'Mike Tyson Mysteries': TV Review

Courtesy of Adult Swim
There's no mystery as to why Adult Swim brought this sharp and savvy concept to series

No battle is too big or too small for Iron Mike in his new animated role

Few may have thought to fashion former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson as the Hanna-Barbera-style crime fighter he is in Mike Tyson Mysteries, but after his Mike character frees the brain of Bobby Fischer from being trapped inside an IBM computer and exposes a legion of businessman robots (whose leader is voted out of command by stockholders, while crying out "the singularity, people!"), Adult Swim's savvy becomes blessedly clear.

In the quarter-hour animated series, Iron Mike's crew (called the "Mike Tyson Mystery Team") solves problems sent to them via carrier pigeon. The crack team is made up of Mike's adopted Korean daughter Yung Hee (Rachel Ramras), the ghost of the Marquess of Queensberry (Jim Rash) and a foul, drunk pigeon (Norm MacDonald) — called Pigeon —who was once a man. 

For his part, Tyson is not just an accessory to the series' humor, but essential to it. He lampoons his lisp by chronically mispronouncing words (including his daughter's name), while his character dresses in an outlandish tracksuit and comes up with many half-baked, yet complex, ideas. The series is specifically geared toward him in almost every way: the many pigeons in the series are a reference to his childhood love of them, while the Marquess' name is also the name of the founding rules of boxing. In one particularly well-wrought scene that speaks to his boxing career, Mike argues with the ghost of Trevor Berbick, who wants to include the word "ultimate" in front of their 1986 Judgment Day fight title. "It's putting a hat on a hat!" Mike says.

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Stylistically, the series' retro animation evokes memories of Scooby-Doo, or more recently, Adult Swim's excellent Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law. But content-wise, Mike Tyson Mysteries becomes an unexpected venue for literary criticism and highbrow in-jokes. In its first episode, the Mystery Team is called upon to help author Cormac McCarthy find an ending to his latest novel. Mike at first wonders how he can be of assistance, but gets sidetracked on a theory that McCarthy is a centaur. Later, as the team reads the novel, the Marquess complains, "It's fine, but there are no quote marks. I have to keep rereading sections because I can't figure out who's speaking." Pigeon opines, "He's no John Updike. I love Updike's women …those tan, middle-aged women."

The supporting characters are elevated out of a general quirkiness by the quality of the voice actors; MacDonald's trademark sardonic drone, for instance, consistently makes Pigeon a standout. Ramras gives Yung Hee a sage tone (one of the reasons why Mike is convinced she's a robot) but one that's still believably teenage. On the other hand, there's a hope that Jim Rash will be given more to work with in upcoming episodes, since the Marquess' strength so far mainly comes from sight gags (although the absurdity of his ghostly presence is golden).

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It was important for Mike Tyson Mysteries to find a way to both roast Tyson on the low points of his public image (like his many run-ins with the law) as well as dutifully acknowledge his personal struggles, which it does. But the question ultimately comes down to whether or not Tyson is in on the joke. From watching the first two episodes of this new series, though, the answer seems to be a resounding yes; the series trades in self-deprecating humor on every level with surprising sincerity, even when characters are singing about bird sex. 

Mike Tyson Mysteries should not disappoint the Adult Swim audience, or anyone who tunes in out of curiosity. The series' humor is both audacious and intelligent, and the combination of that familiar Warner Bros. animation style coupled with modern references (all through a sendup of the style's original formulas) leaves no mystery for Mike to solve. It's looking like a knockout. 

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