Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Tick

I must say, as much as I completely hate Fox for canceling just about all of their good shows in favor of retaining pure drivel, most of the time I can see why they do it. Firefly was a blend of science fiction and Western that needed time to establish itself. Arrested Development, maybe the funniest show in the history of television, had a hard time landing new viewers because the old ones couldn't possibly explain it in a few sentences. Out of all of them, however, The Tick must have surely flummoxed studio heads the most.

The Tick always was a character meant to send up the ridiculousness of the superhero comics, but this woefully short-lived live-action show takes things to a whole new level. Starring Patrick Warburton, all dressed up in blue foam rubber and sporting two animatronic antennae, The Tick is the Spinal Tap of superhero films and television, and this came out before Spider-Man blew the genre open.

The Tick is joined by his sidekick Arthur (David Burke) and his hero friends Captain Liberty (Liz Vassey) and the screamingly funny Batmanuel (Nestor Carbonell, who played the mayor in "The Dark Knight"). All four of them spend more time covering their own asses than fighting crime, and most episodes play out like an episode of Seinfeld with absurd costumes.

I was going to mention strong parts of the episodes, but God, where to start? The pilot, which is probably the weakest of the 9 episodes because it must spend time introducing the characters, immediately sets up its off-beat humor. "The Funeral" shows The Tick and Aruthur trying to stow a dead superhero (named The Immortal, no less), who died in bed with Capatin Liberty, intercut with The Tick's rambling, hysterical eulogy at the inevitable funeral. "Couples" introduces us to Fiery Blaze (Ron Perlman) and his trusty sidekick Friendly Fire, who serves both to highlight a not so subtle homoerotic relationship and to delve into the neglected feelings of sidekicks.

Oh, but this is just episode summary. Each episode overflows with moments that allow pathos while maintaining a darkly ironic resolution that actively prevents an semblance of a storyline. Particularly surprising in his depth is Batmanuel. A mixture of Batman and Manuel from Fawlty Towers, he starts out a hilarious parody, but every now and then we see his insecurities. A wannabe through and through, he makes himself out to be a callous womanizer but obviously loves Captain Liberty, with whom he had a relationship. He also pines to be a real superhero but, like the rest of his friends, is just a joke. At no point does his character stop and have "a moment," but you learn about him and the other characters even while you're laughing you're head off.

Of the 9 episodes, 6 are fantastic, while the other 3 have to "settle" for very funny. Every episode teems with so many outrageous lines that I just couldn't remember them. It was like a sensory overload of comedy. The characters are so over-the-top that even when guest stars show up and have a gag, they never out-crazy the main characters. I've watched a number of shows that make me almost want to start the whole season over again when I'm done, but The Tick is that incredibly rare show that makes me want to re-watch the actual episodes as soon as they're over. It was actually a struggle to move on past each one to the next. It's definitely got some weak spots (particularly in the pilot and "The License," but this could have been an utterly brilliant series. Damn you, Fox, you're the greatest villain of all.

[Note: The Tick can be viewed online legally via Netflix's Instant Watch or on What are you waiting for?]

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