Throughout my life, people have always told me that you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. I’d already seen British actor and comedian Peter Serafinowicz in countless films and television shows throughout the years, including but not limited to Parks and Recreation, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Shaun of the Dead, but when I sat down in a hotel lobby and asked how much time, approximately, we would have to chat, his first words won’t be forgotten either: “When we hit 15 minutes, I’m going to fart,” he said, not even a slight crack breaking through the deadpan expression on his face.
Serafinowicz, alongside his co-lead Griffin Newman, was joining me for a brief chat on Amazon’s new serial Action-Comedy The Tick, the third take on Ben Edlund’s satirical comic set in a not-so-far-off universe where superheroes, supervillains, and all kinds of quirky in-between deities live among us. Serafinowicz plays the titular hero, while Newman takes on Arthur, the audience’s surrogate to the story. We only chatted for slightly longer than the 15-minute allocation, but that was more than enough time to get a glimpse into the worldview of the pair of performers tasked with bringing this outrageous and immersive world to life.
In the first four episodes of The Tick (kindly provided in advance by Amazon), the show positions itself in the center of a much-tried but not-often-achieved triple venn diagram, the zones of which read “fun,” “funny,” and “exciting”. The show especially achieves great success in its world building—from context like background TV shots, minor quips and comments from characters, and more, it’s clear that there’s more going on in this world than what we, the viewers, are being exposed to.
Because you might not recognize the image of The Tick—a tall man in a royal blue spandex suit with tall antennae above his head—as part of the Marvel or D.C. families, there’s a good chance that you’ll immediately think spoof.
It was the same feeling for Kick-Ass, the same feeling for Dr. Horrible, Mystery Men, and so on. While maybe tangentially of the same DNA, Ben Edlund and company were not going for parody. “We’re not trying to take anything down. We’re not looking to deconstruct something,” Newman told me, dressed casually and with a much more laid back demeanor than that of his character, Arthur. “We’re looking to try to examine it, and reconstruct it in different ways.”
In a way, the show feels like the spawn of the first two stabs at a Tick series—an animated series ran in 1994, and a fan-loved but low-rated live-action version, starring Patrick Warburton, aired in 2001—coupled with more modern ‘prestige’ TV along the lines of Mr. Robot. Just like with Robot’s Eliot (Rami Malek), we enter the world through the eyes of an outsider; in this case, that outsider is Newman’s Arthur. And in the same way that Eliot is pulled full-speed-ahead into that show’s storyline, Arthur is dragged in by the titular hero of The Tick.
For a couple moments, there’s a struggle among the actors and myself to come up with something else that accomplishes, or even attempts, to hit the same beats that The Tick strives for. What else exists within a genre and isn’t lampooning it, per sé, but is rather trying to mess with it from within? Serafinowicz suggests The Dark Knight Rises, but both are a bit skeptical on that selection. I think for a second, before asking the titular actor: Weren’t you in Guardians of the Galaxy?
He was, and in this case, it’s a near-perfect example. Something that is earnest in its own ways, but also manages to upend certain clichés from within. The British actor recalls thinking specifically, early on, about the character of Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper): Is this going to work? But you can’t argue with the finished product. “That is such a performance,” he says, now three years removed from the film’s release. “It’s like heightened, even for the Marvel Universe, and it’s got its own sense of humor that isn’t denigrating anything about the Marvel Universe. The tone of it is just fantastic.” The idea of figuring out how a larger-than-life, not-quite-human character can exist within a human-but-not-human world carried on to this world’s exploration of The Tick, and it’s something that the show is hoping will resonate with audiences, fans, and critics alike (plus, a Brooklyn bonus: while the setting of the show is just “the city,” some key series moments were filmed in Williamsburg’s McCarren Park).
Before long, the payoff comes. A long, unmistakable, sound comes from Serafinowicz’s phone (luckily, the room was spared of the literal promise at the top of our conversation). Right, the 15 minutes, I say aloud. There’s still much to talk about—as much as you’d imagine there to be in a 2017 pop culture landscape so dominated by superhero stories—but I walk out of our conversation feeling productive, pleased, and excited to check out the rest of The Tick. Because for every Justice League, Thor, Spider-Man, and for every Daredevil and The Defenders, there is going to come another Tick, something trying (and in this year’s case, succeeding) to be it’s own thing. And it’s worth the investment.
Photos courtesy of Amazon Studios, Photo illustrations by Morgan McMullen