Wednesday, 29 July 2009
My Favourite Episodes Part Three – The Tick: The Tick vs. The Tick
The Tick was a strange show, a children’s animation series based on an independent comic by Ben Edlund, it contained surreal humour, comic book parodies and odd dialogue. The show ran for three seasons comprising 36 episodes in total and was a moderate Saturday morning hit in America during the mid 90s.
I discovered the show via a recommendation from my mum, who shouted up the stairs to my teenage self one day that there was something on BBC Two that I might like. Intrigued by what she could be talking about I flicked on the channel to discover The Tick being shown during the weekday 6pm slot on BBC Two (this was during the 90s when BBC Two would show some kind of cult TV show in this early evening slot, it had played host to Star Trek [all flavours of], Buck Rogers, Buffy, and others. This was before satellite and cable TV snapped up the rights to play cult shows on a perpetual loop.) I watched the last ten minutes of an episode of The Tick (unfortunately I can’t remember which episode it was) and was intrigued and amused by the superhero parodies and the surreal humour.
I watched the next few episodes of The Tick and was hooked, here was a show that seemed to aim directly at my nerdy obsession with superheroes, comics, and Monty Python. I later caught the entire run of the first season of The Tick on BBC Two when it was moved to a summer holiday early morning schedule. I remember waking up at the crack of 10am to race down stairs and watch and record the show with my little brother. I kept my VHS tape of the show until I moved away from home to university and then it eventually disappeared somewhere between moves. I was shocked to discover that other students at university had seen The Tick, I only managed to convince a couple of other people to watch it back home so to discover other like minded nerds who had watched the show independently was amazing to me. The Tick was soon passed around my social circle via dodgy VHS copy to indoctrinate the uninitiated and my joy was unbound when I found that satellite channel Fox Kids was showing the second and third seasons of The Tick on a daily basis. Another tape was created and then lost somewhere between lending to friends and friends of friends. It didn’t matter; I’d seen my favourite episodes enough times to remember them almost verbatim.
So that long preamble leads me to my favourite The Tick episodes, The Tick vs. The Tick. Why is this episode my favourite? Because this was the show’s first detailed journey into the colourful supporting cast on the show. The Tick and his nervous sidekick Arthur take a couple of friends (Die Fledermaus and Sewer Urchin) on a night out to an exclusive superheroes club – The Comet Club. Once the friends manage to get past the super powered Doorman they discover that a big angry jerk called Barry already uses The Tick as a superhero name and he’s not happy to share it. There’s also a lunatic called The Evil Midnight Bomber What Bombs At Midnight who is intent on destroying the venue with all the superheroes inside. Die Fledermaus tries to chat up various superheroines with little success and Arthur is forced to spend the evening with a talking dog and orangutan in a shed titled, The Sidekicks’ Lounge.
What I love about this episode is the interplay between the superheroes and the obvious hierarchy between them. The Tick is highly regarded as he has a set of useful powers (he’s nigh-invulnerable and super strong) and he’s saved The City (yes, the name of The Tick’s city of operations is The City) whereas heroes like Sewer Urchin are looked down upon and ridiculed by others because of lack of powers and recognition. The sidekick/hero divide is explored by the scenes in the Sidekick Lounge where Arthur receives career advice from a talking dog; the feeling is that the heroes take the credit while the sidekicks do all the hard thinking. Barry is interesting as he’s not a hero, he just dresses up as one so he can hang around The Comet Club and bully weak heroes and feel important but meets his match when he takes on the super strong and stubborn Tick. It’s fun stuff that really breaks down the superhero and presents them as neurotic creatures with idiosyncrasies. The episode also has fun coming up with heroes with ridiculous names and powers; a woman armed with a Poodle Gun that fires yapping poodles, Agrippa (Roman god of the aqueduct), Fish Boy – Lost Prince of Atlantis (he wears water wings), and Bigshot (the gun wielding vigilante currently going through therapy).
The Evil Midnight Bomber What Bombs At Midnight is quite possibly the best villain in the entire series, he’s a small, mentally unhinged man who drives a VW Beetle while alternatively shouting and muttering to himself. The utterances are largely nonsensical but some seem to detail his villainous origins, here are some of my favourites:
“Surfs up space ponies! I’m making gravy without the lumps!”
“I don’t like the cut of your jib he said, so I said ‘It’s the only jib I’ve got baby!’”
“You'll never prove a thing copper, I'm just a part time electrician. I... I... I... Bad is good, baby. Down with government!”
The episode ends with one of The Tick’s morals or lessons learned; in each episode he almost inevitably gets the issue confused and gives a rousing speech about something entirely unrelated. This time he gets it pretty much right when he asks “what’s in a name?” and comes to the conclusion that Barry would still be a jerk no matter what his name is.
The voice acting in The Tick was always superb, Townsend Coleman did a fantastic job as the titular character; his voice maintained a combination of supreme confidence, naivety and righteousness. I also love Cam Clarke's performance as Die Fledermaus, a cowardly womanising version of Batman.
The Tick was in the right place at the right time, an incredibly funny show aimed at adults as well as children, it was at home with other cartoon classics of the 90s such as Animaniacs, Batman The Animated Series, Freakazoid, Dexter’s Laboratory, Powerpuff Girls, and Sam and Max. It really was a rich vein of cartoon entertainment and I’m not ashamed to own some of those DVDs as the quality holds up today. The Tick was one of my favourites and showed my teenage self that there were others out there who shared my eclectic tastes and joy in cartoons.