The Tick has been with writer Ben Edlund for more than 30 years, starting out as a logo for his local comic book shop’s newsletter. That turned into a comic book which turned into a cartoon on Fox which turned into a lighthearted and clever live action TV show in 2001 and then… nothing, unless you count years of longing by fans for the show to come back after finding a cult following online.
In the space between that last incarnation of The Tick‘s quick cancellation and the premiere of the pilot episode for a new, notably less lighthearted but still clever live action version in 2016 on Amazon as a part of its pilot season, Edlund moved on. He worked on Angel, Supernatural, Gotham, and other projects. But the Tick was still with him. As the first half of the The Tick‘s first season launches on Amazon Prime, Uproxx spoke with Edlund about that decades-old attachment, what it was that made him want to bring The Tick back, the show’s shifting tone, cast, and visuals, and why it was time for Arthur to take center stage.
Take me through the process of bringing this back. When did it heat up and how did it click with Amazon?
Ben Edlund: It was a long time coming. I think it was about four years ago now that we started to work on the idea of bringing it back. It started with [executive producer] Barry Josephson and as I understand it, Sony was also… they just started to kind of talk about The Tick, and whether or not it would be time to give that another try. Barry came to me and asked me about it. I started to think about how and why it would be useful to do that again. As I was thinking about it, I ended up working on one, and then another superhero show. The profusion of superhero shows was growing even more immense and sort of pervasive than I had ever expected it could. It seemed like it was almost a needful thing — a show [that] was having fun with those worlds, but sort of making fun of them at the same time.
From that point, we got a basic kernel of emotion going. We began to pitch it around and found a very enthusiastic patron in Amazon. And that was working with [Amazon executives] Joe Lewis, Jill Arthur, Patrick Callan and everyone there. [We] started to kind of build this new version that really does those things that The Tick had yet to do up to that point. Among the most important things was to find a psychological truth for Arthur as a character, kind of a real grown-up narrative, and also build a tone that allowed for real dramatic stakes. Things like, blood being really shed and for life and death to be considered. The impact of violence, which was really never anything too much investigated in the prior iterations.
There’s the bloodshed, but it’s still got a lot of comedy at its heart. Is there any concern that the audience is still not ready for that mix of things?
I’d say that’s the highwire act here. To me, it’s a dangerous, but I think an exciting and interesting, move to take things seriously while still having fun with them. It creates a strange, interesting kind of crisp new air in it. I think for someone who cannot allow The Tick to grow or stretch, or find new territory, it might feel wrong, and that’d be okay. But I feel like what’s happened is, a lot of the people I was worried about — the people The Tick‘s grown up around, and I’ve worked with, and fans that have weighed in so far — a very good number of them are feeling this new signal, which to me is the open gateway to a lot of good fun as long as people get on the bus and come with us. And I think that’s been primarily the case, which I feel really fortunate about.
What is it about this character that has allowed you to stay with it, and keep wanting to come back to it?
I don’t know. It’s not part of an actual plan, it’s just that the character and the world of it has had… This last iteration was kind of, yell loud enough into a grotto, and an echo comes back. And the echo came back and said, “Did you want to do that again?” And I said, “Okay, sure!” It’s a very interesting engagement for me, because this is a 30-year-old character. So this character has its own center of gravity, and I’ve spent a lot of time with it. When I was thinking about whether or not I wanted to do this again, I actually had a moment where it was very easy to picture The Tick sitting in the passenger seat of the car I was driving. (I don’t think I was putting anyone in danger.) But like, I could picture this invisible almost Harvey kind of entity of my own making, that was sort of saying, “Look, I want to be again. It is fun.” So, that’s a weird thing, I’ve got this blue golem that keeps chugging.
Why was it important that Arthur’s story sit at the forefront at the start here? Because it feels like it’s like Arthur’s story at first. That’s not a knock. I really found it engaging.
Quit knocking me, man! Stop knocking me! [Laughs.]
I gotta be hard-hitting.
I think that was one of the things that, in the process of getting this next form to really work was about making it specific to… what allows a guy like Arthur to get involved with this nonsense? And the hardest thing, I felt, was to create a character — and this was really difficult for the first season — who didn’t want to be on the show, basically. He was not trying to be a superhero, he was just trying to get one very basic thing done. He’s obsessed. He’s got a conspiracy theory that he’s trying to prove. That’s his whole thing.
The mantle of greatness is really thrust upon him. A lot of thrusting! Heavy thrusting! And that, to me, to create both the world around him and the heritage he had, to give him a tragic past… Which was something that felt too cliché to me when I was younger. It felt like that was playing into forces of story that were too earnest, but somehow it was just not… It really does matter. You really do want a character with certain basic tragic and heroic dimensions at his or her core at the center of a narrative like this. To not do that, is not being cooler than school, it’s being what it is. It’s like being, “Too cool for school.” You should go to school, kids. And learn things. I like things. Anyway…
What does Peter Serafinowicz bring to this character that’s different, and what does he bring to this that’s the same as what Patrick Warburton did?
First of all, I love Patrick and loved the Tick he created. It’s evident that a lot of people did as well, and that’s because it was awesome. He was great. So, that’s really cool. The creature that Peter has brought is of him, and just as the previous one was of Patrick. To me, this new iteration required a new interpretation. Because everything about it is new, and I think for it to feel like its own cloth, I think that became a consensus shared by all of us. Patrick’s a producer on the show. Amazon… Ultimately, we saw that there was a need for a new Tick. That opened a very difficult Pandora’s box of how do you find another person who possesses such a strange array of gifts, including comedic brilliance, intangible weirdness, timing, and the ability to act.
The physicality, also.
Yes. I mean, it requires so many different things. It’s very scary to try and go find that when you’re hanging everything on it. Everything that Arthur isn’t picking up is all The Tick. And Peter is someone who has this kind of undiscovered immense catalog of comedic brilliance. Not undiscovered to everyone, but I think in the United States, he’s an under-sung commodity. People have a few key roles they remember him from, supporting roles for a few iconic movies like Shaun of the Dead and Guardians of the Galaxy. But he tends to either sort of be invisible because of his tremendous range or he hasn’t been central, other than in Britain where he has had his own show and has co-written, I think, impactful comedy stuff. One of the shows he does, Look Around You, is the height of dryness. It’s fantastic. Anyway, he’s someone who, for us, we were able to co-opt a whole continent of comedic sensibility that he brought and create the new identity for The Tick with a real amazing collaborator.
He was excellent in a little-seen show in the United States, Running Wilde with him and Will Arnett. He was fantastic in that.
Yeah. He’s amazing. For me, there’s a lot of nooks and crannies and a lot of spacious weirdness in how he brings The Tick to life. Still very loving, still very connected to Arthur, but maybe a little closer to the comic book in terms of being a little more dangerous, a little more unpredictable, which kind of feels right for the times.
How has director Wally Pfister’s involvement impacted the look of the show?
Yeah, I like him very much. The show sort of starts and has this kind of evolution… [affects narrator voice] “It begins with Batman.” It begins with the kind of iconic world- and frame-building that was attended by, I think, the Chris Nolan Batman, which is a big part of how Wally Pfister… You know, he was a big part of that [as a cinematographer] and it’s a big part of how he forms worlds. He was really excited to be able to play with that, and yet turn it on its ear and introduce comedy, which is something he’s wanted to work increasingly with. For us, it was the exact, perfect handshake. We wanted to do comedy, but do it in a place that had some of the epic scope and tragic palette of a story with a main character who lost his father to supervillain action.
Basically, where our story starts, it’s perfect for where Wally built for us — the look and the feel. It sets us off on a journey to go visit other places in “Oz.” Because I would say that the evolution in the season is one where we start in the dark urban, thug-filled territory that you would assign to either Batman or Daredevil or any of the street vigilantes. Then we begin to move and we pass into what I’d say is more Spider-Man’s territory, and even start to see on the horizon, I think almost an Avengers or S.H.I.E.L.D. or a little bit more Superman. The sun starts to come out over the course of the season, in part, because this strange blue Avenger has shown up and refuses to get off Arthur’s couch.
The first 6 episodes of The Tick’s first season will premiere on Amazon Prime on August 25.