There's a lot of hugging on Amazon's new version of The Tick. Everybody, villains included, talks about their feelings and problems with each other. It's a refreshing change from most on-screen superhero adaptations, and a large part of what makes The Tick so unique, even from its predecessors.
Emotional connection isn't played for humour on the new Tick. For example, whenever Tick and Arthur reunite after moments of peril, there's a big embrace. Don't get me wrong; laughs may accompany displays of sentiment on the superhero series, but you're not meant to laugh at characters for putting their feelings on display. You're supposed to empathise. These moments of genuine emotion feel subversive with regard to the clichés of superhero genre conventions. During interviews with cast and creatives last week, I asked Ben Edlund, who created the Tick and has been involved in every TV version, about this through-line in the new series.
"It was very intentional to make sure these guys could have a warm, basically loving and platonic male bond," Edlund said. "Yeah, it's a little unusual but, I mean, that's one of the things that I think would allow us to spill blood." Even kill-crazy vigilante Overkill shows an ever-increasing range of emotions, something that Edlund and executive producer Barry Josephson say is important to the dynamics of the show. "[Overkill] is sort of one of those lone wolf creatures that doesn't realise the degree to which he needs other people, " Edlund told me. "And the best he's done is this boat, and this boat is another Aegis reject, a surveillance/prison/murder boat. 'I'm a jail, and I destroy, so...' Their friendship works because they don't ask questions of each other that maybe the Tick would ask Overkill."
Overkill (Scott Speiser), seen not hugging.Photo: Amazon.
Josephson chimed in to say that Dangerboat has hit a couple of bad waves. "The codependency is one thing, but, I think that Overkill likes things to just be the same, every day," he added. "He wants no growth. He has his own agenda. The boat is growing, and wants growth. So there's a resistance to anything like that. [Overkill] just wants him to do his job. 'Be the dependable computer I want you to be.' And you'll see that growth throughout, too, towards the idea of Dangerboat having his own character arc, [one] that Overkill would rather him not have."
Series leads Peter Serafinowicz and Griffin Newman both said they lean into the effort to create connection. "There's a tendency with superhero stuff to be kind of emotionally detached. And I'm thinking of like, the big Batman/Superman kind of things. They're very cold emotionally, I would say. But stylistically, that's a choice that they have made," Serafinowicz observed. "I think there's a real heart at the core of [The Tick] and me and Griffin will try and add an extra layer of warmth. We're both quite huggy guys and that came naturally to us." The guy who plays the Tick loved Thor: Ragnarok because of its variation in tone. "I loved it and I definitely thought there was a flavour of what we were aiming to do in that [film]. Warmth is a big ingredient in [Thor: Ragnarok]."
As a comics aficionado himself, Newman said he recognises when superhero adaptations feel embarrassed to be about superheroes. "When they try to couch it, tone it down, or do it in a tongue-in-cheek 'we're trying to take the piss out of ourselves' way, I get bummed out," he told me. "I love how thoroughly The Tick is just a show about superheroes and why superheroes are great. And why these two guys like each other a lot. You know? They care about other humans and want to save them, and all that stuff."
Caring about each other means hugs, and Newman said that the show doesn't do any distancing "We're men!" jokes after Tick and Arthur squeeze each other. "[The hug in episode two] was trying to feed in the Fight Club psyche-out gag, and the only discomfort in the hug is the physical act that the Tick is too strong," he explained.
The Tick has hugs to spare for Arthur's sister Dot (Valorie Curry).Photo: Amazon.
"The Tick is the first person to like, grab him and just go like, 'I get it. That's bad. You've had a sad life,'" Newman continued. "These are two guys who found a way to connect with each other, in a way they haven't been able to until this point." You can see Tick and Arthur express that warmth - along with giving injustice a stern talking to - on the second half of The Tick's first season, now streaming on Amazon.