RETROSPECULATIVE TV: The Tick: “Couples” (Episode 6, or possibly 3)

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The Tick and Arthur are on patrol, beating down some petty thief. The bad guy almost gets away, but is intercepted by another superhero team: “Fiery Blaze” and his (Very gay) sidekick, “Friendly Fire.” (Best. Sidekick. Name. Ever.) They do some surprisingly effectual Batman/Robin stuff on the bad guy, and function as a well-oiled (Ambiguously gay) team, impressing the heck out of Tick and Arthur. Blaze is very much the one in charge, and says things like “Nobody was talking to you” whenever Friendly says anything. Blaze invites Tick and Arthur out to dinner.

It quickly becomes apparent that Blaze and Friendly have a very abusive relationship. Blaze is domineering, insulting, dismissive, and really a jerk. Friendly acts very much like a browbeaten wife. Later in the bathroom, he even says, “Arthur, you’re smart. What should I do?” Meanwhile, Blaze preaches to Tick about Sidekicks, speaking very much in terms like a husband from a 1950s sitcom would talk about his wife: their place is to clean the lair, do the laundry, cook meals, sort and prepare the equipment, send out birthday and Christmas cards (he actually says this) and a bunch of other things. He says you have to keep your sidekicks in line, or they’ll walk all over you. Tick is impressed.

Tick: “Go tell it on the mountain!”
Blaze: “I *AM* the mountain!”

So Friendly leaves Blaze, and ends up living with Tick and Arthur. Of course it’s all cringingly gay, since Friendly looks, acts, talks, and preens like a late-90s club kid, primping his hair, futzing with stuff in the bathroom for hours on end. What the heck is he doing in there? Listening to loud, thumpy music all day long.

Tick: “The thumping has gotten in the walls, and in the pipes. It’s even making the tap water funky!”

Meanwhile, Tick gets authoritarian on Arthur, and Arthur gets pissy back at tick. They’re like an old married couple already, as Cap and Batmanuel point out. Friendly takes Arthur to meet three other abused sidekicks - *INCLUDING FISHBOY, LOST PRINCE OF ATLANTIS!* - who fill him with horror stories of their lives (Including throwing spears at them, and telling their mothers that they’re dead, then kidnapping them and taking them across state lines), and Arthur realizes that his relationship with the Tick is pretty good.

Arthur: “You guys, though, you’ve got serious problems.”

That night on Patrol, Friendly suggests he and Arthur and maybe some of the others form their own superhero team, “Sidekicks united,” or some such. Arthur refuses, and he and Tick pledge fealty to each other.

Arthur: “We fill in each other’s needs. Like, for instance, you’re bullet proof, and I’m not. So that’s good.”
Tick: “And it’s your firm grip on reality that keep me on track, chum!”

They declare their union a “Duo,” nay, a “Duocracy,” with nobody in charge. Friendly berates Arthur, but then Blaze shows up all drunk and crying about how he needs Friendly, the lair is a mess, his clothes are dirty, he’s not eating, and he has no interest in fighting crime anymore. Then he falls off the roof, so Friendly takes him home.

MEANWHILE, in the more-or-less completely unrelated subplot, Cap and Batmanuel are debating whether or not they’re alone.

Batmanuel: “Batmanuel is not ‘alone.’ ‘Alone’ is a sad state. ‘Lone’ is an aesthetic choice.”

Just the same, Cap decides to buy a dog to fill the void in her dateless 29-year-old life. A (very gay) dude named “Randall” refuses to sell her one, so we get some shenanigans where Batmanuel has to buy the dog for her, and ends up buying the wrong one. Said dog then makes her life a living hell (As predicted by Randall, which is why he refused to sell her one), until she inadvertently blows the thing - and her apartment - up with a hand grenade.

CODA:

As the credits roll, we see Batmanuel and Cap, both with lots of bandages and casts from the explosion, walking the dog, though the dog is out of frame the whole time.

Cap: “Well, at least he’s less of a pain to deal with now.”
Batmanuel: “Yes, most dogs are much easier to deal with after they’ve been neutered. Your method is very unusual, though.”

Then Tick and Arthur come by, see the evidently-very-deformed dog, which is still out of frame, and Tick yells “Holy Hannah! Where’d you get the platypus!”

The end.

OBSERVATIONS

I’m beginning to doubt the whole “Episode order” thing. Wiki says they were to come in one order, FOX broadcast them in a different order, and we’re told the Wiki order is the right one. However, this one aired third, and that feels close to right, whereas the ‘intended’ order is sixth, and that just don’t. Why? Well, for starters: there’s actually some action in this one. We actually see Tick & Arthur *doing* something. Arthur even flies! They seem to have decided early on *not* to do that kind of thing. There’s even some special effects. They’re still hitting the ‘gay’ thing really hard, which was largely dispensed with in the later episodes. Also, in some of the episodes we’ve already seen, Arthur and Tick introduce themselves as a duo, *not* a Hero-and-Sidekick. This is obviously the episode that introduces that, so it makes no sense for it to appear 2/3rds of the way through the series.

Also, there’s a logical progression to the episodes “The Terror” (In which Arthur accepts a life of superheroism), “Arthur, Interrupted,” (In which Arthur comes out to his family) and this one, “Couples,” (In which the terms of their partnership are made clear). After this, they’re largely standalones, but I feel these three were intended to come together, which means the Wiki order is wrong.

Not that it matters, ‘cuz the show only made 9 eps, only ran 8 weeks, and was never all that funny, but I’m OCD. These things nag at me, no matter how inconsequential.

This is unquestionably the absolute gayest of all the episodes, taking place at a time where that could still be both funny and uncomfortable (“Not that there’s anything wrong with that…”), but somehow it just never really gets going. In fact, I’d say that it’s actually *less* funny than the show’s already low average. It’s certainly the most humorless of the eps I’ve seen, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it was the least funny one of the whole series. Which is really weird, as it should be a scream. Everything involving Blaze and Friendly *sounds* hilarious, they’re both well cast, they both play their clichés well, and there are a whole heck of a lot of great lines in this ep. I mean, seriously, there are probably more great quotes in this ep than in any three others in the series combined, all of which are pretty great:

Cap: “Must you always hide behind sex?”
Batmanuel: “I try not to, but it’s just so big.”

Tick: “Who can deny the snazzy of that! You’re not denying the snazzy of that, are you?”

Tick: [When Firey Blaze shows up drunk and crying] “Wow. Somebody just got a whole lot less cool.”
Cap: “I’m 29 and I’m home alone on a Friday night. I even rented ‘Sleepless in Seattle.’”
Batmanuel: “Wow, that is bad.”

Randall: “Why don’t you go rent a movie or something instead of ruining some poor puppys life with your single-woman-hormone-clock-is-ticking-impulse-buying-nonsense?” [GREAT slam!]
Cap: “Just sell me the damned dog!”
Randall: “She’s not for sale, at least not to you. What you need is a singles chat room, not some living creature.”

I mean, that’s all great stuff. I found to my surprise that when I’ve been thinking of lines from the show over the last decade, almost *all* of them came from this episode. Wow! Best written of the bunch by a longshot, and more ambitious than any but the pilot. And yet it’s the least funny. Why?

Well, first and foremost, I think its that the whole plot (Such as there is) revolves around an abusive gay-seeming relationship. I mean, regardless of your feelings on homosexuality, or superheroics as faux-homosexuality in the Tickiverse (“Fauxmosexuality,” perhaps?), or whatever your feelings are on *anything,* nobody likes to see someone in an abusive relationship. Particularly when the abuser is a big, hairy, drunken, violent bastard (Ron Perleman) slapping around a diminutive, submissive little girly-man, as per here. It’s supposed to play out as funny, but it’s just creepy, every bit as creepy as if a straight guy slaps his wife around. In fact: creepier in that they’re so out-and-proud about their deviance.

Just to be clear: a husband abusing his wife, a homosexual abusing another homosexual, or a woman abusing her husband (It happens) are all equally awful and morally indefensible, however abusive gay relationships just have a much higher ick factor, as you’ve got two things most people can’t stand stacked atop each other, as opposed to *just* having to deal with the gay thing. And when Friendly reveals that, yes, Blaze frequently kicks him - gah! It’s just awful. I mean, why is that supposed to be funny again?

So the whole thing just plays out as sad and creepy, far more so than I think they realized.

The Cap/Bat/Dog subplot is kinda’ makework but it at least makes good use of both characters for a change.

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS EPISODE?

Honestly, nobody except possibly spousal abusers from states where gay marriage is legal will like this episode.

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