Big, colorful and goofy, “The Tick” returns at a more hospitable place and time – on a streaming service (Amazon) that doesn’t mention ratings, at a moment when pop culture is already crawling with superheroes. That could make the third time the charm for Ben Edlund’s comic-book spoof, which is fun, even if it doesn’t quite get under your skin.
Previously turned into a short-lived 2001 Fox series starring Patrick Warburton (who gets a producer credit here), “The Tick” probably fared best TV-wise in animation, with a 1990s Fox kids show that drew its share of grown-up fanboys amused by an oblivious hero whose battle cry (“Spoon!”) was delightfully nonsensical.
The latest version adopts a slightly darker tone and employs a serialized format, with cliffhanger endings for most of the half-hour episodes.
Still, the result is largely the same, with the Tick (Peter Serafinowicz) – a hero with more brawn than brains – splashing into the life of neurotic accountant Arthur (Griffin Newman), a young Woody Allen-type who the nigh-invincible blue guy is determined to turn into his sidekick. “When destiny speaks, she speaks to me,” the Tick proclaims, with Dudley Do-Right-type earnestness.
Liberated by the format, Edlund weaves more backstory into this incarnation. Arthur is obsessed with the Terror (Jackie Earle Haley), a master villain, long presumed dead, who was responsible for his father’s death. Other heroes, meanwhile – bearing a more-than-passing resemblance to various DC staples – keep popping up, like the murderous vigilante Overkill (Scott Speiser) and the strange caped visitor Superian (Brendan Hines), who soars around righting wrongs.
There’s obviously ample affection for the comics in Edlund’s world – a trait common to any good parody – but the approach is broad enough that one needn’t be steeped in superhero minutia to appreciate the gags, though that surely helps. While the cast is quite good, it’s no insult to say Serafinowicz can’t match Warburton, who seemed so perfectly tailored to the cartoonish role it was as if someone made him in a lab for it.
The main drawback, and it’s a minor one, is that “The Tick” stays immersed in Arthur’s malaise – the title notwithstanding, he’s really the centerpiece – at the expense of its namesake, who, unlike most heroes, doesn’t bother with the whole secret-identity thing and thus never escapes his colorful outfit. (The Tick’s twitchy antennae, which basically reflect his mood, remain a nifty touch.)
Earlier incarnations of “The Tick” always felt like a niche commodity, which perhaps foremost means that it has found the right home – playing on a service content to reach a narrow but avid constituency while trading off the equity in the name.
By that measure, even if this isn’t necessarily the strongest “Tick,” the muscle-bound hero looks well positioned to finally fulfill his destiny.
“The Tick” premieres Aug. 25 on Amazon.