Earlier this month, Amazon released season two of “The Tick”—the delightful superhero spoof we need amidst today’s surfeit of comic book adaptations and their endless advertising barrages. If you want to laugh about our glut of superhero shows and movies, “The Tick” is for you.
The title character is a big blue superhero with mysterious memory loss, a sense of destiny, and a penchant for off-kilter heroic patter (“the mystery of me is an onion with many leaves”). Played with earnest, bombastic perfection by Peter Serafinowicz, the Tick doesn’t know much, but he knows heroes, villains, and dramatic narrative: “Destiny is doing the folding, and we are her origami swans.” The Tick’s cognitive deficits are compensated for by sidekick Arthur (Griffin Newman), a scrawny, traumatized accountant with a high-tech flying suit the Tick looted from bad guys at the start of the series.
Having vanquished villains and established themselves as heroes in season one, the Tick and Arthur are now confronted by superhero bureaucracy in the form of A.E.G.I.S. This is a funhouse version of comic book agencies such as Marvel’s S.H.I.EL.D. It seeks to assess, assist, and monitor superheroes, who also get a nice lounge with free Wi-Fi and delectable pastries.
This turn to the government creates tension between the protagonists. While the Tick breaks testing machines and chafes at inaction and filling out forms, Arthur has no powers without his suit (which he can’t entirely control) other than a knack for paperwork, but he is awed at being part of A.E.G.I.S. The Tick, despite his childlike excitement and enthusiasm for almost everything new, meets agents and heroes as colleagues, while Arthur struggles to keep his fanboy impulses under control.
The new characters at A.E.G.I.S. join a familiar supporting cast, from Arthur’s family to the vigilante Overkill, who is despondent that he can no longer live up to his name because the Tick made him promise to stop killing people (“If Overkill can’t kill people, then he’s over, man”). Superian—a discount Superman—also returns, suffering from social media-induced depression and angry at his cable news critics.
As for the dark side, season one’s villain, the Terror, is on ice for season two. This sidelines a truly great bad guy, but it is a pleasing contrast to the usual practice of supervillain catch-and-release—some comic book asylums might as well have revolving doors. However, the Terror’s “human Tesla coil” henchwoman Miss Lint returns, and new villains rise.
The stage is set for drama, comedy, heroes, villains ,and some surprisingly cute moments with lobsters. Standard tropes are mined for laughs, such as when Arthur infiltrates an underground gambling den—instead of glamour and glitz, there is just a bumbling accountant trying to be suave.
Secret identities are a difficulty. The Tick doesn’t have an alternate identity, and Arthur’s is a little too obvious, which leads to him losing his job. Per his boss: “We’re simply not insured for your kind of hobby.” Arthur may be inept at having a secret identity, but other characters can manage it, so the second half of the season indulges in a game of masks, as secret identities and superpowers are revealed all over the place. It’s a bit silly, which is the point.
Yet perhaps because the characters live in an absurd world, playing them earnestly gives them pathos beyond that of standard comic book fodder. For a superhero comedy, “The Tick” is surprisingly character-driven. Perhaps not having enormous sums of money to spend on CGI forced the show to do a better job of character development. This is why, in a genre where almost anything can be undone and even death is rarely permanent, “The Tick” still manages to feel like it has real stakes, in contrast to Marvel, which killed off half of its heroes without anyone caring.
Although the villains are often cartoonish, season two closes with a suggestion that some of them had a point— perhaps an alien superhero is not the savior humanity needs, especially if that leaves mankind a superhuman mental breakdown away from extinction.
The new season of “The Tick” is easy viewing, with 10 episodes at about 25 minutes each. The show has also toned down the profanity and violence from the first season, dropping from a TV-MA rating to TV-14, putting it on par with most of the material it is parodying.
But “The Tick” is more fun than the big-screen, big-budget spectacles it satirizes. It works to get details right, from the Tick’s emotive antennae to a cola commercial in the background. It provides laughs, and it uses the all-too-human weaknesses of its characters (including the superhuman ones) to craft better dramatic narratives than are found in the explosion extravaganzas ruling the box office.