a bit uneven at times.