The first six episodes of Amazon’s reboot of The Tick are interesting byproducts of the post-Golden Era of prestige television; each half-hour episode has completely different dramatic and comedic goals, an ebb and flow of ideas and tones that never really feels consistent enough to establish its own priorities. However, these combating, often dissonant elements are somewhat anchored by the show’s strong lead performances and ambitious world-building; but after three hours with Ben Edlund’s new take on the iconic, satirical hero (on which he split showrunner and EP duties with David Fury), I still can’t discern what The Tick really wants to be about.

On the most superficial level, The Tick feels like a sidekick origin story, akin to the equivalent of Gotham for Dick Grayson (please don’t make that, FOX) or, at times, touches of Powerless, NBC’s ill-fated comedy about people working for Bruce Wayne’s tech company. Starring Griffin Newman as Arthur Everest, The Tick oddly begins building its world around an unreliable protagonist – an odd place to try and construct an environment where viewers are wholly invested in what we see from Arthur’s point of view, but one that the show plays around with in early episodes in fun ways to establish Arthur’s character. Traumatized by the death of his father at the hands of The Terror (the supervillain antagonist, played with exuberant fervor by Jackie Earle Haley), Arthur’s role in former The Tick is both an introduction to the larger stories of the show, but as a point of entry for introducing the show’s titular, and arguably most problematic, character.

Within The Tick, and Peter Serafinowicz’s wonderfully confident performance, lies all the promise and potential problems with The Tick‘s first season (the second half of which is expected to release in early 2018). Serafinowicz’s hero is, of course, a parody of Superman and heroes like him, a man with mysterious origins, a suit that may or may not be an actual suit, and a whole lot of meta commentary on his place in the world; while this may sound like a cypher for superhero jokes, The Tick occasionally tries to ground its most outlandish character with a soft underbelly, hinting at deeper stories to tell about the bulletproof man in a bright blue suit.

Given that Amazon only released five episodes to go with last summer’s pilot makes it hard to discern what the show is trying to do with The Tick’s character, and the show as a whole. When The Tick’s antics are tied up in the plot surrounding The Terror, Ms. Lynt (the near-MVP of the first six episodes, if not for a character I’ll talk about in the bit), and the other supernatural forces of the world, The Tick offers a rich back story and layered world of satire that, by design, doesn’t really have a lot of emotional weight. By the same token, the few subplots the show tries to draw out in the first six episodes – primarily those involving Arthur’s sister, and Arthur’s management of his mental illness – aren’t strong enough threads to float on their own, and just lead to a distonal mess when attempts are made to weave them into the world of The Tick, The Terror, and Superion.

However, the sheer dissonance between story, character, and tone in all six of these episodes is oddly consistent. It feels like the writers know exactly what they’re aiming for, which leads me to believe another six episodes of this show would really bear out this odd experiment of emotional pathos and satirical narrative, and prove one way or the other, whether the numerous incongruent pieces of The Tick can actually fit together in a unique way.

There are certainly a lot of promising signs that it can; for how hollow these episodes can feel at times, The Tick offers a lot of intriguing individual elements that suggest this melding of personal narrative and large-scale superhero satire can be symbiotic. Overkill, the show’s parody of The Punisher and Wolverine is a prime example: it breaks down the boilerplate “lone wolf” persona of the aforementioned Marvel characters, and transforms it into something tragically hilarious all to itself: a man who isolates himself from the world, enveloped by his super-violent tendencies, and unable to enjoy anything outside of the dark, grim world he’s painted for himself to exist in. His conversations with Dangerboat (his talking, always docked boat voiced by Alan Tudyk) are some of the best scenes in the first six episodes, equally hilarious and reflective, without undercutting the character of Overkill himself.

While it is troublesome to think the show’s best moments don’t feature its starring players, there are plenty of other small moments that suggest The Tick may be more than just a sum of its many, many, many competing parts. The Tick’s adherence to the concept of destiny is a strong foundation to explore The Tick’s inner thoughts further in later episodes, giving some more room for the deconstruction of superhero tropes to form themselves into something a little more concrete and meaningful. Also, now that Arthur’s presumably gone through Sidekick Intro 101 (the most painfully trite, predictable arc of these first six episodes), a natural evolution of his character – and less focus on his mental instability, a very odd focal point of the first four episodes – would allow for a better meld of voices and tones.

Even if the characters and world of The Tick feel a little more complete after six more episodes (more Ms. Lynt and Derek, please and thank you), the show still faces more uphill battles to climb before it feels like a successful – or even integral – new chapter in The Tick saga. At its core, The Tick just doesn’t offer the audience a lot to invest in, either in terms of narrative ambition, or character development: it’s just not clear what the point of The Tick is. Does it want to be an inspiring, lighthearted story with some realistic elements, or a dark comedic satire? Does it want to be as dark as The Terror’s character (and Overkill, for that matter) suggests, or is it searching for a lighter tone? Is it going for dramatic absurdity, or heartfelt underdog story? Ultimately, it doesn’t feel like The Tick really figures out what it wants to be in its first three hours; while it is certainly an entertaining, and worthy, watch I’ll see through the next batch of episodes (whenever they drop), it’s unclear whether the individual elements of The Tick that work, will form a cohesive, memorable whole.

A TV critic since the simpler days of 2011, Randy is currently the TV Editor of Goomba Stomp and the co-host of The TV Roundtable Podcast. In the past, he’s written for outlets like Sound on Sight, TVOvermind, SLUG Magazine and Processed Media. He can be found on Twitter at @rjdank.

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  • Patrick our film editor doesn’t like movies. Randy our TV editor doesn’t like TV shows. I see a trend building.

    • Patrick

      Or maybe we love our respective mediums too much…

  • Marty Allen

    This is an insightful piece, Randy. I was definitely left with a warmer read of the overall show, but I think that your points are well-articulated. Have you ever read the original comic series that Edlund created? It feels more in line with that style of satire than anything else he’s done, and to me, more relevant than ever in light of the glut of bombastic superhero fare out there (though I also love a lot of that glut). I’m curious about a broader point you opened with, the idea of a ‘post-Golden Era’ of TV. I’d love to hear you expand upon why you think that’s the case? Thanks for the thoughtful piece!

    • randydank

      Thanks Marty! I’m more familiar with the early 90’s series than I am the comic series, but I’ve always been meaning to pick up and read some of his work.

      As for ‘post-Golden Era’, I look at 2017 existing in a more fragmented, diverse landscape than we had say, six to eight years ago, which comes with its own set of benefits and detractions. The signature, universally lauded series have all ended, and critical/fan discourse is fragmented to the point there is really isn’t a show that the cultural zeitgeist forms around, as it did in the past. If this makes sense, I think there are more really good shows, but many less “great”, or era-defining, shows than we had in the previous generation of TV (let’s say, from 1998 – 2012, just for funsies) . Part of this comes from TV becoming so forgettable due to just how *much* there is, but I do think we live in age where the rules/assumptions of the Golden Age aren’t functional anymore (for example, the first seasons of most upper-echeleon dramas of this era are not very good, so the idea of what makes a great show has changed considerably – plus more shows are constructed as a “ten hour movie” which changes the whole criteria for what a TV show fundamentally *is*). I probably should write a much longer piece on this so it makes sense, though…