Taking on Tyson/Breakout Kings: TV Reviews

Mat Szwajkos for Animal Planet
Mike Tyson races pigeons for Animal Planet, while A&E jumps into scripted fare.

Mike Tyson races pigeons for Animal Planet, while A&E jumps into scripted fare.


From the moment it was announced, there was a bizarreness to it. Mike Tyson was going to do a reality show on, of all places, Animal Planet.

About pigeons.

What more needed to be added to this idea? Nothing. (Well, having Michael Kenneth Williams -- aka Omar on The Wire -- do the voice-over was a nice little bonus.)

Some people might get excited about real housewives or heavy people, but outside of cameras following Charlie Sheen around, what's not to get excited about with Tyson and animals? Nothing could possibly go wrong there. Or, you know, perhaps there could be that collision between the lost little boy part of Tyson and the part where he can shatter your kidney with one punch or bite your ear off.

Pretty much required viewing. Judging from the first of six hours that will air, this might be the perfect series where you can plop on the couch, pop a beer and think, "This is all a little odd." Part of that might stem from the fact that ordinary people think pigeons are dirty. Like rats with wings. But for Tyson, pigeons were a way to escape the dangers of his upbringing. His first fight outside the ring was with someone in a gang of kids who stole one of his birds and tore its head off.

But what Tyson is really about is the sport of pigeon racing, which Tyson has never been involved with before. Tyson's Corner in Jersey City, N.J., is a sanctuary set up by Tyson and his good friend Mario Costa, home to a melange of pigeons he's kept since he was 14. It is Tyson's favorite place -- it was the first place he went after getting beaten by Lennox Lewis in 2002.

As a hook to the series, Tyson brings in "the godfather of competitive pigeon racing," Vinnie Torre. His job is to educate Iron Mike about the pigeon-racing world so he can take on the sport's heavyweights. This is where that good, cold beer might come in handy. All of these characters -- there is no other word to describe them -- are out to beat the neophyte's ass. Just speculation here, but it could turn out that the people who are insanely passionate about pigeon racing will ultimately prove more interesting than Tyson. The drama could surface from the series' objective: Teach Tyson how to race pigeons, set up some challenges, and see how he reacts. Remember, he does not like to lose.

If Tyson can crack open a window on a famously unpredictable boxer, then it might be worth the time. It would help, however, if Animal Planet didn't think viewers were multitasking -- say, watching a fight on another channel. The series repeats itself so many times during the first hour that you're tempted to bite the remote in half.


Let's get one thing straight before taking a look at A&E's plunge back into scripted material with Breakout Kings. It does not -- repeat, not -- take a con to catch a con. That is by now a very tired television cliche and one that's embraced by Kings. But the series overcomes this crutch to become a mostly interesting diversion from going to work five days a week.

Kings has a redemptive story behind its creation, killing and ultimate resurrection in developing the pilot. Pitched at Fox, which looked like it was going to lock on to the drama from Prison Break writers Matt Olmstead and Nick Santora, the network passed and allowed the pilot to be shopped. It ended up at A&E, with a 13-episode order.

There's also a bit of redemption in the content, in that Kings quickly overcomes the cliche that drives the pilot by adding a twist or two and focusing on character development. Domenick Lombardozzi (The Wire) stars as Ray, a cop with issues who posits an idea to the U.S. Marshals about using inmates to track down escaped felons. He's eventually given the green light despite the skepticism of his boss, Charlie (Laz Alonso), an analyst at the Marshals' office who has been stuck behind a desk because of a heart problem. While Charlie doesn't agree with Ray that the cons will be effective, it's Charlie's first chance at fieldwork.

He takes on Ray's crop of cons: Lloyd (Jimmi Simpson), a child prodigy and behavioral expert-turned-gambler serving 25 years for something the rest of the cons can't figure out; Shea (Malcolm Goodwin), a gang member-turned-stolen-goods trafficker; and Erica (Serinda Swan), a bounty hunter's daughter who has anger-management issues, as illustrated by the fact she tracked and killed the five thugs who murdered her father.

Kings is also mostly closed-ended with snippets of each con's past revealed in the episodes, so there's enough interest to keep the show moving. The leads' backstories might have some meat on the bone as well. But Kings works mostly as an hour during which you turn off your brain and just go with it. It's not The Wire or The Shield but falls comfortably within that basic-cable safe zone where a little edge and bountiful entertainment pass the time just fine.