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Series / The Tick (2001)

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The life of a superhero is a lonely one, filled with hardship and danger. The few who answer the call must leave comfort, safety, and often sanity behind. But someone's gotta stand the heat and stay in the kitchen. Someone's gotta don the oven mitts of all that's right and strangle the red-hot throat of all that's wrong. This is that someone's story.
The Tick

A 2001 live action version of surreal cartoon superhero The Tick.

Fed up of having a big blue spandex-clad lunatic weirding out his customers, a bus centre manager ships The Tick to The City. Meanwhile, mild-mannered accountant Arthur gets fired from his job for showing up to work in a winged bunny suit (OK, moth suit) and deciding he wants to fight crime. They team up with Captain Liberty and Batmanuel,note  and get into all manner of high action battles with evildoers...

... which all occur offscreen due to budget trouble. Most of the shows deal with their downtime, being described as "Seinfeld in tights". Much of the animated show's style and wit was retained, along with different humor and comedic deconstrunctions. It was canceled before it could run a whole season. (It probably didn't help anything that the last Episode, The Terror was scheduled to run on 9/11/2001.)

A reboot would eventually be produced by Amazon Prime, and while The Tick (2016) does not share continuity with this series Patrick Warburton was involved as a producer and Liz Vassey (who played Captain Liberty) would provide the voice of a character in the second season.

This series provided examples of:

  • Adaptational Dumbass: Between lengthy conversations with clogged toilets and not understanding the concept of death, this is the Tick at his absolute dumbest. This is likely because of the show's differing format. His gung-ho heroic personality doesn't have an outlet, so his smarts are dialled down to better bounce off for comedic purposes.
  • Animal-Themed Superbeing:
    • The Tick, at least in name. He doesn't actually have any tick-like traits or abilities.
    • Arthur's superhero identity is modeled after a moth, though his white suit and ear-like antennae lead many people to confuse him for a rabbit.
    • Batmanuel is based on a bat, obviously.
  • Book Ends: The final episode's storyline follows immediately after the first episode and wraps up a lot of its plot threads. Further, they both contain a number of similar plot elements.
    • Both episodes see someone attempting, unsuccessfully, to use a coffee vending machine and being saved by The Tick. In the first episode The Tick "saves" a citizen by bashing the out-of-order machine until it works. In the final episode the person who tries to use the machine, Batmanuel, is waylaid by The Terror before he can get his coffee and has to be rescued.
    • Both episodes include Arthur screaming like a little girl when attacked by villains.
    • Both episodes involve Metcalf, a man from Arthur's old job who became a superhero and who now needs a machine to poop. He is mentioned repeatedly in the first episode and actually appears in person during the final episode. (These two episodes are also the only times he is even so much as mentioned in the show.)
    • Both episodes include an actual, on-screen superhero vs. supervillain battle, against The Red Scare in the first episode and against The Terror in the last episode. (These are also the only two on-screen battles in the series.)
    • Both episodes feature the four main characters (Tick, Arthur, Batmanuel, and Captain Liberty) on a rooftop together. While the four spend a lot of time together and rooftops also play a large role throughout the series these two episodes are the only ones that feature all four together on a rooftop.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer:
    • Arthur. He was quite a competent accountant aside from the "dressed as a moth" thing. It was almost a literal use of the trope, as his suit is often mistaken for a rabbit.
    • It should also be noted that while the Tick is even stupider than usual, when actually called upon to battle supervillains or fight crime (usually off-screen, but still), he's never less than spectacular at it.
  • Captain Geographic: Captain Liberty.
  • Captain Patriotic: Captain Liberty is a spoof of this. She doesn't seem to be all that patriotic and isn't even that great of a hero, but she does work directly for the U.S. government, unlike most other heroes.
  • City with No Name The Tick fights crime in a city named The City.
  • Clark Kenting: At various times the heroes take off the uniforms resulting in confusion when their fellow heroes don't immediately recognize them. Parodied with The Champion who, like the Trope Namer, disguises himself with nothing more than a pair of glasses - despite how flimsy the disguise is no one notices until it's pointed out at the end of the episode. The Tick himself never quite manages to figure it out, still believing that The Champion and lawyer Steve Filbert are different people, even after witnessing his "transformation" first hand.
  • Cleavage Window: Captain Liberty's outfit has a star-shaped window. Destroyo remarks on it in his Hannibal Lecture.
    Destroyo: With the stars in your eyes and your star full of breasts...
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: The Tick is absolutely, unequivocally insane. He's also super strong, bulletproof, and definitely good to have on your side in a fight.
  • Cut His Heart Out with a Spoon: An especially creative one, courtesy of The Terror:
    "I'll fold ya up in my wallet and spend ya on a whore!"
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Batmanuel, the "Prince of the Night."
  • Dashing Hispanic - Batmanuel is a fairly straight, if humorous, example. Beneath his cynical exterior lies the heart of a romantic. A cynical romantic.
  • The Ditz: The Tick.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?:
    • The episode "Arthur, Interrupted" compares superherodom to homosexuality. Arthur is told by his fellow heroes that he should "come out" to his family, that being "closeted" is a bad thing (both are terms commonly used in regards to homosexuality). After he does he's taken away to be "cured" (attempting to "cure" homosexuality is a controversial yet common thing in America and many other parts of the world). He's sent to an insane asylum where he discovers that the creepy, effeminate psychiatrist secretly has a superhero fetish (a reference to how many anti-gay crusaders are eventually outed as having gay tendencies).
    • The episode "Couples" spends its runtime comparing the superhero/sidekick dynamic to a marriage, with sidekicks being portrayed as the wives. It comments on domineering relationships and spousal abuse in the process.
  • Expy: Since the live action version couldn't get all the rights to characters from the animated version, Die Fledermaus became Bat-Manuel and American Maid became Captain Liberty.
  • Famed in Story: Metcalf, a former coworker of Arthur's, is infamous in the superhero and criminal communities for being injured so badly in his vigilante career that he now needs to be strapped to a hospital machine to regulate his bowel movements. Arthur is deathly afraid of winding up like him if he continues with his adventures, but a conversation with Metcalf himself, who is accepting of his condition and plans to resume being a hero once he recovers, cures Arthur of this fear.
  • Freudian Excuse: Arthur and Batmanuel are able to track down Destroyo's former ballet teacher, the only real source they have on his life, and prevent his assassination. In the process, they discover that the reason for Destroyo's evil is painful memories from being jeered and heckled despite his skilled dancing due to his inability to control his weight. Arthur takes advantage to provoke him into a Villainous Breakdown during questioning.
  • Hannibal Lecture: Parodied and played straight with Destroyo. In his first use of this he's able to (almost) talk a cop into shooting himself. When he tries it on Captain Liberty, however, she takes advantage of it for free psychotherapy. She later lists "good with dating problems" as one of Destroyo's two good traits (the other being a "way with words").
  • Hollywood Law: In "The Tick vs. Justice", a few of Destroyo's Unconventional Courtroom Tactics, blatantly attempting to get himself Off on a Technicality, would never fly in a real court.
    • First, Destroyo confesses to killing witnesses in front of Captain Liberty (and implies he intends to kill The Tick and Arthur too), but since he's acting as his own attorney and he was talking to himself, the confession was privileged communication and therefore could not be used against him. (It was implied he knew she would find out anyway and so decided to say it in such a way that she wouldn't be allowed to tell anyone.) However, in the lawsuit Clark v. The United States it was determined that if attorney-client communication is used to commit fraud or further a crime then it is not subject to attorney-client privilege law. In other words, Captain Liberty totally could have reported it and added even more charges to the list of Destroyo's offenses, just as she originally plans to, and there would have been nothing Destroyo could do about it.
    • Second, he has all of the evidence against him ruled inadmissible on the grounds that The Tick and Arthur didn't have a warrant when they searched his car. There are two problems with this...
      • Number 1: The legal doctrine at play here is the "Fruit of the Poisonous Tree" which states that evidence gained illegally is inadmissible if it was gained (even indirectly) through means that violate the suspect's rights. The "tree" of the investigation is tainted, therefore its "fruit" is no good. However, this only counts if the suspect's rights were violated by law enforcement officials. Regardless of whether The Tick and Arthur were in the right or not, they are not police officers or detectives and so their actions don't count for the purposes of the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine and the evidence is fine unless the police also screwed up.
      • Number 2: The Tick and Arthur never "searched" the car anyway. Destroy's trunk popped open in the accident, and they happened to see ransom notes, nuclear weapons, and very strong rope in there. Seeing things that are in plain sight does not constitute a search.
    • Third, although not actually something Destroyo did, the way the group finally get him convicted, by baiting him into attacking Arthur in the middle of the courtroom, thereby showing the court his true colors. In reality that would likely have resulted in an immediate mistrial and everyone involved would have been arrested on the spot, although admittedly a rampaging supervillain in power armor battling with the Tick in the well would present problems for the average bailiff to contain.
  • I Am Not Weasel: Arthur's moth-themed costume is constantly confused for a rabbit.
  • Idiot Hero: The Tick, even more than he was in the cartoon. For one, he doesn't even know what his name is or where he's from.
  • Idiot Savant: The Tick was always a ditz, but in this series his ditzy traits are played up so much that he seems barely capable of functioning in society. Notably, he doesn't even know his own real name or where he's from, he can't recognize other superheroes when they're out of costume (the other characters might have trouble at first, but The Tick never picks up on it even when it's explained to him), and at first doesn't even know what death is. When it comes to heroics, however, he's a genius: he's an expert fighter and shows a decent amount of philosophical thought. Notably, when he did discover that everyone (even potatoes) can die, he spent about 30 seconds thinking about it before giving Arthur a motivating speech that actually makes sense.
  • Insult Backfire:
    Arthur: Apparently superheroes are all a bunch of self-centered, egotistical, sexually-frustrated kindergarteners. No offense intended.
    The Tick: None comprehended.
  • It's All About Me: In the episode "The Tick vs. Justice", a car accident between Batmanuel and a supervillain named Destroyo reveals the villain's trunk is full of ransom letters, nuclear weapons, and very strong rope. Despite an obvious threat to national security Batmanuel spends the entire episode worried about his insurance premiums, even turning his statement to the court into an argument that he was not at fault for the accident that led to the altercation and a plea for them to lower his deductible.
  • Mixed Metaphor: The Tick often engages in these, which often leads to Metaphorgotten as the Tick rambles nonsensically from one broken metaphor to another.
    "I'm starting to like the cut of this man's jibberish."
  • Mythology Gag: Batmanuel is referred to as "Little Fledermaus" by Destroyo in "The Tick vs Justice", a reference to the character that Batmanuel is based on: Die Fledermaus.
  • No Guy Wants an Amazon: Captain Liberty laments at one point that it's hard to find a boyfriend because other heroes are all jerkasses and normals are afraid that "we're going to zap them with a ray and shrink their johnson." Her boyfriend in that same episode also ends up leaving her when he discovers she's a superhero. Of course, considering what she did to The Immortal, they might have a point.
  • Noodle Incident: "The Lesson of Metcalf". The man quit his job, bought a jetpack and tried to become a super hero. Exactly what happened is a mystery, but he now needs a machine to pass his bowels.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: No big time heroics are ever shown on screen, beyond the fights with The Red Scare and The Terror. Shown best in "The Tick vs. Justice" where the Tick and Destroyo are about to fight in the courtroom, only for it to cut to the group in their usual spot the next day.
  • Out with a Bang: Captain Liberty sleeps with The Immortal and somehow kills him in the process. This was a guy who once fought a man made entirely out of black holes!
  • The Perry Mason Method: Inverted in "The Tick Versus Justice". Destroyo, acting as his own attorney, asks witness Arthur a loaded question, which Arthur answers in such a way as to provoke a Villainous Breakdown in Destroyo.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Compared to a cartoon where you can draw whatever you want, special effects and superpowered battles are much harder to pull off in live-action, especially for a show with a budget as low as this show's budget was. As a result the show spends more time focusing on their characters' daily lives, with the villains and battles mostly relegated to happening off-screen.
  • Private Eye Monologue: The Tick is fond of this sort of narration, only he does it out loud instead of in a voiceover, and it's typically nonsensical. Arthur even comments about it at one point. "What are you talking about? And who are you talking to?"
  • Prophetic Names: A woman claiming to be the Tick's wife says his real name is "Ted Glick". Drop the "ed Gl" and you're left with Tick. Subverted, though, when it's revealed that's not his real name.
  • Red Scare: The name of a robot built by the Russians in the 1970s to assassinate Jimmy Carter. A group of Russians decide to get revenge on the U.S. Postal system instead by assassinating the Postmaster General, but the robot has accidentally been activated before they could reprogram it. Now the Red Scare is after Jimmy Carter, who happens to be visiting The City on the same night.
  • Second Episode Morning: Coupled with Whole Episode Flashback, while celebrating their one-year anniversary as partners, Arthur tells them about how he assumed everything that happened in the first episode was a dream until he hears the Tick in his living room.
  • Screams Like a Little Girl: Arthur when he gets into trouble, making The Tick think it's a Damsel in Distress.
  • Short Runner: Only six episodes aired of nine produced.
  • Stocking Filler: Captain Liberty wears fishnets.
  • Super Hero: All of the main cast.
  • Take Our Word for It: While the bizarre level of superheroes and giant monsters of the Tick universe (such as a 50- foot Apocalypse Cow) apparently still occur, we never get to see anything more than the aftermath.
  • Third-Person Person: Batmanuel.
  • What Is This Feeling?: In "The Tick vs. Justice", he has his first headache, due to the frustration of Destroyo's impending discharge despite obvious evidence of his crime.
    The Tick: What is this awful pounding in my head?! If feels like my head is having a baby!
    Arthur: It's called a headache.
    The Tick: It's got a name now?!
  • Wisdom from the Gutter: Batmanuel is a coward, a cad, and a sorry excuse for a superhero, but he's the most stable and sane member of the quartet and is often the voice of reason when one of the others gets too manic.