Ah, the episode. The cornerstone of cohesive televisual storytelling. If an episode of a show has aired in the last ten years, someone has devoted a non-negligible amount of verbiage to it. Here at Cheese & Pixels, we’re going to reach a bit farther back and review all three seasons of one of my all-time favorite shows.
Loyal readers, you face: The Tick!
The Tick ran for 36 episodes, from 1994 to 1996, on the Fox Kids Saturday morning block (back when cartoons aired on broadcast networks on Saturdays). It was created by wunderkind Ben Edlund, who is currently a writer on Gotham and my second choice for most depressing “creator disowns his work” discovery (narrowly edged out by Gary Oldman’s documented dislike of The Fifth Element).
Without further adieu…
Season 1, Episode 1: “The Tick vs. the Idea Men”
“The Tick vs. the Idea Men” starts with a cold open explaining how the Tick came to protect The City. It doesn’t explain who the Tick is or where he came from or why he can survive a 1970s death chamber. He just is the Tick, and he’s nigh invulnerable, and that’s that. This lack of explication is something you’ll have to get used to if you want to enjoy this show. Frankly, I find it refreshing. We live in an age of overwrought world-building and shared universes, and The Tick skipped all of that while still unambiguously defining its characters. Why does Chairface Chippendale have a chair for a head? No one knows, no one cares. This is a show that pushes the MST3K mantra to its limit.
As the Tick buses in to The City, we catch up with Arthur (voiced in the first season by Micky Dolenz—yes, that Micky Dolenz—and afterward by Rob Paulsen). Arthur gets fired for continually wearing his moth suit to work, but he spins it into an impassioned “you can’t fire me, I quit” speech. Again, the viewer may wonder: who was Arthur before the moth suit? I’m reminded of Bill Watterson writing in the Calvin & Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book about his decision to not name Calvin’s parents, for the reason that as far as the strip was concerned, they were important only as Calvin’s parents. Similarly, Arthur is given no pre-moth-suit origin because in terms of the show, he had no meaningful identity prior to finding the suit. Only Arthur’s suit and new-found desire for adventure are relevant to the exposition, not his accounting career. And so Arthur leaves the firm, the Tick crashes into the concrete in front of him, introductions are made, and we’re off to the races.
Most of The Tick‘s season-one rogues’ gallery will make repeat appearances, but the Idea Men are a one-shot crew. Their main gag is that no one can understand what they’re saying behind their metal masks, which isn’t terribly funny but works to keep them more or less backgrounded so the show can tend to the work of establishing the Tick as a competent (if loopy) hero among a cadre of dysfunctional wannabes. Even news anchor Sally Vacuum’s monotone carries a hint of surprise that a superhero in The City was able to thwart a crime in progress.
Mayor Blank suspects the bank robbery is a practice run for a bigger heist, and his hunch pans out: the Idea Men demand a ten million-dollar ransom, threatening to blow up the hydroelectric dam if they don’t get it. At this point, there’s not much runtime left in the episode, so the Idea Men business is handled pretty briskly. (It helps that they’re not a supernatural threat or part of an organized crime ring.) After getting the ransom, they set off the bomb anyway, and once activated, it can’t be disarmed, so the Tick just runs out to the edge from the dam and holds it at arm’s length when it blows up, taking out the Idea Men’s escape blimp but miraculously damaging neither himself (understandable, he’s nigh invulnerable) nor the dam (bit more of a headscratcher).
Cheese & Pixels Rating: (out of 5)
While solid if unremarkable, “The Tick vs. the Idea Men” establishes the Tick and Arthur’s bona fides as a duo. It doesn’t begin to approach the level of surreality we’ll see in the remainder of the series. Indeed, as we will see even as soon as the next episode, The Tick begins flying its freak flag with gusto.
- Is the Bi-Polar Bear joke funny or mildly offensive? Both? Neither? (I genuinely can’t tell.)
- “Rive Droite” is French for “right bank”.
- The Idea Men’s ultimate motive: “We thought we’d steal a bunch of money, and then we’d be rich, and we wouldn’t have to work anymore.” (Tick: “You CADS!”)
- I love the scene where Big Shot (a savage parody of the Punisher) shoots up the sign while tears stream down his face and his eyes and mouth twitch uncontrollably. It’s a great way of communicating to the audience, “We couldn’t show an erection on Saturday morning television.”
- Tick’s advice to Big Shot: “Guns and superheroes don’t mix. Seek professional help.” Timelier than ever!
First Appearances: The Tick; Arthur; Die Fledermaus; American Maid; the implication that Die Fledermaus and American Maid used to date, and that the split was not amicable; Crusading Chameleon (here called Caped Chameleon); the Human Bullet; Sally Vacuum; Mayor Blank; Big Shot; Arthur’s apartment; Arthur’s moth suit being referred to as a bunny suit.
Next Time: “The Tick vs. Chairface Chippendale”
 In the comic book, the Tick escapes from a mental asylum to fulfill his superhero destiny. Aiming for something slightly more lighthearted (though no less twisted), the cartoon wisely abandons this approach. I don’t know much about the comic, though I do know the initial run had a tendency to get very dark at times. I’ll try to insert relevant comparisons and contrasts where I can.