Pick Of The Week: Patrick Warburton is… THE TICK (2001)

Exactly what it sounds like, the Pick of the Week column is written up by the Cinapse team on rotation, focusing on films that are past the marketing cycle of either their theatrical release or their home video release. So maybe the pick of the week will be only a couple of years old. Or maybe it’ll be a silent film, cult classic, or forgotten gem. Cinapse is all about thoughtfully advocating film, new and old, and celebrating what we love no matter how marketable that may be. So join us as we share about what we’re discovering, and hopefully you’ll find some new films for your watch list, or some new validation that others out there love what you love too! Engage with us in the comments or on Twitter or Facebook! And now, our Cinapse Pick Of The Week…

Fans of The Tick have much to buzz about with recent news: first of the buffoonish hero prepping for a return to TV screens via a new Amazon pilot, and then more recently, that British actor Peter Serafinowicz would don the blue tights, followed by the revelation that the new iteration would be “darker and more grounded” than previous takes.

While there are differences in the source material and its adaptations, The Tick has consistently been a parody of comics and superheroes, and creator Ben Edlund has always remained involved in the franchise’s evolution and creative direction. After a brief stint as an advertising mascot, Tick starred in a sleeper hit independent comic series in the late 80s which was adapted into an animated show in 1994, garnering 36 episodes over three seasons. Barrys Sonnenfeld and Joseph produced a more adult-oriented live action version in 2001, starring Patrick Warburton in the title role.

The 2001 series featured sharp writing, amusing character-driven situations, and a hilarious principal cast led by the amazing presence of cuddly Patrick Warburton as the childlike and superfluously verbose title character. Tick is a superstrong and nigh-invincible tank of a man, yet possesses a gentle spirit and giddy enthusiasm for both justice and soliloquy. His oddness in enhanced by some of his absurd behavioral traits, such as habit of speaking in obtuse, nonsensical metaphors. He displays ineptness in social situations, having no sense of personal space or conversational mores. Moreover, his teammates learn that he has no familiarity with concepts like sex and death, and more than once find themselves trying to explain the world’s workings. Special credit is due to whoever controlled The Tick’s antennae, which curl and perk expressively, perfectly married with Patrick Warburton’s endless supply of confused and surprised facial contortions.

Warburton is joined by three other primary cast members who comprise his team: David Burke is nebbish former accountant Arthur, who serves as sidekick and roommate. Liz Vassey plays the sexy government-sponsored Captain Liberty, with shades of Wonder Woman and Captain America. My personal favorite is Nestor Carbonell as Liberty’s on-again/off-again lover, the delightfully arrogant and amorous Batmanuel who is equal parts sweetheart and scumbag (Carbonell’s Batman connection would continue with a small role in The Dark Knight).

Unfortunately, the ill-fated series lasted only nine episodes, but those nine episodes are incredibly fun and rewarding. Some of the plots include a run-in with dysfunctional hero/sidekick combo of Fiery Blaze (Ron Perlman) and Friendly Fire, Arthur’s family committing him to an insane asylum, Tick dealing with his permanent amnesia, and Arthur trying to win the love of his old high school crush (Missi Pyle) while resenting Tick’s oblivious intrusions. Other recognizable guest stars who pop in include Christopher Lloyd, Sam McMurray, Kurt Fuller, and Dave Foley — not bad at all for only 9 episodes.

So with such an endearing and rewarding bunch of episodes, what went wrong?

Like the similarly adored but underseen Mystery Men (1999), The Tick focused on working-class B-squad superheroes, and was a parody of comic book characters, but in a time in which there wasn’t much to parody. Mystery Men has already skewered the style of Batman and Robin, and while Blade and X-Men were recent successes for Marvel, it would be Spider-Man, released mere months after The Tick‘s cancellation, which would definitively announce the arrival of the superhero blockbuster.

Another perceived problem, no doubt, was the show’s sitcom format. Unlike the wild and unhinged comic and animated series, the live action show had to be scaled back to a feasible budget. Oddly for a comic book property, the show has almost no action, opting instead for a full-on comedy. Additionally, the franchise’s dozens of characters are mostly ignored in favor of very small group of principals, two of whom were bizarrely — and some fans would say unnecessarily — spun from existing characters (Batmanuel and Captain Liberty were reconfigurations of Die Fliedermaus and American Maid).

The show’s more adult tone had some impact as well — the sexual banter, while not excessive, limited its appeal for family viewing. This was an odd choice considering many folks considered it as a kid-friendly property due to the cartoon.

Or maybe you can blame the sudden onslaught of highly profitable reality TV that reared its ugly head and turned TV-land into a festering shit-hole.

Whatever the reason for its premature shuttering, The Tick has developed a loyal following and grown into a cult favorite. Perhaps there’s a silver lining — because the series was cut short, it doesn’t require a huge commitment to fully indulge. One can quickly mainline the entire run in a laugh-filled three hour binge, or spread out over a single weekend.

As the prospect of a new series looms, I must confess my utter dismay that Patrick Warburton won’t be reprising the role, and his absence has deflated much of my enthusiasm for a resurrection. Serafinowicz, while a superbly talented actor and comedian, seems a far left-field casting choice — a gamble that could probably go either way. Still, I wish this new series well as it tries to resurrect a beloved character. I hope it succeeds.

The Tick is readily available on DVD via an inexpensive 2014 release from Mill Creek ($6.50 as of this writing), but it’s a cropped 4:3 presentation. That’s not necessarily a problem — I assume the broadcast run was that way as well — but having 9 episodes jammed onto a single disc presumably introduces a high level of compression. The original 2003 DVDs were in full widescreen, include commentaries on some episodes, and were spread across 2 discs. I highly recommend picking it up either way, but the older set is still relatively easy to find and objectively the better version.

Get it at Amazon:
 The Tick (2001) [2003 Sony DVD] | [2014 Mill Creek DVD] | [Instant]

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