Television, which gave us "Rocky and Bullwinkle," Ernie Kovacs and a couple of Ross Perot presidential campaigns, bursts forth now with a bold new entry for the annals of utter ridiculousness: "The Tick," a comedy like nothing else currently on television. Why, it's so unusual, it's even unlike itself.
It's singularly unique, crazily nuts and perturbingly disturbed.
Patrick Warburton, who played Elaine's on-again, off-again boyfriend David Puddy on "Seinfeld," returns to TV towering atop a bus station in a molded blue body cast with two little animated antennae atop his head. He's your garden-variety, bargain-basement superhero, whose name is the same as that of the lowly parasite that has to be removed from Spot's fur with tweezers and flushed down the toilet.
"The Tick," premiering at 8:30 on Channel 5, has a checkered past even though it's brand-new. Well, new but not quite brand. The project had apparently been sitting around Fox for some time waiting for a spot on the schedule. It is not among the new fall shows that are expected to be smash hits, but it will develop a small and loyal cult following faster than you can say "faster than you can say."
Rarely is it necessary to mention in a review the name of a show's production designer, but special credit goes to "The Tick's." His name is Bo Welch, and he has fashioned a merry-go-round universe that is part comic book, part Kafkaesque nightmare. Put it all together and it spells The Tick's World, a throbbing metropolis into which he thrusts himself in the name of all that's good and decent in the world. Not that, when you think about it, there's really very much of that.
The bus station roof? That's where we first meet him, doing what comes naturally only to the most unnatural of beings, the superhero, which is fulfilling his "sworn duty to protect this bus station against the ravages of evil." Mainly, however, that consists of shaking and quaking a malfunctioning vending machine (and aren't they all?) until a cup of coffee is finally spat out.
Meanwhile, in The City -- "a place where there's stuff to do" -- a young accountant named Arthur (David Burke) at the firm of World Wide Fishladder and Sons is trying to explain to Mr. Fishladder (guest star Christopher Lloyd) that doing people's taxes and totting sums just doesn't add up to a life. He longs to take flight as the Moth, avenger of the innocent, and has his own white costume, with wings, at the ready. In fact, at his desk.
Eventually the Tick and the Moth meet up with Captain Liberty (Liz Vassey, dressed like the Lady with the Torch) and Batmanuel (Nestor Carbonell), a rakish rogue. At a superhero hangout called the Lonely Panda -- combination Chinese restaurant and tacky bar -- they agree, almost, to join forces, sort of, in fighting evil, of which the supply is unlimited. First on the list: the Red Scare, a giant robot armed with hammer and sickle. In 1979 it was programmed to bonk Jimmy Carter on the bean, and now it's being unleashed again, and Carter just happens to be visiting town!
This leads to a huge donnybrook followed by a major hullabaloo. But Batmanuel and Captain Liberty miss most of it because lust gets the better of them -- if indeed there's a better of them to get. So Moth Man and Tick Guy handle it themselves in their two-fisted, heavy-handed, cleft-palated way. "Jimmy, you got robot problems," says the Tick to the ex-president on an ill-freighted elevator.
Delightful, lovable, off-the-wall funny and gorgeously realized on film, "The Tick" is the illegitimate brainchild of two merry Barrys -- Barry Sonnenfeld, who directed, and Barry Josephson, who co-produced. Ben Edlund wrote the script for the pilot. Warburton becomes, so far, the only "Seinfeld" alumnus to have a really funny series of his own. Really funny and really unreal.
Evil never sleeps but, from the looks of him, the Tick gets in 40 winks whenever he can. The odds (of success in television) are stacked against him, but maybe if we all clap our hands and chant, "We do believe in ticks, we do believe in ticks," then this adorable oddball will take a licking and keep on -- oh, what is the word?