Ben Edlund can’t seem to sit still. He keeps inching his director’s chair toward the monitors, gazing at the action on screen, leaning so far forward he could teeter over at any second.
You can’t blame the 48-year-old for being psyched. Today he’s on the Staten Island set of Amazon’s The Tick, the long-awaited small-screen return of the iconic superhero he created as a high schooler in the ’80s. This time, British comedian Peter Serafinowicz plays the not-quite-human being in the cobalt blue suit — and on this sunny April afternoon, he’s about to knock out a baddie in true spec-Tick-ular style. Spotting his enemy scampering away, he throws a tire at him and… “Steeeee-rike!” he exclaims. It’s a hit for the Tick!
And a hit with Edlund, who chuckles appreciatively at Serafinowicz’s booming ad-libbed victory cry. “The majority of my life by far has been inhabited by this creation,” he marvels. “It’s strange and cool and very exciting.”
Edlund may be thrilled, but taking the Tick back to TV wasn’t easy. It’s been more than a decade since fans of his comic-book character with a nonsensical catchphrase (“Spooooooon!”) and an equally nonsensical origin story (to be fair, he can’t remember it properly) saw him on Fox’s short-lived series starring Patrick Warburton. That 2001 iteration of The Tick was quickly axed due to low ratings, but later grew into a cult favorite.
Since then, fans have pushed for a comeback by repeatedly bringing it up to Edlund and the original producers of the show. One of them, Barry Josephson (Bones), approached Edlund in late 2013 about seriously considering another Tick. “I said, ‘I know so much time has passed, but I always feel bad that we didn’t get the best shot at the show,'” recalls Josephson, who is now an EP on the Amazon series. “‘What if we tried again?'” Luckily, Edlund, who had been writing for shows like Supernatural in the interim, had also been thinking of redoing the story. It felt like the right time to spoof superheroes again: Back in 2001, the Marvel Cinematic Universe hadn’t yet commenced, Smallville had just begun airing, and the Tobey Maguire-fronted Spider-Man wouldn’t swing into theaters for another year. Now super-films dominate the box office, caped crossovers happen nearly every TV season, and we’re on our third Spider-Man star. In other words, there’s a lot more material to mine and to mock — with love, of course.
In July 2014, the pair began pitching a new Tick, one that adopts a heavier tone to mimic today’s darker superhero fare. For this updated version, Edlund centered the story on Arthur (Griffin Newman), the Tick’s nebbish conspiracy-theorist-with-a-tragic-past sidekick, who’s learning to come into his own as a spandex-clad savior of the City. “I wanted to make a show about the phenomenon of superheroes,” Edlund explains, adding that he expanded the role of Arthur’s sister Dot (Valorie Curry) to help ground Arthur’s journey. “Arthur has a hero’s quest, and the Tick is his hero life coach.” A hero life coach who’s more dangerous than ever: “This Tick is a little crazier than the other Ticks we’ve seen,” says EP David Fury, a Lost and Buffy the Vampire Slayer alum whom Edlund worked with on Angel. “We realized early on that we couldn’t just do a straight comedy the way the old series was. We needed to ground it in real stakes. People get hurt. There’s blood on this show.”
Blood — and plenty of comedic banter in Edlund’s signature tongue-twisty dialogue. “His sentences take detours, like a Möbius strip,” Serafinowicz says. “I get to do these little speechy bits, and they’re a pleasure to recite.”
He’ll have a lot more to say if Edlund has his way. The creator already has a five-year plan for the series, with enough characters to populate several seasons’ worth of stories. “Instead of a Marvel universe,” Fury says, “we’ll have an Edlund universe.”
Well, if that does happen, might we suggest a steadier director’s chair?
The Tick, which is headed to San Diego Comic-Con for a panel, debuts Aug. 25 on Amazon.