Amazon’s version of “The Tick” consciously clashes a dark, gloomy reality with a bright, blue sky way of thinking. Arthur is stuck in reality, and The Tick is trying to enlighten him. That there’s too much sourpuss Arthur is a problem in itself, but the world surrounding The Tick is often overwhelming, as well. Everything is gritty: the streets The Tick patrols, the alleys he wanders down, the convenience stores he protects; they’re all dirty. The design is meant to ground a cartoonish story in reality; to sharpen the contrast between The Tick’s absurd existence in a world viewers will recognize.
That tone works when The Tick is around, but it doesn’t for everyone else. Watching Arthur in peril feels over-emphasized, when we know he’s going to be OK. Other fights are too bloody to be taken lightly or too silly to exist in this world. Arthur is angry at the universe for inflicting injustice upon him. His dad, his heroes, his mind, they’re all taken away. That anger breeds contempt, which — even with the original comics creator Ben Edlund in charge — infects the soul of the series.
(It’s also worth noting that every single female character in “The Tick” is either evil or an obstacle for Arthur to overcome: Dot is constantly yelling at him — the naysayer to be proven wrong — and she also has an illegal side gig going on. Ms. Lint, the primary onscreen antagonist, was The Terror’s right-hand, and she’s constantly zapping Arthur and The Tick with her electric shocks. Even smaller characters, like a random army general or Arthur’s mom, are cast in a negative light. It helps that Dot and Ms. Lint are more complicated than the characteristics demanded by the plot, but only slightly.)
“The Tick” remains a comedy, despite an infringing sense of hostility. The first live-action version of “The Tick,” which aired for one glorious season in 2001, understood what it was (even if it was slightly inferior to the ’90s animated series). The Fox comedy knew how to deftly blend its aesthetics with its hero’s persona because it knew The Tick was the show’s hero. Arthur was always the protagonist, but — like the wings he can barely use — he was kind of just along for the ride, as was the audience.
The new version fakes The Tick’s perspective with some random voiceover introducing a few episodes, but this is Arthur’s story. That he’s still resisting The Tick’s charms, his winsome spirit, and his wholesome encouragement might speak to viewers’ oh-so-stark reality, where trust is hard to come by, but such bitter skepticism doesn’t belong in this story.
“The Tick” needs to give into The Tick if it ever hopes to be as enlightening and entertaining as its past iterations. After all, if you can’t trust a puppy dog, what’s the point of living?
“The Tick” Season 1 is streaming now on Amazon Prime.