Probably the worst thing to come out of Christopher Nolan’s otherwise excellent Dark Knight trilogy, is the number of imitators that came out of Hollywood after. Too many Hollywood producers took one look at Nolan’s success and thought “hey, that’s what audiences want, grim and gritty superheroes!” That’s where we got the dour, humorless “Man of Steel” and “Batman Vs. Superman”, and unfortunately that’s also where a lot of the inspiration comes from for the latest attempt at a live action version of The Tick.
Created in 1986 by then 18-year-old cartoonist Ben Edlund, the Tick comic book was an often hilarious send-up of the superhero genre, with its escaped mental patient hero leaping around the city with his nebbish sidekick Arthur. The comic’s success led to the equally hilarious Saturday morning cartoon show which ran from 1994 to 1997. Then in 2001, Fox tried to recreate the cartoon’s success with a live-action series. The casting was pitch-perfect, with Seinfeld alum Patrick Warburton donning the blue antennas with David Burke as sidekick Arthur. Joined by veteran character actors Liz Vassey as American Maid and Nestor Carbonell as Batmanuel (a Latino version of the cartoon’s Die Fliedermaus), the series avoided showing very much actual superheroing and instead often focused on the group bantering back and forth in coffee shops and on rooftops. In that way it was far closer in tone to Seinfeld than it was to Batman. As funny as it was, the show was probably too weird for its own good and it barely lasted through half a season.
Hop forward in time to 2016, and Amazon has given the live action route another try with one of their offerings during their “Pilot Season” in which they produce a single episode of a show and let viewers vote on if they want to see more. After watching the first 30 minute episode, I’m not very hopeful we’ll get to see anymore. It’s not that the pilot is terrible; It’s not. In fact the production value is fairly high for a 30 minute sitcom with some decent special effects. Ben Edlund is back onboard as executive producer, and the pilot is directed by Christopher Nolan’s cinematographer Wally Pfister. Also casting Peter “I was the voice of Darth Maul” Serafinowicz as the Tick turns out to be another bit of inspired casting. Serafinowicz nails the Tick’s bombastic personality perfectly. The real problem is probably the worst sin a sitcom can suffer from: Namely, I didn’t laugh. Not once.
The main focus of the episode is on Arthur (Griffin Newman) who, instead of being a nerdy accountant as he was portrayed in earlier versions, is an obsessive-compulsive conspiracy theorist out to prove that the criminal mastermind known as “The Terror” (Jackie Earle Haley) is still alive. As a kid, Arthur witnessed his father getting crushed to death by a downed aircraft belonging to the superhero team The Flag Five during a battle with The Terror. Immediately after the crash, the terrified Arthur catches The Terror’s eye, who taunts him for a moment before returning to battle. The image ends up on the cover of Time magazine and for the rest of his life Arthur is haunted by this moment.
That dark, sad tone is felt throughout the pilot, and that’s the problem. The Tick is supposed to be a comedy, but it feels too serious for its own good. Even revamping the concept as a dark comedy would be acceptable, but there just aren’t any laughs to be found here. Serafinowicz has a few amusing, Tick-worthy lines (“I’m over here answering our destiny. Come on over. It’s good. It’s warm. It’s like the inside of bread.”). But the overall tone is so gloomy it’s difficult to do much more than crack a smile. There’s already even a theory online that this version of the Tick might just be Tyler Durdenesque delusion who only exists in Arthur’s head. I really hope this isn’t the case. It’s an obvious twist that’s been done to death. It’s clear that Ben Edlund wants to try something different here, but if the scripts don’t get funnier, I’m not very hopeful for this Tick’s future.