Funny thing about television series. They very often are well ahead of the curve when the pitcher throwing the curves is that big star known as the movies. Comic book movies only really hit the big time on the big screen in the 21st century. Superheroes have been a staple of television series for probably far longer than you think. Of course, superheroes today are taken fairly seriously on the silver screen whereas throughout the history of superheroes on the small screen the accent has most definitely been a satirical shade of comedy. The date January 9, year 1967 was the year of the big explosion. Why? Because it was a year earlier that the campy “Batman” showed took the country by storm.
“Mr. Terrific” beat “Captain Nice” to air by exactly one half hour. “Mr. Terrific” debuted on January 9, 1967 on CBS at 8:00 ET. The show detailed the adventures of Stanley Beamish, a mild mannered pump jockey at a gas station. The Bureau of Secret Projects supplied Mr. Beamish with some pills that could grant him superpowers. And, yes, the idea of a pharmaceuticals helping to grant one powers beyond that which God granted them most certainly was intended to have resonance among certain audience members in the year of Sgt. Pepper. The problem with the pills was–as any long time Ritalin addict can tell you–that they only lasted an hour. In emergencies, Stanley could pop a booster pill or two to provide him with an additional twenty minutes of superpowers. The comedy of “Mr. Terrific” stemmed, as you probably suspected, from the fact that just when he needed that 21st minute, the pills wore off.
In one of those extraordinary exhibitions of the utter lack of originality among TV executives, just a few minutes after the premiere episode of “Mr. Terrific” went off on CBS, “Captain Nice” began on NBC. No less a personage than the man who would later bring the prickly Dr. Craig to life on “St. Elsewhere” played Carter Nash who could turn into Captain Nice courtesy of a Jekyll/Hyde concoction he accidentally created in his job as a police chemist. The big problem was that while the drink gave Carter Nash special powers, he was still Carter Nash inside. And Carter gave mild-mannered a brand new meaning. It also didn’t help that he had a fear of heights and one of his powers was the ability to fly.
The Greatest American Hero
Ralph Hinckley (until his name was ridiculously changed to Hanley following the assassination attempt of Ronald Reagan before his name was changed back to Hinckley again) also had some difficulty learning to fly, but he didn’t have a fear like Captain Nice. “The Greatest American Hero” was the 1980s version of “Captain Nice” and “Mr. Terrific” in that it featured an average Joe who pretty much becomes a superhero by accident. Since it takes more than mere superpowers to do the job right, the learning curve becomes the source of humor. One of the great jokes about “The Greatest American Hero” is that he received his powers from an alien intelligence. Boom! There’s your immigration argument, boyo.
The 21st century version of “Captain Nice” and “Mr. Terrific” tweaks the concept a bit in that he appears to be a bit more than just some guy off the street in a costume endowed with powers. The backstory of Tick is a bit muddled, but who cares. He lives in a city overrun with parody superheroes and superheroines. In fact, the guy who plays Batmanuel is the same guy who plays the Mayor in the Dark Knight trilogy. As for the Tick himself, he is assayed to brilliant perfection by Patrick Warburton who is absolutely amazing as he manages to hit every single note