The Tick: The Optimism We All Need

The first six episodes of Amazon’s new version of THE TICK hail from the character’s original creator Ben Edlund, and they are amazing.

Tick and Arthur

Voice of Darth Maul (and essential player on Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s SPACED), Peter Serafinowicz plays the titular tick. And the co-host of Blank Check With Griffin And David, one of the greatest podcasts of ALL TIME, Griffin Newman plays Tick’s sidekick, Arthur. In an outstanding, statement-of-intent performance, Newman laces his character with beautiful layers of vulnerability and fragility, as he battles mental illness and grief, and struggles with the notion that he might actually be a superhero. His twitchy sensitivity plays perfectly against Serafinowicz’s boomingly cheerful hilarity and positivity. They’re a double act for our times, representing the strobelike oscillation many of us have suffered throughout this year, bouncing between the emotional likes of Taylor Swift’s “I got smarter, I got harder in the nick of time,” and Newman’s tremulous, heartbreaking, not-at-all-convincing, “I’m a really together person.” Let’s face it: We’re all Arthur right now, and we all need a Tick to show us the way.

The show is a goddamn delight, full of hundreds of throwaway zingers, some slicing observations, and some excellently named villains (The Terror, Overkill… Lint…). It’s bright, bold, beautiful, warm, compassionate, heartbreaking and sensitive in its handling of mental illness… and still really funny. It’s a tonal masterpiece, bouncing merrily along its high wire and never missing a step. The show opens with Newman’s Arthur struggling hard to just function at all, and ends (this half of its season) with a jaw-droppingly brilliant joke that leaves you cracking up as the credits roll. In between, The Tick rolls deep through genuine emotions while slinging jokes like ninja stars.

Tick Dot and Arthur

It’s not just Newman and Serafinowicz who excel. Valorie Curry is quite frankly extraordinary as Arthur’s paramedic sister Dot. She combines razor-sharp Friends-era Jennifer Aniston comedic chops with Mulholland Drive-era Naomi Watts emotionality, in a fresh, utterly present performance that’s feisty and magnetic. Jackie Earle Haley is in monstrously villainous form as Arthur’s nemesis The Terror, and Yara Martinez brings an unexpectedly empathetic streak to the super-evil electro-fingered Lint.

For such a quirky show, it’s directed as though it’s the Dark Knight, in full 2.40:1 ultra-widscreen, and with genuinely amazing cinematography. This is not a surprise, since Christopher Nolan’s DARK KNIGHT trilogy DP Wally Pfister directs the opening episodes, and sets the tone: super-sharp visuals that simultaneously elevate and ground the material. Spending time and money on making the show look so good pays off tremendously, and gives the cast a powerful environment to play against. Also, the sentient A.I. Danger Boat (it makes sense when you see it) looks and sounds like something out of a Marvel movie.

Tick skyline

THE TICK is essential viewing. Get yourself some Amazon Prime, and watch these first six episodes. It’s unlike anything else on TV, and Newman is the hero we didn’t know we needed… but who we really f**king needed. As an actor he’s achieving his dream, and in this role he shows us that maybe we can all achieve ours.

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WILFRED is the INCEPTION of the R-rated half-hour

One of the darkest, most reality-bending, mind-f**king shows on TV right now also happens to be one of the funniest and most raucous half-hour comedies ever made.

FX’s update of the original Australian comedy features the same actor/co-creator, Jason Gann, as the Wilfred of the title: the man in a dog suit that only Elijah Wood can see. Everyone else just sees a normal dog, but for Wood’s perpetually confused and tortured character Ryan, Wilfred is a bong-smoking, toy giraffe-abusing a**hole who likes Matt Damon movies and does everything he can to screw up Ryan’s life.

Jason Gann, Elijah Wood and Fiona Gubelmann

This is a show where the funny is brutal and the darkness is hilarious. And nothing is what it seems. Under exec producer David Zuckerman’s watch, the FX version of the show is like a mash-up of Inception, Awake and The Hangover, all cooked together and smoked in a Californication-style wrapper. But make no mistake, this is an extremely intelligent show. You can’t play with reality to the devilish degree that Wilfred does without being super-smart. And this show does a fantastic job of making sure you feel the same anxiety and confusion that besets Ryan on a daily, if not hourly basis. Just when Ryan thinks he has a handle on which reality is the real one, something else happens to turn that upside down.

It’s a show that seems descended from UK shows such as Green Wing, Spaced and The IT Crowd in that it takes a surrealistically dark and wry look at reality, shifting it around and reshaping it. The difference is that Wilfred takes this so much further, in a highly disciplined way. It really is as if Christopher Nolan was making a half-hour comedy.

For example, the special preview episode Progress features mind-altering medications, different layers of reality, Robin Williams in a classic “bearded Robin Williams” role, Rob Riggle as a potentially hallucinatory work colleague, shock treatment, and Kevin from The Office in a truly multi-layered role. Progress blasts through its surreal and extraordinary story elements in an assured and devious manner, and is a brilliant introduction to the second series.

Jason Gann is even better in this version than the original, and brings new dark slyness to Wilfred in this episode. Elijah Wood’s watery-eyed confusion is as subtle and haunting as always, and Fiona Gubelmann is pitch-perfect as Wilfred’s sweet and lovely and utterly in-the-dark owner.

The writing is sharp, the directing inspired, the drama messed-up, and the humor  bone-dry. Progress is a great start to this second season of a great show. Don’t miss it.