Ben Edlund, David Fury, Barry Josephson, Wally Pfister, Barry Sonnenfeld (producers)
based on The Tick by Ben Edlund
Peter Serafinowicz, Griffin Newman, Valorie Curry, Brendan Hines, Jackie Earle Haley, Yara Martinez, Scott Speiser, Michael Cerveris, Bryan Greenberg, Alan Tudyk (cast)
August 25, 2017 (US)
Hey. Heyyy. Remember that feeling when you’ve just found something new? That smooth, solid feeling, when something new is good? It suits you; it makes you feel at home. It answers all the questions you didn’t know you had. And you only just found it, so you can’t see everything it’s missing yet?
That’s a good feeling. I’m having it right now. But I’ve had this feeling before.
Yesterday I watched The Tick, one point six six recurring times. There are six episodes and I watched them all, then I watched four again because I had to show my sweetheart. It’s good to share things that you like. It’s weirdly good to share things that you don’t. That’s why we watch Venture Bros, together, too. The Tick made me think of The Venture Bros. Its world building is of a very similar perspective. But what made me think of The Venture Bros the most is that The Tick let me think “At last. At last. I’m free.” Because this show actually wants me to watch it.
Hey! Heyyy. Remember how much you liked The Venture Bros? That cartoon show about two good teenaged boys whose father is a super-scientist, only sort of not, and how his real talent is for failure in a world full of supervillains and spacemen? Remember how good that felt? Remember how heavy that good feeling started to get when you began to notice how much that show hates women? How it hates them, I mean really hates them, I mean us? That’s a bad feeling. And I’m remembering it right now.
Did you know Venture Bros was inspired by The Tick? I didn’t. I couldn’t even remember why I knew the Bread Man‘s name. But there it was in the credits, Patrick Warburton, Producer. And I knew I did know it. So I looked it up, and it told me he played the Tick in 2001 and I thought “Okay, I guess that’s vaguely why.” But I liked The Tick so much I looked up Ben Edlund, the 1988 creator, and I saw on wikipedia who he’s worked with. Edlund collaborated with Ventures co-creator Hammer before he helped found the Bros; Edlund worked on the Bros, co-writing both Bud Manstrong episodes. And the Bread Man plays the voice of Brock Samson, and that is why I know his name. God, I miss enjoying Venture Bros. I still watch it when I don’t have to pay for it but it makes me feel like my breasts are smuggled contraband. Did you pack this bag yourself, madam? Has anyone else touched your luggage?
The Tick doesn’t hate women and it doesn’t include but doesn’t hate trans women (good grief, does Venture Bros hate trans women). Two of the four central roles belong to women, and while both are technical antagonists that is a circumstance; they are people with wider lives, they are given grounding scenes (haha, an accidental joke!) which serve nothing but their own stories. Miss Lint, the primary active villain of Arthur’s story, has a past and a present, both at work and at play. Her ex- provides a useful nugget of information which serves to keep the plot moving, but he’s not a narrative force to bounce her off (cough); he’s nobody in his own right. Dot, Arthur’s sister and legal caretaker, has a job and a side-hustle and a hobby and a friend. She has side-characters who belong entirely to her own section of the narrative. She is there, technically, to make sure Arthur embraces a normal life after the shock of his childhood trauma and his subsequent mental ill health. She is there, technically, to block him from entering superheroism and be a big ole buzzkill. But she’s there, textually, to live her life and try her best. She doesn’t belong to anyone. She is allowed to show the strain her responsibility bears on her, right down to the three or four inches of roots showing around her entire head, but disguised by fresh highlights at the front where they frame her face. She’s got too much to do but she is hiding it and getting by. She’s making the choices that she can. And she’s given the grace to make on-screen decisions of her own, to remain flexible and dynamic, as the plot demands that Arthur climbs over the roadblocks she set.
Venture Bros and The Tick both take superheroic and supervillainous beings for granted. They exist within a pop-contextual world. They are, or began as, or are to some extent, parody products. They are superhero-genre stories told within the meta-genre “comedy.” Ben Edlund created the Tick for a joke, and it was funny, and people liked it. Because like I said about Prophet, there are just a lot of things in our shared cultural space that we all just get because we’ve seen them–we know what superheroes are, and how they warp normality but can’t override it. We understand the shapes of the jokes without needing specifics because superheroes and superheroics have been main characters in the english language, at least, for one hundred years. Bruce Lee played a sidekick in 1967. We believed a man could fly. We all of us bought t-shirts. Superheroes are as real as they can get without stepping into our own lives, and we understand that if they did, we’d- do what? Do whatever our personal psyche told us to. Superheroes are culturally present enough that they are just a circumstance, and so are supervillains. They are this way for us, and so we can see clearly how they would be for the “us” of the stories they do exist within. They need to be treated that way, in their fiction, so that emotionally true stories can be told. Dot’s perspective is allowed to evolve because Superheroes are a circumstance, and circumstances change people. Hank and Dean Venture are two isolated kids who were born into a whole lot of adults’ bullshit; The Tick‘s Arthur saw his father crushed alive by the crashing ship of his favourite superheroes, whom he then saw mostly murdered. It just happened to him. Because, of course, it would. To someone.
Grant Morrison infamously said “nobody pumps the tires” of the Batmobile, because “It’s a fucking made-up story, you idiot.” More pertinently, these “parodic” shows are observant enough to demand a caveat: nobody pumps the tires on the Batmobile unless an unpumped tire would be funny. When I say funny, I mean tragicomic. I can’t even tell you how at home I feel in a story that takes its premise that seriously and does it while remaining so nimble. Arthur’s accidentally-imprinted supersuit has a user’s manual and an in-helmet video guide. But it’s in a language he doesn’t speak. And he looks funny trying to work the hands-free user-interface. And he’s getting flustered because he can’t speak the language and he can’t use the UI and he’s being menaced by a villain upstairs from his step-father’s birthday party. It’s funny, and it’s sympathetic, and “hahaha aww, buddy.” You want to take it away from him and do it yourself, but you can’t. Partly because you aren’t there, and partly because only he can do it. It’s his hero’s journey. The Tick tells us this with the usual narrative structure, but the Tick also tells us so with his lovely meat-gravy voice. Sometimes people say “genre-savvy” like it’s a glib thing, but I talk to people about their lives in this way too. Because the shapes of these stories are so present. You can’t be fully modern without acknowledging that modern people understand what’s happening by comparing it to film and fiction. Scream was right about that.
I don’t take meds but I want to point out that Arthur repeatedly suggests that taking his medication is an action which should deny his potential superheroism. More particularly I want to observe that the Tick, show or character, never credits this suggestion. “I have to be normal, take my meds and go to work,” Arthur will say. “Work is stupid, be a superhero!” the Tick will reply, in gist. He doesn’t mention the meds. He doesn’t ever mention the meds. Arthur does keep taking them. We actually see him, early on, take them back out of the bin. And he does keep getting mixed up in hero business. The meds are not textually oppositional to the superheroics; Arthur thinks that they are. The show wants us to know that he thinks that they are. But they’re not. Keep taking your meds. And be a hero. Not one or the other! Both.
The only negative things i have to say about The Tick is this: there is one joke, appearing three times, about the Tick’s inability to retain the name of a specific Nigerian recipe. It made me a little uncomfortable, because I was so happy to be watching a show so for-me with no lady-hating to spoil it that the scent of a let-down for anyone seemed sharp and unfair and a shame. It stands out in a script so otherwise linguistically giddy; the Tick’s monologues dance garlanded with pun and metaphor, full of anachronism but fluent in justification for whatever odd choice of terms he makes. He has such a sense of goodness about him that even without meanness or spite, contributing to the generally present spirit of racism by not even trying to grasp a new morphology feels contrary to the character. It felt like he had been let down by his writers, made cruel where he shouldn’t be. Or wouldn’t be, if you’ll believe in things with me a moment. That one moment felt like the real Venture connection, because anyone can take pop context and good jokes and do real character work on top of them. But not everybody will create a world that feels like it makes so much sense, and people who seem so viable and psychologically present, and then sour the air so much that they’re contaminated and contemptible in ways that don’t relate to the thematic arcs or register as purposeful at all.
…What am I talking about? Everybody does that. But maybe they won’t… this time.
Please, please, please let Amazon greenlight more Tick beyond the six episodes yet to air. And please, please, please let it stay nice. And get nicer.
I love you, you big blue weirdo. I will do for as long as I can.