A brief note: Mike Tyson Mysteries is a television show in which retired boxer Mike Tyson leads a gang of mystery-solvers including an Asian teenage girl who is also Tyson’s foster daughter, a ghost, and an anthropomorphic alcoholic pigeon with the voice of Norm Macdonald. There is functionally no plot, and the pilot features a famous American writer as a centaur, several arguments over the pronunciation of the word “Pulitzer,” and a song called “Ain’t Got No Time For Bird Sex.” That description contains a certain promise about the type of show Mike Tyson Mysteries is going to be, and its first episode delivers.
Writer Hugh Davidson is most known for his work on Robot Chicken, and it shows—Mike Tyson Mysteries is a relatively straightforward Scooby-Doo parody. There’s Iron Mike, basically the real-life Mike Tyson if he for some reason decided to solve mysteries and help people. There’s Pigeon (Norm Macdonald), who used to be a person but got turned into a pigeon by his ex-wife. There’s Yung Hee (Rachel Ramras), left on Mike’s doorstep as a baby by her real parents and trying to broach the subject of college with her adopted father. And there’s the Marquess Of Queensberry, pronounced like “Marcus” (Jim Rash), who’s just maybe gay? The first couple of minutes of “The End” drag pretty severely, delivering clunky and unnecessary exposition and setting up these series-long mysteries I hope never get solved. Then Mike says, “Okay team, now we’re on the same page,” and we’re ready to go.
And it’s really a page that we’re on: The weirdest thing about Mike Tyson Mysteries is that it’s hyper-literary. “The End” finds Mike and his mystery gang traveling to Cormac McCarthy’s ranch to help the notorious recluse finish one of his novels. Without spoiling much, there is a striking amount of wordplay and copious references to John Updike’s “tan, middle-aged gals” as jackoff material for Pigeon. Who knew the televised version of David Foster Wallace’s Updike takedown would inadvertently be delivered by an oversexed pigeon? Someone familiar with Mike Tyson’s memoir might—the dude read Ecce Homo, Nietzsche’s autobiography, while he was in prison (and Ecce Homo is difficult reading). Next week’s episode, if anything, ramps up the nerdiness.
There’s a niche somewhere for overeducated stoners looking for overly telegraphed, easy jokes about stuff people don’t usually take as the target of that kind of humor (guilty), and Mike Tyson Mysteries is more than happy to acknowledge how ridiculous that niche is as well as the fact that it’s filling it: “The End” repeatedly points out how ridiculous its premise is. Of course Cormac McCarthy might have sent a message to Mike Tyson asking him to help finish his novel, because that’s the sort of thing that happens on this kind of show. And Mike Tyson Mysteries goes out of its way to highlight that there is no point to the mystery whatsoever. John Updike must have somehow turned into a chupacabra, but the episode makes a point of not caring how this happened. Like the Mystery Gang, nothing is ever going to happen to any of these characters, and they’re never going to face serious challenges, because there are jokes to be made.
To be fair, Mike Tyson Mysteries is actually closer to reality than one might expect for a show that includes a chupacabra. Tyson raced pigeons as a child, and tended to hundreds of them at his home in Arizona. So there’s maybe a chance the repeated suggestions that Mike is trying to direct himself toward helping others is, actually, a comic mirror of the real Tyson. (That might be overthinking a show that mocks thinking and mocks itself for engaging in thinking, but Tyson is also a convicted rapist, in case that’s what he means by “living for himself.”) The idea that this show might hide a real heart stems from how earnest the homage to Scooby-Doo is. This loving but merciless parody of Hanna-Barbera fare is well-trod territory, but the specificity and brevity of Mike Tyson Mysteries makes it almost sweet. Even the clunkiness of the dialogue sort of works given how terrible the expository writing was on those early Scooby-Doos. Do you expect Mike Tyson to be more than a cardboard cutout on this show? I certainly don’t. There are jokes to be made.
And on that most important count, Mike Tyson Mysteries is a decent enough success. I probably laughed out loud more times at this show than I have at anything in a while, barring Transparent. That might just be out of shock at a show featuring deep cut jokes about the women of the Rabbit series, a feeling that could wear off in time. But for a few weeks at least, I’ll be tuning in to catch the wacky adventures of Iron Mike, and making some time for bird sex.
- Macdonald has almost all of the best line deliveries in this episode. Case in point: “’Chupacabra’ is a really hard word for him.”
- Tyson’s deliveries are also great, as long as he’s in on the joke: “I’ll rely on my other senses. I’ll rely on my sense of humor.”
- Yung Hee is my new rap name (someone get Mike Tyson an Arizona endorsement deal).
- Totally unrelated, but—I watched the first two episodes of the new season of Black Dynamite, and what is happening on that show?