Tick... Tick... Boom?
Is America ready for a sitcom about a crime-fighting critter who'd rather shoot the breeze than chase crooks? The answer to that will determine whether THE TICK takes flight or gets squashed
The Tick (2001)
- TV Show
Fox, 8:30-9 p.m.
Debuts November 1
On a toasty August afternoon in southwestern Oregon, dozens of miles down a winding mountain road, well past Hellgate Canyon and Hog Creek, Patrick Warburton, 36, gazes across the Rogue River, clutching his fly-fishing rod. ”You want to do this either at the beginning of the day or the end of the day,” says the unshaven 6’3”, 240-pound actor, who owns a home just a hop, skip, and a bungee jump from here. ”And you’re supposed to do it when it’s calm and shady. But here we are — it’s the middle of the day, the sun is beating down, and the wind is blowing. The odds are stacked against us. We’d be heroes if we caught a fish right now.” He adjusts his hat and turns to his companion. ”So let’s be heroes.”
Challenging the laws of Mother Nature? That’s bold. Starring as a blue bug-suited crime-fighting freak in a network series to be pitted against the archest of all Nielsen enemies, Survivor? Now, that’s downright lunacy. Brace yourselves, citizens of the TV universe, because a most bizarro comedy — and one of the most intriguing gambles of the fall schedule — is crash-landing on a tube near you. Based on Ben Edlund’s satirical comic-book series and the subsequent Comedy Central cartoon, Fox’s The Tick unravels the tales of a man-childish superdude who speaks in absurd metaphors (”Life is your chance, Arthur! Grab it! Squeeze the milk of life into your dirty glass and drink it warm!”) while lumbering around as protector of The City. He’s aided in his mission improbable by some not-ready-for-prime-time crusaders — nerdy accountant-turned-moth-man Arthur, neurotic single babe Captain Liberty, and seedy-suave Bat Manuel, who’s got a codpiece that just won’t quit. Instead of saving the world, though, these guys spend most of their time battling dating woes, job beefs, who-AM-I identity crises — and one another. It’s as if someone broke into the Hall of Justice and spiked the watercooler with idiot juice.
”There was a certain [sense of] ‘Will anybody watch this? Is it too obscure?’ ” admits Fox exec VP of programming David Nevins. ”But this is why they pay you — to take big risks in comedy. Weird is sometimes good. What makes Malcolm in the Middle great, what makes The Simpsons great, and what I think The Tick shares, is specificity of weirdness.” Or to put it even more specifically: ”We’re out on a limb on this thing,” says Edlund, who joined forces with director Barry Sonnenfeld (Men in Black, Get Shorty) to adapt the show. ”I wouldn’t really want to be elsewhere. Who knows what’s going to happen? On one hand, this has dismal obscure failure written on it because of its bravery and oddness. On the other hand, it could be a phenomenon. Phenomena are like that. They’re odd. They make a break in the consciousness of the public: ‘Wow, we never thought about that.’ Or we could be” — he clears his throat — ”a yard-sale item in the pop-culture backyard.”
Fair to say, the transformation of The Tick into a prime-time series was not as simple as Clark Kent ducking into a phone booth and emerging as cape-flapping Superman. Former NBC exec Flody Suarez had been trying since 1996 to develop a live-action version of The Tick as a companion sitcom to 3rd Rock From the Sun. ”Every year, I got politely turned down,” he says. ”They scratched their heads, looked at me like I was crazy, and said, ‘Okay…no.’ ” When he left the network in 1999 to join Sonnenfeld’s production company, they acquired the rights (which were tied up in the animated version and a proposed feature) and sold Fox on the concept. Still, complex legal issues hindered the use of certain characters from the cartoon version, so Edlund wound up having to create new ones. The network and producers also haggled over creative issues (e.g., balancing the Seinfeld-like comedy and Star Trek-like fantasy elements) and finances (the show is budgeted at $1.4 million per episode, which ranks it as one of the more costly new comedies). ”It’s the hurdle of going from an animated series,” says Nevins, ”where you can do anything and there are no limits, to a live-action show, where you have the laws of gravity and physics at work, where special effects and flying and elaborate costumes all cost money.” Sums up Edlund: ”One of the reasons you don’t see a lot of shows like The Tick on the air is because it’s wicked hard [to do]…. Every part of this was a war and a struggle.”
The Tick (2001)