If you haven’t been watching The Tick on Amazon, pull it together.
It’s challenging to break through the noise of the infinite number of superhero properties at everyone’s fingertips, but The Tick has always been uniquely qualified to rise to the occasion.
The Big Blue Bug was designed as a satirical antidote to the Marvel and DC figures of yore, and Amazon's series delves into what lies beneath the parody with extreme silliness and surprising depth. Series creator Ben Edlund and producer Barry Josephson reunited for this series after collaborating on a live-action adaptation of the hero's story back in 2001 and brought a whole new tone and approach to their hero.
Edlund first wrote the character as a teenager in suburban Massachusetts, defining the Tick as a high-spirited genre parody of the untouchable, sometimes delusional superhero characters he’d grown up with. The character became a cult hit whispered well of in the back rooms of New England comic book stores for many years before becoming a quietly popular animated series in 1994 and that short-lived, live-action series from 2001 starring Patrick Warburton. After its cancellation, Edlund had already become a go-to writer for shows like Firefly and The Venture Bros., and it seemed like the Big Blue Bug became a fixture of the past as Edlund and Tick producers Barrys Josephson and Sonnenfeld moved onto other projects as well.
Over three decades after creating The Tick, though, the Blue Bug’s back — this time as Peter Serafinowicz — with a new, expanded role for sidekick Arthur Everest, played by Griffin Newman. We sat down with show and character creator Edlund and executive producer Josephson to talk over the newly dropped episodes of the show and how the Tick himself is more relevant now than ever.
You first wrote The Tick when you were still a teenager. What is it about him that keeps him relevant to your life, and to longtime fans of the character?
Edlund: He’s been there the majority of my life — I believe 33 years now. When I was considering this version, after [Barry and I] had done the one series in 2001 with Patrick Warburton, I was mostly thinking, “No, don’t do that.”
I was driving in a car and felt like the Tick was sitting next to me. That sounds psychotic, but that’s okay. I felt like he was there next to me, this copilot, and he was saying, “I want to be again.” I know, I know. But he’s really developed this self-sustaining reality and has been in my life for so long. So we brought him back.
Josephson: I really thought the time was right for Tick to come back. It’s a little presumptuous to go in and say to your friend [Edlund] "This is what you think you should do," but it felt worth doing. The Marvel and DC universes were doing so well, and the movies were good, but the comedy wasn’t there at that time. Ben has such a unique voice, The Tick is so unique, and it just felt like time.
At first he was reluctant —
Edlund: Yes, very.
Josephson: — but when he came up for air, we discussed it some more and it felt right.
We’ve had the benefit of having great writers and a great team working with Ben, and the most important thing at the start was Ben nailing the script for the pilot. Then we were blessed with these great actors playing the main roles, Peter and Griffin, and everything came together.
What was critical that you do different with The Tick this time to separate it from the 2001 live-action version?
Edlund: One of the things that was very important this time around was making sure there was a strong story at the core, about the Tick and Arthur as people and as friends. There had to be something you can kind of connect to.
The live-action show from 2001 sort of made fun of everything, including the idea of the heroes really caring about what they were doing. And that’s funny, but at that point you’ve kind of given away everything. It’s hard to have seasons of fun with that. The most important first step was to create a foundation that you’d want to follow for seasons — it still has to be funny and irreverent, but we wanted to make sure the people who were watching could connect, too.
The Tick and Arthur are both suffering from different types of mental illness, which isn’t something that’s explored in previous incarnations. What informed that decision for this run of episodes?
Edlund: A lot of that tied into the way we decided to handle character backstory. It was important to create a trackable psychological truth for Arthur, someone who doesn’t want to be a superhero at first, then does at the end. We had to make a part of him that wanted to do that, and that’s where the history with his lost father and the Terror came in. Then with the Tick’s memory, that introduces a whole other set of narrative circumstances. We wanted to explore the characters more, and that was pretty much what put us on the map.
How much does fan feedback factor into creative decisions for the show? Does it help or hurt to hear?
Edlund: It’s sort of both.
Josephson: We learned a lot when we were making the pilot, and assumed we’d learn a lot. Then [once it came out] we looked at some of the comments and did a revision of the Tick character for the series, and the audience commentary definitely factored in. People who are fans will lean in and tell you good things, and things that make you pause. It’s not the be-all end-less but you’ve got to be paying some attention to your audience. You can glean something and learn something from hearing that [kind of feedback] without becoming too reliant on it.
Edlund: [The fans] were one of the most challenging things about bringing the Tick back again. We already had multiple iterations of him [in 1994 and 2001], and both were well thought of by fans, and the 2001 show was a well-regarded cult hit, so doing it again was scary for that reason. I didn’t want to alienate the affection for this character to fans who loved him, and so that was a risk. But you’ve got to hear what the fans have to say, so that way you’re getting some insight into the question you’re always asking — how is the audience liking this?
I didn’t want to do something that was easy or old — it had to be carving out new territory and being a new thing. Making this is the scariest thing I’ve done in the last decade, because it was opening up a can of worms that could have stayed shut, you know? Really grappling with this character who kind of triggered the person I am very now identified with — every time I mess with it, I’m messing with the only thing I’ve ever made [laughs].
The full first season of The Tick is now available on Amazon Prime.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.