At a time when every new bit of entertainment—up to the American presidency—is just existing I.P. rebooted for the modern age, Amazon’s live-action take on The Tick still stands out. The show, which debuts August 25, is a goofball anomaly starring a superhero who’s been around, in some form or another, for 30 years—always sporting the same striking royal-blue suit.
The third televisual go-round for this indie comic-turned-cult cartoon-turned-short-lived live-action series is once again overseen by Tick creator Ben Edlund. This time, though, the Tick’s cartoon lunacy bounces off a world that feels real, a gray city that resembles Christopher Nolan’s Gotham. (Fitting, as the first two episodes were helmed by Dark Knight Rises cinematographer Wally Pfister.)
The result has a distinct Buffy the Vampire Slayer feel, with an overarching thru-line about Arthur (New York comedy staple Griffin Newman, in his first major role), a nebbish searching for the truth about his father’s death at the hands of supervillain the Terror (Jackie Earle Haley). He finds his purpose when he meets up with the Tick (Peter Serafinowicz, best known in America for Spy and possibly his viral Sassy Trump videos)—a joyful fool, “nigh-invulnerable,” who helps all citizens in trouble and believes firmly in “destiny!”
Yet even with this revamped Tick, some things remain unchanged. The show still manages to nimbly dance the line between ponderous superhero mythology and anarchic fun; puns burble aloft like balloons, cliffhangers are used shamelessly, and Tick can come off like the ultimate joke about square-jawed American masculinity, clad in a skintight blue suit that makes him pop amongst all the grays. In fact, costumes matter so much to The Tick that the series’s first chunk of episodes revolves around Arthur’s pursuit of the truth—and the bad guys’ pursuit of Arthur’s own superhero costume, a gray suit that the Tick gives to the civilian accountant. With a great gift comes great responsibility, however: the suit also gives Arthur powers (and C.G.I. wings, according to Newman).
When asked about his costume, Serafinowicz answers carefully: “The first half an hour of putting on the costume is like, ‘wow, who wouldn’t want to play a superhero?’ You have these muscles, you feel powerful and springy,” he says, fresh off a weekend pressing the flesh at this year’s Comic-Con and a full day of hotel interviews. But wearing a complicated costume like this can wear an actor down—or, as Serafinowicz puts it: “It’s like being encased in a rubber sarcophagus and then wheeled onto an elaborate, six-month-long Japanese game show, an endurance-based, surreal game show that ends up being taken off the air because it’s too extreme.”
He pauses for effect. Then he continues: “However, they still continue making the show. They just don’t air it.”
Oscar winner Colleen Atwood designed the Tick suit that appears in the pilot, a turquoise outfit that deviates from the character’s normal look, with its reptilian texture and extreme musculature. The costume changes dramatically in Episode 2—a shift acknowledged by Arthur as he fends off the Tick’s advances with a sly, “You look different.” From this point forward, the character is back in that signature, borderline-Yves Klein blue; now the Tick feels like himself again, ready to dopily fight evil.
The second Tick suit was designed by Gary Jones, whose credits include 2004’s Spider-Man 2 and 2007’s Underdog—“so I have experience with flying and mutating people,” he says. He’s also watched the world of superhero costuming change dramatically: lycra has improved in its texture and stretch, for example, which allows designers to use it in new ways. He designed suit No. 2 using Atwood’s costume as a model, moving toward a getup that combines classic Tick and new Tick—and, according to Jones, also captures the light better.
“They often use technology and fabrics and substances that you don’t get to use in regular clothing” for superhero outfits, Jones explains. “Plastics and various resins and all kind of techniques that you might use in other kinds of stagecraft. It requires different kinds of craftsmen beyond tailors or dressmakers.” The Tick’s costume, for example, comprised “resin, spandex, a rubber overlay, [and] a rubber/resin overlay on the fabric that gives it maybe a little bit of an alligator texture.”
His headpiece is topped with a pair of signature antennae—“another whole rig of apparatus,” according to Serafinowicz. “I have these steel cables going down my neck.” Puppeteer Lara MacLean is responsible for making the antennae move via a remote control. “She emotes for me,” Serafinowicz says.
“She’s a real puppeteer, and she comes from the Henson Company and working for Sesame Street for 20 years,” adds Newman. Her wiggles, he explains, have a deeper meaning: MacLean actually developed an emotional language for Tick’s antennae, which signify a different meaning with each quizzical wag.
The antennae add comic punctuation to each scene, contributing to the Tick’s idiosyncratic, potentially crazy point of view. They’re also a symbol of what separates the Tick from his spandex-clad brethren: “Ben [Edlund] said the other day that superheroes don’t want to save people anymore,” Serafinowicz says. “They just squabble and beat each other up.”
“It’s either infighting, or they stop the hole in the sky that’s going to end the world,” Newman agrees, referencing familiar tropes that have appeared in nearly every recent superhero movie, including but not limited to: Batman v Superman, Captain America: Civil War, Suicide Squad, The Avengers, and probably the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok as well.
Tick, however, “is so fully driven by good,” Newman says. “All Tick wants to do is to help people and protect the sense of good. That’s his one driving force. Tick has zero self-interest. He would rather die saving a mouse then to receive any sort of credit or acclaim; that’s not what he’s in it for.” It’s hard to deny, though, that his acts of heroism are eye-catching all the same—as long as he’s wearing his signature big blue suit.
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