Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
I. The Show...
The Tick was a live action television series that aired during the fall of 2001 on FOX. The show was based on writer Brian Edlund's irreverent and often brightly brilliant 1990s comic book and cartoon series of the same name. The premise of the franchise is simple: it serves as an exploration into the daily lives of superheroes. Like Seinfeld before it, the strength of The Tick stood in its ability to inject the surreal into the lives of its characters by ensuring they are all well grounded in a realistic, believable setting. The cartoon itself spanned thirty-six half hour episodes and ran for three seasons from 1994-97 (and is sadly not available on DVD). Unfortunately, the live action series wasn't as long lived, seeing only nine half hour episodes ever being produced, of which only eight were ever aired (at anytime) by the FOX television network.
Like so many shows before it, from Twin Peaks, to Nowhere Man, Millennium, Firefly and Maximum Bob, The Tick suffered the fate of cancellation simply because it was just too good for tv. What made each of these shows different was the fact that they consistently delivered compelling storytelling that was truly original and unique. But it was that very uniqueness that made them the ugly ducklings of their day: scary on the outside for the networks who have to market them but hiding a hidden treasure trove of situational goodness on the inside for the viewers fortunate enough to find it. Some unique shows in the past have made it past those crucial first seasons, shows like Seinfeld, but many don't. The bottom line is simple: the show has to be an instant hit or it gets canned. On the whole, there is no time to develop an audience and create word of mouth for a good series.
It's obvious that most networks just don't know what to do with these kind of shows. Barry Sonnenfeld, one of the producers who brought The Tick tick to life notes in his audio commentary for the pilot episode that on one hand, FOX wanted shows that were different, compelling and unlike anything else on tv. But on the other, they ended up complaining that the show was just too different, compelling and unlike anything else on tv. In short, they didn't understand it and they didn't know how to market what they had. Of course, it didn't help that at the time the original shows aired, you couldn't actually find it at a regular time on FOX because they kept moving it every week.
So just what is The Tick?
The easiest way to summarize the overall arch and plotline of the show would be to quote the Tick's opening monologue that occurs over the opening credits and a pan-down from a vast starscape to the lonely nighttime bus station: "The life of a superhero is a lonely one filled with hardship and danger. The few who answer the call must leave comfort, safety and often sanity behind. But someone's gotta stand the heat and stay in the kitchen! Someone's gotta don the oven mits of all that's right and strangle the red hot throat of all that's wrong! This is that someone's story!"
Overall, the different incarnations of The Tick have appealed to me because of their keen, shoot from the hip suave mentality. It turns the idea of the traditional superhero mythos and literally turns it upside down with hilarious results.
The live action version of The Tick was faithfully brought to the small screen by creator Edlund (who also penned Titan: A.E. as well as numerous episodes of Angel and Firefly). It was also brought to the screen by director / producer Barry Sonnenfeld (director of such movie hits like The Addams Family, Get Shorty, Men in Black and the great 1998 tv-series Maximum Bob) and producer Larry Charles (brainchild behind Seinfeld, Mad About You, Dilbert and Curb Your Enthusiasm).
II. The Episodes...
1. The Pilot: The Tick is new to town and soon meets up with Arthur, Batmanuel and Captain Liberty to save the city and Jimmy Carter from the threat of the Communist Red Scare.
Usually, for a comic book series, the pilot episode would serve as an "origin story" outlining the background of the superheroes and why they fight crime. For the character of the Tick, this doesn't really happen because the Tick is of the now, a superhero unlike any other - just there, living in the moment. He's devoted to truth, liberty, justice and the defeat of evil and nothing else. The Tick as a character is the Big Blue Bug of Justice, where the absurd unintentionally reigns and his crime fighting companions include Arthur: The Human Moth, Batmanuel (a highly egotistical twist on the hunky Batman persona) and Captain Liberty (a kind of Wonder Woman meets Captain America, with all the confusion surrounding the level of empowerment she should feel as a woman built right in).
But, inspite of the fact that the pilot doesn't lend too much exposition to the background of the Tick himself, it is however, an "origin story" of sorts for the Tick's companion Arthur. It's a story that will span across the first few episodes, and the writers did a great job of using Arthur as our way into the series and the amazingly strange world of these superheroes. The series stars Seinfeld alumnus Patrick Warburton, who (as any fan of the cartoon will find) turns in a brilliantly dead-on performance as the Tick, David Burke as Arthur the Human Moth, Liz Vassey as Janet, aka Captain Liberty and Nestor Carbonell as Batmanuel. Overall, the actors are great and their interactions are very smooth, believable and fun to watch. The chemistry between the leads was perfect, and it's too bad the series didn't live longer to explore the various on-screen dynamics that were created here.
The episode is directed with gusto by Barry Sonnenfeld, and is perhaps his best work in years. For a live action series, the show is sharp and full of wit.
Episode Villains: The Red Scare and Apocalypse Cow
Episode's Best Line: The Tick: "Gravity... is a harsh mistress."
Episode's Second Best Line: The Tick: "Look - more strange treats from the Orient!" (puts an entire fortune cookie in mouth and starts chewing) "Mmmmmm..." (pulls paper out of mouth) "A secret message! From my teeth!"
Watch out for: Cameos by Christopher Lloyd and Barry Sonnenfeld, as well don't miss the Tick's antennae move to his emotions!
Episode Grade: A
2. The Terror: The Tick and Arthur go up against The Terror, newly awakened from his geriatric slumber! Can they stop him in time?
This episode really throws conventional story-telling out the window. The episode is simultaneously set one year after the events in the pilot as well as immediately after the events in the pilot and it provides some wonderful exposition into all of the central characters of the series and how they came to become a semi-functional crime-fighting team.
Episode Villains: The Terror
Episode's Best Line: Arthur: "Well, hindsight is 20/20." The Tick: "Hindsight? You mean sight that comes out of your...?"
Episode Grade: B
3. Arthur, Interrupted: Perhaps one of the strongest episodes produced, Arthur drops the bombshell of his "lifestyle choice" on his family.
The episode perfectly captures the dynamic of the original cartoon series itself, and goes two steps further, delving into territory and innuendo that most cartoons (other than adult targeted shows such as The Family Guy or South Park) just can't go. It questions what is sane and insane and the scenes with Arthur's family are truly classic for this series.
Episode Villains: The toilet, the bathtub & Arthur's family??!
Episode's Best Line: The Tick: "Come out Arthur, come out to play. Look at me - I'm out. I'm out there. I'm WAAAAYYY out there!"
Watch out for: Dave Foley as a really screwed up therapist; and the hilarious scenes of the Tick having conversations with the toilet. The episode also features another example of the Tick's extraordinary super-human strength!
Episode Grade: A
4. The License: The Tick discovers his true identity in an attempt to obtain a superhero license while Captain Liberty finds love outside the superhero suit.
This episode perhaps best illustrates the high level of quality the series could have achieved if it had lasted longer - mixing the everyday events of a human superhero with that of the extraordinary. It removes the shell of the superhero persona and reveals the human characteristics of this group of heroes.
Episode Villain: The Tick's wife?
Episode's Best Line: The Tick: "how then does one procure this laminated rectangle of righteousness?"
Episode's Second Best Line: The Tick (looking at a scene on TV with Grover from Sesame Street hopping around on screen in that way only muppets can): "Daddy?"
Episode Grade: A-
5. Arthur Needs Space: Arthur hooks up with his dream date from high school, and the Tick feels left out.
This episode is perhaps one of the weakest in the series, but nicely builds upon the character threads as built up in previous episodes. One can see the writers struggled a bit to find the voices and tone of the series in episodes such as this one; but overall, many scenes in this episode do highlight the series amazing ability to setup some truly enjoyable scenes on a regular basis.
Episode Villain: Arthur's new girlfriend?
Episode's Best Line: Batmanuel: "Batmanuel has finished the Big Gulp. Now he must water the bushes."
Watch out for: The mouthcam!
Episode Grade: B
6. Couples: When the Tick & Arthur hookup with the dysfunctional crime fighting duo of Firey Blaze and Friendly Fire, the characters examine themsleves, their relationships and the world around them.
Another one of the series stronger entries, and it explores its subject matter head on. It also features the best scene of the entire series - when the Tick wears a shaving cream beard and does some improv in the bathroom.
Episode Villain: Fiery Blaze, a dog???
Episode's Best Line: The Tick (to Arthur, about Friendly Fire's loud music): "On this we agree chum - he never lets it stop! It's seeping through the walls! It's even making the tap water taste funkyyyy!"
Watch out for: Ron Perlman as Fiery Blaze!
Episode Grade: A
7. The Funeral: Captain Liberty escorts the superhero The Immortal around town - but finds that names aren't always what they are shaped up to be.
Another really strong episode, the episode really captures the essence of each character by plopping them into a really surreal situation that makes them all shine.
Episode's Best Line: The Tick: "Death. The eternal blink. The capricious dance of "now you've stopped moving forever." But contrary to popular belief, death isn't just for dead people. It can happen to anyone! I know, it's news to me too. But it's not just people either. It's all kinds of stuff. Horses. Fiddler Crabs. Did you know that even a potato can die? Crazy, right? A week ago I wouldn't have believed me either but a lot can happen in a week."
Episode Grade: A
8. The Tick Vs. Justice: The Tick is called into court to testify and finds that the Justice system isn't always perfect.
This episode continues the look into the way superhero vigilantes interact with the world around them, this time putting our heroes up against the justice system where evil gets put on trial! The best scenes of this episode are by far Destroyo in his Hannibal Lecter type cell and the Tick himself in jail with another very strange, strange villain.
Episode Villains: Destroyo and The Snake!
Episode's Best Line: Destroyo (to Captain Liberty): "Poor little Liberty - the stars in your eyes, your stars full of breasts. The walking, talking symbol of the land of the free, the home of the brave - the living embodiment of innocent until proven guilty!"
Episode Grade: A
9. The Big Leagues: The Tick & Arthur join the prestigious League of Superheroes.
The last episode of this great series, brings us to a anticlimatic conclusion. There are a lot of twists and turns in this episode, and more hilarious scenes involving the Tick's inability to understand history and the importance of symbols. Considering this was the last episode of the series, the Tick & Arthur's rendition of "Memories" is at the same time a both a brilliant and sad foreshadowing of the show's unfortunate cancellation. The best scene involves the initiation ritual that the Tick and Arthur are forced to go through in order to join the League. Better yet are the end credits, which features an extended look at this hilarious scene.
Episode's Best Line: Batmanuel: "This guy is great, he handles all my legal affairs. Batmanuel is myriad in much litigation. For instance, I'm suing the makers of my codpiece, it was improperly fitted causing severe shooting pains in my groin. An ouch that will cost them seven figures, not that you can put a dollar amount on Batmanuel's groin area."
Episode Grade: A-
III. The Packaging & Menus...
The packaging looks great, featuring the entire cast of main characters on the cover in a comic book style live action picture. The words "THE BIG BLUE BUG OF JUSTICE IS HERE" appear in a speaker's balloon coming from the Tick's mouth, which is really cute and fitting as a descriptor of the series.
The back contains detailed information about the series itself, and the liner notes are limited to two sheets that advertise other television boxed sets, some of which I'd never buy (such as Dawson's Creek and My Big Fat Greek Life. Who needs these shows on DVD anyway???). But the second page of notes actually does contain some usefull information about the 9 episodes that makeup The Tick, however it makes no distinction of which episodes are on which disc.
There are two DVDs included inside, with episodes 1-6 included on the first DVD, and episodes 7-9 on the second. The discs are cute looking in and of themselves, in terms of the artwork on each one, again continuing the theme that you really are looking at some sort of digital comic book.
Once you plop one of the two DVDs into your drive, you'll find the DVD menus to be sharp, fun and interactive (as they should be). Again, they continue the comic book theme look of the set, here representing the actual frames you'd find in a comic book. Overall, navigating and discovering the special features as related to each episode is extremely simple. Sadly enough, there do not appear to be any easter eggs on either of the two discs that are included in the set, but with the extras that are provided, you don't really need any easter eggs.
IV. The Extras...
Each episode is presented in a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen format, and features Dolby Digital Surround Sound. There are episode commentaries on the pilot episode by director / executive producer Barry Sonnenfeld and series creator / writer Ben Edlund. Commentaries by Edlund also appear throughout the series, specifically on Arthur, Interrupted, The Funeral and The Tick Vs. Justice.
It's very enjoyable to watch Edlund talk about the show and characters he first created when he was only 17, and to learn about the different archs and setups that were explored throughout both the cartoon version of the show and the live-action version. I've seen some complaints from people online that the live-action show didn't live up to the cartoon. But I have to disagree, especially considering the fact you are dealing with two very different forms of the television medium. Actually, there were a number of writers from the cartoon who were brought over to the live-action show, and overall I think the writers and producers of the live-action show nailed the irreverence and zaniness of the cartoon perfectly, and by the end of its run you can see they were ready to take off running if they had been given the chance.
Considering the quality of the commentaries, it would have been nice if a commentary had been included on the series's last show, The Big Leagues, but the commentaries that do appear are very insightful; even if it's unfortunate to hear about things from the viewpoint of "if we had been on tv longer, we'd have taken the show in this direction," because (and I can't emphasize this enough) by just watching the episodes by themselves, you can definitely see the writers finding the show's voice and coming to a clear tone and direction for the series as a whole.
Another nice bonus comes up whenever you start the DVD on your computer using a DVD-Rom drive, it asks you if you want to visit an exclusive Tick website where you can access extra features including a great interview with Patrick Warburton. Although it is nice to see this, part of me worries that these extra features won't always be there online in the future for people to discover (like say, 10 years from now). For longevity's sake, I would have liked to have seen this material as an actual extra on the DVD itself, especially considering the material seems to have been shot when the series was still in production. If they had been filmed more recently, I would understand why they may be only online.
It would also have been nice to have seen some deleted or gag-reel type scenes. The show is a lot of fun, and I'm sure there are a lot of scenes that didn't go right the first time around, but would have been just as funny to watch. Finally, disc 2 also features some trailers for the Men In Black movies, Bad Boys II, as well as some tv comedy and action shows. Nothing too special here - just more commercials for you to buy even more DVDs. Now, I don't know if there ever were any, but it would have been nice if there had been any of the trailers or teasers for the actual series itself featured on the DVDs instead of the essentially useless ones we do get.
The bottom line from all the extras on the DVD seems to be simple: if enough DVDs get sold, they may be able to do another series or even a movie. All the people involved with the series seem to want to come back, so all I can ask is that people check this DVD out.
Because another shot at the series or even a movie would definitely be great!
So go buy the DVD!
Grade for the Entire Series: A
Grade for the DVD Presentation & the Extras on the DVDs: B
(c) January 7, 2004, Steven H. Lee
UPDATE: January 22, 2006: For news on the Animated Series, which could be out on DVD this year, check out the following links...
A. Show news...
B. SPOON! (Posted: January 22, 2006)
C. Don't ever try to swim against the mighty tide of Justice! (Posted: April 11, 2006)
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Better than Watching TV
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older