The Tick returns with a disappointing, overstretched climax: Review
The Tick debuted on Amazon last August (after an earlier pilot premiere) with six very fun episodes of superpowered comedy. The show returns Friday, Feb. 23 with six more episodes that finish off the first season. The new episodes are, disappointingly, just okay.
Flightsuited Arthur (Griffin Newman) and the walking blue bicep known only as The Tick (Peter Serafinowicz) are continuing their quest to take down The Terror (Jackie Earle Haley), a bad guy who loves mass murder and drum solos. The Tick left off with Arthur coming face-to-face with The Terror, who killed his father (and a whole generation of heroes.) The stage was set for a funny-weird showdown. But the new batch of episodes just keeps on setting that stage, punting the good stuff toward an already-ordered second season.
I’m not sure what went wrong here. The characters are strong. Serafinowicz is a chipper presence, with a trailer voice that makes every line pop. Newman makes Arthur an endearingly frustrated hero. Arthur’s sister Dot (Valorie Curry) is every scene’s fifth wheel, but these episodes pair her up with Scott Speiser’s Overkill, a jokily homicidal antihero who’s even funnier now that we’ve all winced through Marvel’s The Punisher.
Overkill’s partner is a robotic vessel named Dangerboat, who seems to be in love with Arthur. It’s almost a lame gay panic joke, but Dangerboat’s voiced by the great Alan Tudyk, who gives the lovedrunk super-ship a forlorn good humor. And the second half of Tick season 1 spends a lot more time with Superian, the very super man played by Brendan Hines. Hines brings something new to the most old-fashioned idea of a superhero: An aloof, inhuman quality, like he’s using X-Ray vision to see when our hearts will stop.
And the best character might be Midnight, a heroic dog voiced by Townsen Coleman, who’s embarking on a new career as a memoirist. Typical line: “I’m just a simple plain-talking German Shepherd who can start fires with his mind, but it humbles me to know that so many good people, like yourself, find meaning in my secular journey.” I had to write out that whole quote, because it’s the best sentence anyone’s said on television in 2018.
So The Tick is fun, endearingly overpopulated. Throughout the first half of the season, there was a background sight gag about a poor naked fellow (Ryan Woodle) growing to skyscraper size. The media called him the Very Large Man, or “VLM” for short. It was the sort of ambient goof that made The Tick‘s world feel vibrant, a superverse where anything has been happening for over a century.
But the new episodes reveal a crucial mistake. The VLM is a Very Large Plot Point, because everything is connected. “Maybe all this is happening for a reason!” says Arthur. “Maybe destiny is real!”
You say destiny, I say Origin Story. And these episodes make it clear that the whole first season is Arthur’s origin story, the most familiar narrative rails in the superhero genre. The Tick is a riff on the form, but it eventually just starts following the rules, until you feel you’re watching a slightly weirder (and longer) Marvel Cinematic climax. (And not even weirder, really: The bar for final-act apocalyptic strangeness was raised by the vaguely patricidal Thor: Ragnaraok and the specifically patricidal Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.)
Once you figure out where the show’s going, too many plot turns feel like stalling tactics. People get captured and then they escape. Episodes begin with people recapping the plot, and end on cliffhangers that get swiftly resolved. At one point, The Terror asks a minion “How goes Phase 2?”, the ugliest four words in the serialized handbook. There’s a new character, a mad doctor named Karamazov (John Pirkis), who spends one whole episode giving longwinded exposition about The Big Bad Plan. It’s almost a joke about long-winded exposition, but the better joke would’ve been anything funny.
It’s a strange subgenre of television: The season that feels like a Very Long Movie. I know this is part of the point of serialized storytelling, that the creators of The Tick have composed all twelve episodes as one ongoing story. Done well, it can be addictive. But it can also create an odd feeling, halfway between what television used to be and what movies still are. There’s no status quo, but there is repetition. The Tick doesn’t begin every episode starting a new adventure with Arthur, the basic table-setting sequence from every episode of the delightful old Tick cartoon. But a few key scenes seem to repeat endlessly: Overkill plans an infiltration, Arthur tells Dot not to get involved, The Terror says that everything is going according to plan, brief shot of the Very Large Man to remind you that he’s important.
When The Tick is funny, it can be very funny. I love Midnight and Dangerboat, would happily watch a whole Frank Miller parody starring Overkill, and could listen to Peter Serafinowicz read the phone book and explain how every number symbolizes destiny. And Jackie Earle Haley is having a lot of fun as the local maniac. Aware of supervillain clichés, he refuses to hold a Blofeldian cat in his lap. Instead, he takes a picture of himself petting an adorable little pig, then asks: “Is it the good kind of bad or the bad kind of bad?”
Look, I support any show where a robot wears a fedora and a trench coat. And the finale ends with a couple unsettling ideas that could power a bolder season 2. An origin story is always less fun than the story that comes next, so I’ll look forward to more Tick. But the second half of season 1 is familiar, careful, unadventurous: The bad kind of good. B-