In a pop-culture landscape absolutely jam-packed with superheroes, how do you break out from the crowd?
Amazon Studios and the producers of 2001’s short-lived live-action series The Tick hope they have the answer.
They’re teaming to produce a pilot reviving the series — an adaptation of Ben Edlund’s 1980s and ’90s comic book of the same name. British actor-comedian Peter Serafinowicz (Guardians of the Galaxy) will play the titular, blue-clad protagonist in the superhero spoof, taking over from Patrick Warburton, who portrayed the character in the 2001 effort.
Fifteen years ago, Fox canceled The Tick after just nine episodes; the series garnered an average of 4 million-plus viewers each week — a figure that was disastrous at the time but would not be totally unwelcome in today’s landscape. (Last week’s Scandal earned 6.1 million viewers for ABC, and 3.74 million viewers tuned into the Morris Chestnut-led Rosewood on Fox.)
“I said at the time [that] the network didn’t necessarily get it,” says Barry Josephson, an executive producer on the original Tick as well as the upcoming reboot. “And I don’t know that we were doing exactly the version that was right, but we were happy with it.”
Indeed, while the series might have ended prematurely, Josephson says that he was asked constantly by friends and strangers when the show might make a return. The producer reached out to Edlund a few years ago to propose, “Let’s go back and do The Tick right.”
Edlund, who created the comic when he was just 18 years old, is returning to shape his character for the new pilot, as are executive producers Josephson and Warburton, and original studio Sony Pictures TV. The development process at Amazon is unique: Pilots are shown to the public before the studio decides which shows will go forward. Less than half of the pilots go to series, but then again, most don’t carry the cult-following cachet of The Tick.
Though Bryan Singer’s X-Men came out a year before The Tick’s debut, it would be several years before superheroes would begin to dominate the mainstream in earnest. As Marvel and DC Comics battle it out for the crown both on the big screen and the small screen, can The Tick really change its fortune in such a saturated market?
“It feels like on one hand you can say the superhero landscape is crowded but I think over the last two decades of it there’s nothing else like The Tick,” says Joe Lewis, head of half-hour series at Amazon. “I feel like it has found this unique place where it’s long existed as a satire and I thought that we had the possibility here to do something really different — something that’s filled with satire but also true to action-comedies and superhero comedies.”
For his part, Edlund sees an opening in the pop-culture pantheon that he believes The Tick reboot can fill.
“We’ve got this show about superheroes [where] we get to have fun with the idea of superheroes by starting with kind of a comedic parody of [an] event-oriented-like universe,” he explains. “It will be darker and more grounded. And it’s going to have a real story, a real hero’s myth. We’re the ones that get to have fun with it and that’s kind of the situation where right now that’s an open field in this area of entertainment.”
And after Fox had trouble understanding The Tick’s point of view back in 2001, the series’ producers were surprised to discover how much love there is for the show at Amazon Studios, 15 years later. Amazon Studios Head Roy Price likes the original so much that he can quote it, according to Josephson. And Lewis asserts that Amazon is the right home for The Tick.
“Episodic superhero shows can’t necessarily go as deep in characters since you are rebooting the story often every hour,” he says. “Even though it’s a different tone, series like Transparent show that we’re making five-hour movies told in 10 chapters. And I think that’s something really unique to Amazon and how we are approaching this. This will [enable us] go deeper into character and story because our canvas is a lot larger.”
The platform, which encourages binge-watching, is something that excites the comic-book writer in Edlund. “I love continuity and playing a seriality that is very close to what comics always have been, which is when something happens it gets fed into the ongoing canon and that becomes part of the fabric of the reality that that universe holds. To me, that’s something [that] is still super valuable, even in the humor universe.”
And although only one episode has been commissioned so far, Edlund has some lofty expectations: “I think we are shooting for kind of a really interesting goal, which is the sort of superhero comedy that you keep wanting to come back to. So we are going to try and land an amazing airplane here. But I think so far we are just building this fantastic siege engine that’s going to attack your heart.”