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When destiny calls, ‘The Tick’ answers

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New Amazon series revives beloved cult superhero

One of recent pop culture’s weirder superheroes has brought his nigh-invulnerability and floridly non-sequitur analogies to Amazon. The first six episodes of “The Tick” dropped on Amazon on Aug. 25; the second part of this first season is set to drop sometime in 2018.

Full disclosure: I have loved every iteration of “The Tick.” I loved Ben Edlund's original comic books. I loved Fox's animated series from the mid-1990s and I loved the Patrick Warburton-starring live-action offering from the early aughts.

So yeah – you could say that I’m a fan.

As you might imagine, I was delighted when I first heard that the character would once again have a chance to return to the airwaves. I was doubly delighted to discover that creator Ben Edlund was still very much involved in the process.

And the pilot – which aired as part of Amazon’s pilot season programming back in the late summer of 2016 – did not disappoint.

“The Tick” starts from a bit of a different place than in the previous iterations. Arthur (Griffin Newman) is a twitchy young man obsessed with tracking down The Terror (Jackie Earle Haley), the supervillain responsible for killing Arthur's father in front of him. The problem is that the villain is dead - killed by the hero Superian. Or is he?

Arthur's obsession leads him to a shadowy henchman-infested warehouse, which is where he encounters the bright-blue lunatic that is The Tick (Peter Serafinowicz), who immediately and irrationally decides that Arthur will be his superheroic sidekick.

The pilot - penned by Edlund and directed by Wally Pfister - struggled at times to marry the bright madness of the Tick with an altogether grittier world, but hit far more often than it missed. But could the subsequent episodes live up to the frantic blend of silly superheroics and darker, sharper themes?

Actually yes, as it turns out. They even upped the hit rate.

Despite The Tick being the titular character, “The Tick” is really about Arthur struggling to deal with the tragedies of his past while also maintaining his determination to show the world that he is right, that The Terror is still alive and planning something big. The Tick is just a delightfully distractable distraction – he even spends a stretch or two serving as almost a blue herring in relation to the overarching storyline.

The development of Arthur’s relationships – with The Tick, yes, but also with his sister Dot (Valorie Curry) and with others in his smallish orbit – as well as the dynamic established with the superpowered figures with whom he’s thrown into contact, figures like the villainous Ms. Lint (Yara Martinez), the bloodthirsty vigilante Overkill (Scott Speiser) and the Egypt-obsessed crime boss Ramses IV (Michael Cervivis).

The story follows Arthur as his understanding of the Terror conspiracy deepens and endangers him more and more. The Tick’s efforts at partnership are frustrating in their nonsensicalness, while the city’s villains are all looking to take him out of commission (though not all for the same reasons).

The sixth episode ends in a suitably superheroic cliffhanger, with a variety of dangling loose ends simply begging to be tied up when the season’s second half lands.

I had my doubts about Serafinowicz as The Tick, but he has turned out to be an inspired choice. There’s an air of glittering insanity about him, a brightness that beautifully informs the sort of charming thick-headedness and absurd metaphors that embody the character. It’s a joyful performance. Meanwhile, Newman serves as the quiet, twitchy soul of the show, offering up an oddly grounded look at how insane being the Everyman in a world of superheroes might actually be. He’s wrung out and damp and almost constantly confused by his new situation.

Both men lean into the lush weirdness of the dialogue, establishing a chemistry that offers its own platonic take on the classic “will-they-won’t-they” trope. They’re great together.

The supporting cast is excellent as well. Playing it straight isn’t easy when working with a premise like this one, but Curry does a great job doing just that. Martinez intimidates while also finding moments to invite pity; she’s fun to watch. Ditto Speiser and Cervivis – both fully embrace the discordant harmony of this strange, strange show. And Haley is awesome when he appears as The Terror, filling the show’s regular flashbacks with a straightforward menace that is rendered hilarious by its casual nature.

The show is funny, with clever dialogue and an entertaining subversion of superhero norms. But it also features some surprisingly well-made action sequences, which serve as a phenomenal juxtaposition against the jokier moments. Each aspect elevates the other, pushing the proceedings to greater heights.

“The Tick” isn’t for everyone, but rest assured – if it’s for you, it’s REALLY for you. Previous adaptations proved too weird for their time, but from where I’m sitting, 2017 looks like it might be just weird enough.

“Not so fast, naughty spawn. I say to you ‘Stop your evil ways. You face … The Tick.’”

-      The Tick

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