Artifact: Ticks Are For Kids?


Credit: Fox

Behold the Tick, a dimwitted but nigh-indestructible superhero with his own cartoon show. He delivers long-winded, metaphor-twisting speeches; his fellow postmodern "superheroes" include Die Fledermaus and the Civically Minded Five (Carpeted Man among them); and the villains he fights suffer serious personality disorders. The Tick is not one show but two, though they consist of the same program, a trick made possible by TV-choice technology and niche programming. It is a self-contained lesson in the New Media. The show started in 1995 as a Saturday morning kid-TV series. While its plots featured adventures that children enjoy, its scripts were filled with references and situations better appreciated by media-savvy adults. Once, Mental Man created the illusion that he was a baby; his pursuers set their holographic projectors on "Dingo," referencing a Meryl Streep movie that exploited a lurid news story. The Tick quickly developed an adult following. So this season, an episode airs first on Saturday morning on Fox as a kids' show, then it does a semiotic quick-change and runs a week later on Comedy Central as self-referential satire. Elites bemoan niche programming; what we gain in entertainment, they say, we lose in common culture. The Tick addresses relative cultural experiences in ways they never dreamed of.