It’s easy to see why “The Tick” has been revived again and again. Born as an unlikely comic-book hero in the ‘80s, the title character’s relentless optimism, which allows him to bluster through any situation with a smile on his lips, is perennially winning. And there’s no doubt that at this moment in time, America could use a big blue savior with a good heart and the strength of 10 men. The Tick’s grip on reality is always in doubt — his sweet obliviousness is part of his charm — but his belief in the inevitable defeat of evil is certainly attractive.
However, Amazon’s reboot of “The Tick,” which follows a clever ‘90s animated series and a much-loved 2001 live-action comedy, makes some curious choices. It’s grounded in a somewhat dour version of reality, which blunts some of the comedy’s goofier edges. And structurally speaking, like other streaming shows, it tends to treat its first season as one long piece of set-up for whatever comes next. The end result is a six-episode half-season of “The Tick” that often feels thin and awkwardly stretched out.
This version of the show, which once again tells the story of the Tick’s first encounters with mild-mannered accountant Arthur Everest (Griffin Newman), repeats a number of scenarios without necessarily making the core characters and their relationships as compelling as they could be. Throughout a half-dozen installments, Arthur is deeply resistant to the Tick’s constant invitations to embrace his Destiny (and it’s capital-D Destiny the big blue guy is referencing). Arthur’s passivity and timidity may make sense on paper (his life story is not an easy one). But these reactive qualities, unleavened by other kinds of personality traits, tend to hamper the development of both Arthur and his sister, Dot (Valorie Curry). His resistance to change and his wish to conform make Arthur hard to root for, frankly, especially when the Tick is, as ever, so genial and encouraging.
A slightly whimsical tone, like the one established in the earlier live-action series, effectively and quietly underlined the pathos of the story’s foundation, which touches on mental illness, lack of self-esteem and other difficult issues. By coming at those topics more forthrightly and even somberly, this version of “The Tick” sometimes feels more labored than the earlier adaptations.
The Tick, played this time by Peter Serafinowicz, continues to have the sunny outlook and lack of social graces that fans of the character have come to expect. Once again, “The Tick” contains an array of sly and effective jokes, like the moment in which a bad guy instructs his Alexa device to find his “ominous music” playlist. Serafinowicz has a blast with lines like “Your friend here is made entirely of mind snakes,” and Brendan Hines and Jackie Earle Haley do good work in their superhero and supervillain roles (even if they get too little screen time). Perhaps most effective is a new character, Overkill (Scott Speiser), who tries hard to embody a gruff, tough-guy mystique, but his bad-boy vibe is continually undercut but his squabbling relationship with the artificial intelligence that operates his ship.
So there are moments, lines and characters that work. But in the big picture, this “Tick’s” core problem is that cape-oriented meta-commentary and deconstructions of superhero tropes are now pretty common, and these six installments take too long to get where they’re going. A half-dozen more episodes will arrive in early 2018, which is when the Tick and Arthur’s civilian-saving partnership may actually kick into high gear.
The world certainly has room for a superhero show that is, ultimately, about the processing of deep trauma, which is the basis of Arthur’s tale. (The Tick may have experienced any number of challenging events; the trouble is, he can never seem to recall any of them.) All in all, this is one team-up that may actually well be more satisfying when the sequel arrives.