When I think of my all-time favorite cartoon series, I think of The Simpsons, I think of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and I think of a Fox Kids cartoon from the ’90s called The Tick. There was a brief attempt 18 years ago to revive it as a live-action series starring Patrick Warburton, but despite best intentions, that show was never very good. However, in the past few years, Amazon has reimagined The Tick as series geared towards adults, and while the initial season was lacking much of the magic of the original cartoon, the show quickly improved. I recently watched the final episode (The Tick has sadly been cancelled) and was blown away by the finale. Hence, this tribute.
Not For Kids
If you’re familiar with the cartoon from the nineties and are thinking that this is something you can enjoy with your kids, then think again. Most episodes feature multiple F-bombs, and you can absolutely expect blood from time to time, even if that blood is used for comedic hyperbole.
While the first season was decent, the second season of The Tick is where things really picked up. What held the show in the interim while the script got its figurative feet under it was its characters.
A season one standout was The Terror, a nonagenarian supervillain played by Jackie Earle Haley. Infamous for killing the superhero team known as the Flag Five twenty years ago using weaponized syphilis, The Terror’s re-emergence is central to the first season, as is his history with The Tick’s sidekick Arthur. In this role, Jackie Earle Haley shows that he can do ridiculous superhero satire as well as he can do gritty superhero beatdowns. He made an excellent Rorschach, and he makes an excellent Terror.
Probably my favorite character on the show is Danger Boat, voiced by the inimitable Alan Tudyk. Danger Boat is… a boat. And Alan Tudyk voices its AI. Probably my favorite moment in the first season comes when Danger Boat pontificates about his identity issues and proceeds to make Arthur hilariously uncomfortable.
Superion is a Superman stand-in who appeared in the comic books but was only briefly seen in the nineties cartoon series. He is a contrast to all the ridiculous parodies of superheroes in that he has actual superpowers. His best moments come in the second season when he begins questioning his place in the world, grows a beard, ditches his cape in favor of flannel, and takes on Arthur as his unwitting therapist.
Last, but not least, The Tick. While Townsend Coleman will always be the “real” Tick to me, Peter Serafinowicz did a far better job than I’d have ever anticipated. Patrick Warburton from the 2001 live-action The Tick might have had the muscle mass to play the character, but he didn’t have the personality and the voice down nearly as well as Peter Serafinowicz, who captures The Tick’s earnest yet clueless bellowing beautifully, and functions as the perfect anchor to the series, which absolutely would not have been the same without him.
While overall, I did love The Tick, I’ll be the first to admit that during the first season, it hadn’t yet hit its stride. But then again, Star Trek: The Next Generation didn’t hit its stride until season four. The villain Ramses IV was heartbreakingly mediocre, and season one Miss Lint wasn’t great outside of the excellent joke that is her name.
Yet even the first season had its moments. It took me a while to warm up to the retcon that was Arthur’s sister Dot being more than she was in the old cartoon, but in the end, it fit. And Arthur’s deep neurosis, while perhaps a bit too strong of a focus initially, worked well. Best of all, season one included a guest voice-over by the best possible voice. Townsend Coleman himself, the original voice of The Tick, voices the canine known as Midnight, the sidekick dog of the original Flag Five.
Season one’s subplot with the VLM, a naked behemoth of a man, also reminds me very much of the original cartoon’s third episode, “The Tick vs Dinosaur Neil,” wherein Dr. Think tries to persuade the rampaging Dinosaur Neil to don what Dr. Think has declared THE LARGEST PAIR OF PANTS IN DE VORLD!
Season Two of The Tick is where the series gets even better. We meet a new millennial sidekick known as Edgelord, whose powers include being a digital native and appearing provocative. Lobstercules is a massive humanoid lobster villain with might to rival The Tick’s (and a secret). We’re also introduced to the hero Sage, whose magical powers come from his third nipple.
There were certainly a sizable number of references to my beloved cartoon from decades ago, especially in the final episode, but I can’t help but wish they’d gone a bit further. I’d have loved to see The Civic Minded Five, a Fantastic Four parody consisting of the Four-Legged Man, Jungle Janet, Carpeted Man, Captain Mucilage, and Feral Boy. I’d have loved to see Speak, the capybara Tick thinks is a dog and adopts as a pet. And I’d have loved to see the side plot in which Arthur takes care of his own business, leaving Tick lonely and prompting him to create a new sidekick from a 2×4 whom he names Little Wooden Boy.
I loved the final episode of season two so much that I simply must discuss it. And so if you haven’t yet seen it, you may want to skip this final section, as spoilers follow.
Of course, some of this is fairly subtle, and so it’s entirely possible that even if you have seen the episode, you might have missed it. For example, all that love versus fear talk from The Tick sounded familiar too me, and it wasn’t until later that I realized that it was drawn straight from Donnie Darko. (video clip)
My favorite callback to the old cartoon was in the final episode when the AEGIS director was lying on a gurney and the tentacled alien appears. It’s almost incomprehensible, but it says “Thrakarzog!” When I heard that, I probably screamed in delight. Because I know Thrakarzog. I owned the Tick Versus the Uncommon Cold CD-ROM Comic Book back in the nineties, and it was so good.
Lastly, the show’s final exit, wherein The Tick shouts his battle cry: Spooon! It’s never rightly explained in the Amazon series, but fans of the original cartoon will know it well.
I’m sad that this series has been canceled. I’ll probably have to go back and rewatch parts of it.