[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for the ending of “The Tick” Season 1.]
Woe to the next showrunner who triumphantly stands before a group of TV writers and proclaims their series to be more like a “[insert number here]-hour movie.” That formulation has plagued many shows over the past decade, even if there’s not always a one-to-one correlation between that approach and the quality of a show overall.
Ben Edlund, creator of The Tick and the man behind a third TV version of the superhero he brought to life on his comic’s pages, may not have conceived of the most recent Amazon season as a movie in multiple parts. But the first half of the season, released last August, mostly played out like one. Rejecting a lot of the episode-by-episode beats of a more traditional TV show, the result was a half-season of a comedy in search of an anchor.
As Ben Travers pointed out in his review of Part One of Season 1, “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 tone works when The Tick is around, but it doesn’t for everyone else.”
In other words, it was plagued by many of the problems that tone-challenged origin stories often fall prey to, particularly the lack of any sense of real peril when the story’s central characters are in danger (“Watching Arthur in peril feels over-emphasized, when we know he’s going to be OK,” Travers also wrote). Peter Serafinowicz and Griffin Newman both embodied the strongest sides of The Tick and Arthur Everest, but the world around them felt like it was in a feature-length holding pattern until the show found its core.
The second half of the season, released Friday on Amazon, is far closer to a version of “The Tick” that feels sustainable in the long run. On top of that, it’s a funnier, freer, more enjoyable viewing experience. Beginning around Episode 8, The Tick’s meandering search for his origin story gets focused in ways that harness Serafinowicz’s specific charms. Arthur (Griffin Newman) isn’t just a perfunctory sidekick; he’s someone who is taking on more heroic role at his own pace, hand tasers and all. And Ms. Lint establishes herself as a powerful, imposing villain in her own right, taking charge of her own future rather than bearing the brunt of a half-dozen static cling jokes.
The best development in the second half of the season is that, with its central players nailed down, the show really gets a chance to take each individual episode and dig into a side character in this unapologetically weird world. Having already made K-2SO the breakout character from “Rogue One,” Alan Tudyk is back with another transcendent voice performance as Dangerboat, the sentient high-tech water HQ that has some feelings of his own.
Then there’s Midnight, a talking dog and veteran of the Flag Five superteam murdered at the hands of The Terror, the show’s big bad. Whether at a book signing, or in the season finale farewell after The Terror’s been vanquished — for now — there are few bigger laughs on this show than seeing a dog with the straightforward confidence to say something like, “Way to go, son. Shake.” (In an added bit of self-referential fun, Midnight is voiced by Townsend Coleman, who played the cartoon version of “The Tick” in the mid-90s.)
Serafinowicz’s voiceover at the beginning of each episode gets sharper and less goofy when what The Tick is saying up top really ties into the 20+ minutes that follow. It’s easy to poke fun at destiny as a motivating factor for any hero, but once the show really hones in on what these characters are meant to do, those parts don’t seem as much like a lark anymore.
This was always a show that was going to need a certain amount of time to calibrate a very specific comedic sensibility. It’s the kind of series that introduces characters like Superian and Tinfoil Kevin in one-dimensional initial jabs. It needs that time to add other layers to characters that can be easily described by a single adjective. Who knew Tinfoil Kevin could be such a gentle caretaker (and make a mean omelette in the process)? Who’d have thought that the strong-jawed Superman stand-in could also be great at tipsy pratfalls?
The character that probably benefits the most from the second half of the season is Overkill. We get an extra helping of his backstory as Straight Shooter, his past romantic history with Miss Lint, and his very respectful treatment of women in a professional context. We also get a surprisingly deep performance from Scott Speiser that doesn’t rely on brute force or dumb-jockery alone. Pairing him off with Dot (Valorie Curry) could easily have seemed like a relationship of convenience. Having the two learn from each other without falling right into each other’s arms is another helpful by-product of the second half’s more TV-like approach.
The Tick isn’t immune from some of the superhero movie expectations. There’s the climactic city-endangering moment and the inevitability that The Terror is almost certainly going to escape from his jail cell (something that Dot even points out herself). But how great is that Walter moment! Seeing that Arthur’s stepfather is secretly a would-be dormant assassin not only reframes the character, it made Françoise Chau’s earlier performance make sense. Walter always seem stilted and trying too hard by half in those overly talkative moments earlier in the season. (The second half also finds a fun way to cut through that by relegating his ambling conversation habits to an answering machine.) If that sense of uneasiness is part of a facade, hiding a cooler, calmer Walter to discover in Season 2, sign us up.
Now that the convoluted business with bismuth and Dr. Karamazov is largely contained, there’s room for Season 2 to focus less on the overarching, broad criminal conspiracies and more on the kind of structure that gave us that incredible Jackie Earl Haley “Whiplash” moment. (At the very least, the time between seasons will give Haley some time to rest his vocal cords while throwing in some practice Purdie Shuffles.)
With so many of these crazy side characters to populate this world, of which Edlund and company have surely only scratched the surface, any chance to incorporate more of them instead of merely relying on one problem to sidetrack the central group is what the show has proven it already does better. After all, now that the show has shrunken down the Very Large Man in the room, it only seems right that “The Tick” would thrive by sticking to the small stuff.
“The Tick” Season 1 is currently available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.