The new Tick show mines its comedy from a different place than the 1995 cartoon or 2001 live-action series. While the jokes still find their engine in superhero absurdity, this iteration of the big, dumb do-gooder operates in a world that's much more real. But the most surprising thing about the new Tick is its undercurrent of tragedy.
Sadness has largely been an unexpected emotion in the world of the Tick. Yes, there's always been standard-issue superhero melodrama, but comedy and action have always taken precedence. Even this incredibly poignant clip of Patrick Warburton's Tick finding out about death ultimately winds up feeling self-contained and unconnected to the 2001 series' larger concerns.
The latest adaptation of Ben Edlund's beloved hero, currently available on Amazon Prime, starts off sad. The pilot episode shows Arthur watching both his father and his favourite superheroes get killed right in front of his eyes, which causes lasting trauma into his adult years. He's a grown-up when he meets the Tick, and his reluctance at embracing a superheroic destiny comes from knowing the loss that can happen in that life.
That knowledge also informs Arthur's relationship with his sister and mother, with both of them showing concern about how he's managing his mental health. For all the laughs that come out of Arthur's sudden immersion into superheroism, we're reminded that he's apprehensive for very good reasons.
Villains get hit with the sadness, too. Miss Lint — the most active bad guy of the season's first six episodes — sits at the opposite end of the moral spectrum but also has a parallel history of grief in her past. As the show's arc unfolds, we learn that Lint was the protégé of archvillain the Terror, the same person who killed the Flag Five and Arthur's dad. Flashbacks show that Lint and her mentor had something akin to a father/daughter relationship.
Their dynamic stands out because, while they're both shown to be callous and evil to others, Lint and Terror care about each other in a heartfelt way. He wants to teach her and she's eager to learn and become the best evildoer she can be.
The excellent performances by Griffin Newman, as Arthur, and Yara Martinez, as Miss Lint, make their characters' pain feel genuine. Newman makes Arthur's yen for stability feel raw and conflicted, even as he's pulled into proving his suspicions that the Terror is still alive. When Lint is needled about her privileged relationship with Terror, her bitterness isn't just a response to being teased. Martinez' wistful facial expressions and angry raging communicate a sense of loss for someone who helped her be her best self.
These threads of melancholy — especially as they pertain to Miss Lint and the Terror — make for some of the biggest diversions from previous versions of the Tick. The tonal shift even changes familiar plot beats, like the one where the Tick doesn't remember his own past. In older adaptations, his lack of an origin was the prelude to a joke, and the observation about how the Tick is simply the Tick and that's all he needs to be. But here, the Tick, Arthur and their nemesis Miss Lint all need to fix their broken connections to other people.
I was expecting the new Tick TV show to be funny, not sad, but this sadness has endeared the new adaptation to me even more.