Friday, August 25, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Tick' - Arthur Meets a Blue Superhero While Trying to Prove a Conspiracy Theory in 'Pilot'

Amazon's The Tick - Episode 1.01 "Pilot"

In a world where superheroes and villains are very real, unassuming office temp Arthur becomes obsessed with a sinister conspiracy he believes has taken over his city. Everyone thinks he's crazy, except his mysterious new ally, The Tick, a bizarre blue superhero who might just be a figment of Arthur's imagination.

Amazon's The Tick is the third series adaptation of the blue suit-wearing superhero character created by Ben Edlund. The first was an animated series in the 1990s followed by a live-action adaptation on FOX in the early 2000s where Patrick Warburton played the title character. Each version of the show was shepherded by Ben Edlund. He's remained a key creative force with the characters. Each show is distinct and different from the last while still reflecting the same basic plot. Amazon's version of the project is perhaps the most prone to actually be a success. The previous two series failed because they just didn't seem to be working in the times they were created in. But the 2017 version actually feels relevant with its conspiracy-based main story while also being escapist fun because it's still ultimately about a goofy superhero wearing a blue suit and enjoying his abilities. It's not drowned in the misery that so many of the comic book adaptations of superheroes are these days in film and television. It's actually upbeat. But there are still some key problems to this series at least in the premiere. Those may go away in the future. It's still a solid foundation for the show. There are just some moments in the execution that give me some pause as a viewer.

It's surprising that the title character of the show really isn't the lead character of the show. Of course, that's not uncommon and doesn't have to be a hindrance. In fact, it can be an asset if the show has a good reason for giving that character such prominence in the overall show. The Tick is a lot of fun as played by Peter Serafinowicz. He's loud and boisterous while also being a little clueless about the complexities of the modern world. It's a delightful character who really amplifies the comedy beats of this show, which is claiming to be a superhero comedy by Amazon's standards. But the true lead character of this story is Griffin Newman's Arthur Everest. This version has really increased the focus on Arthur's conspiracy-based obsession and how it may actually play into mental illness. It's a fascinating though a little familiar plot development. Newman's performance is great. It's quirky in just the right ways - especially the left eye twitching. But the conspiracy angle already seems tiring and scattershot in a way that simply defines the story and character as crazy and nothing more.

The show spends a considerable amount of time also wondering if The Tick is real or just a figment of Arthur's imagination. It definitely wants to keep that mystery alive for the majority of this premiere. It has its fun with Tick seemingly coming out of nowhere to interact with Arthur while he's on his big stakeout. Arthur is trying very carefully not to get caught by this mysterious and villainous organization. And then, Tick shows up with no appreciation for the subtlety of surveillance. Of course, Tick doesn't really need to do that. The big action sequence of the premiere shows that he's basically indestructible. He actually quite enjoys throwing around a couple of quips while also laughing at the expense of the various henchmen. But even in that moment, it's unclear if this is really happening or just some part of a greater trick going on within Arthur's mind. The show wants to play it both ways. It wants the question of Tick's existence while also the fun of seeing him in action. So when Dot arrives to pick her brother up at the police precinct, he comes across as the crazy person she fears he is because he's talking to no one. Tick was just there and seems to have disappeared completely. That would suggest that he doesn't exist except within Arthur's mind. But the show also wants Miss Lint and her henchmen commenting on how a big, blue guy took out their whole operation and stole the superhero suit they just acquired. So, it's clear right away that Tick is real. But the show is still teasing the idea of Tick possibly being in Arthur's own imagination because he's not taking his medication.

Arthur's traumatized mind seems to be a clear source of story in this episode as well. The show is depicting an average society that exists within a world of superheroes and supervillains. It's completely common for ships to fall out of the sky and cause mass destruction down below. When the show flashes back to Arthur's childhood, it seemed inevitable that something bad was about to happen simply because his father walked across the street. It's horrifying to watch him get killed right in front of his son. But it's also a series that features the heroes succumbing to weaponized syphilis while The Terror shows up to be menacing for a second before devouring the remainder of ice cream on Arthur's table. That balance of real world grittiness and grounded emotion with over-the-top superhero theatrics is a tough line to get just right. This show absolutely loves its silliness. But there's a serious and serialized angle to this story as well. Dot is simply concerned about her brother. She wants him to be a normal part of society just like everyone else. She lives in this fantastical world but still wants her brother to be okay and less stressful. She'll be there to protect him when his mind turns against him. Even when she's feeding into his conspiracy, she doubts what Arthur is capable of doing to stop the evil that may be taking over the city.

It seems very likely that Arthur is right and that The Terror is still alive and working from the shadows. If not, it would be a waste of having Jackie Earle Haley in that role only to feature him in flashbacks of the last epic battle he fought with Superion. Plus, it would confirm the simple ambitions the show has for its serialization. It's clear that this season won't be taken an episodic approach to its storytelling. It's setting up these big mysteries. It plays out as Arthur coming to terms with his own hero's journey. That's a phrase used to describe the writing and structure of a story. But now, it's becoming a literal part of the text as Tick mentions this being their destiny. In between looking for the secret lever to expose the secret room in Arthur's apartment, Tick is going on and on about it being destiny that they met. Arthur can be the brains of the operation. They could make a powerful team. Again, it all feels like simple storytelling. Arthur will put on the suit because it comes from the one person who's telling him he is what he has always aspired to be. Arthur wanted to be a superhero. He shared that dream with his father before he died. And now, it's becoming a reality. Of course, there's also the cheap cliffhanger of Miss Lint coming to take Arthur out. That feels like an incredibly rushed moment. In fact, a lot of the pace of this story feels rushed in this opening episode. Not a lot of the moments actually have the time to breathe and sink into the audience's minds about what they truly mean. Instead, it's just a quick and playful story about superheroes. That can be fun too. But it also seems like the show is aspiring to more depth with its story. This foundation is interesting but work still needs to be done to make this the best possible version of this story and these characters.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Pilot" was written by Ben Edlund and directed by Wally Pfister.
  • The city is literally overrun by crime. That's what a local radio broadcast notes. So even though The Terror has disappeared, there is still crime and chaos throughout this city. It just seems like no one is really doing anything about it. Anyone preaching a conspiracy theory is quickly labeled as crazy and cast aside by society.
  • Further fueling the speculation that Tick is just a creation of Arthur's mind is the fact that no search results pop up when Arthur looks on the internet for him. In a world of superheroes, that seems impossible. Tick had to come from somewhere. But here, he just appears out of nowhere and is flung into this main story.
  • Tick gifts Arthur with the supersuit he has stolen in the hopes that Arthur will become his sidekick and a great partnership will begin. Arthur feels the calling to put on the suit. However, he has no idea how to run it. That should be an interesting learning curve. It's cool technology that he just doesn't know how to operate yet.
  • How were Miss Lint and her henchmen able to track down Arthur and the suit so easily? It's believable that Tick didn't search for a tracking device within the suit or the box. But it also just feels like a convenient plot twist to happen in order to bring some excitement to the closing moments of the premiere. A cliffhanger needed to be generated somehow.
  • Despite his overall lonely existence, Arthur is actually quite famous for a picture that was taken of him. In the big battle in the past, The Terror terrified him and the moment was captured on film. He would then become an iconic image on the cover of Time magazine. Making that connection is what allows the police officer and psychiatrist to release him despite his questionable behavior.
  • This premiere really did just fly by. Again, that could be a problem that keeps any single moment from having an impact in the story. But it should also make for this show to be an easy binge. It's light, upbeat and exciting. It can easily be watched in one sitting. That should be a promising selling point for Amazon.

As noted in previous reviews from shows that released all of their episodes at once, every episodic review was written without having seen any succeeding episodes. Similarly, it would be much appreciated if in the comments, the conversation would only revolve around the show up to this point in its run.