Review by Dan Skip Allen
The story of Mike Tyson isn't one for the lighthearted. If you're unfamiliar with his crazy and sorted life, prepare for a wild ride. There's a saying, "Be like Mike," more like be with "Mike" until they sue him for his money. That's the real story of Mike Tyson's life. He was always in the wrong place at the wrong time. Mike Tyson had a tough upbringing, and in Brownsville, New York City, that wasn't an easy or surprising life until he was imprisoned and found boxing as his savior. The rest of his life was a whirlwind, not unlike his opponents, who were knocked out pretty quickly in the ring.
Mike is played by three actors in the series Ethan Barrett as the young version, BJ Minor as a teen, and Trevonte Rhodes (Moonlight) as an adult. The show starts in 1974 with him as a child being picked on by bullies. It goes into his relationship with his mother. Then it later focuses on his turn into a life of crime and imprisonment as a teen before the show eventually goes into his relationship with Cus D'Amato (Harvey Keitel), his trainer and mentor/father figure. The rest is history depicted on the small screen for everyone to see.
The show goes into his relationships with Robin Givens (Laura Harrier, Spider-Man: Homecoming), a famous actress from The Cosby Show and Head of the Class, and his rape trial with Desiree Washington (Li Eubanks), Miss Rhode Island Black America. The series also features Don King (Russell Hornsby), who is trying to be a business manager/go-between for the press and boxing organizations. He also took a lot of Tyson's money in the process. Tyson had a tragic life after his boxing career's success ended.
One glaring issue with this show that I have is that the series uses breaking the fourth wall as a key story aspect. I feel this didn't work very well. It took away from the overall dramatic elements of the show. The voiceover of Tyson describing some things that happened in his life was also off-putting. The framing device is him doing a stand-up routine in Enid, Indiana, telling his story how he sees it, not how the media portrays his life.
The acting in the series is fine with Rhodes as the star, and he owns this role. I couldn't have imagined him in this role, but he goes all in as this damaged man with all the highs and the lows anybody could imagine in one lifetime. Keitel as D'Amato was good as well. The women — Harrier as Givens and Eubanks as Washington — were the standouts opposite Rhodes. They brought this show to another level. Two actresses I wasn't that familiar with proved they have a big future after this series airs. And Hornsby is always good in whatever project he's in, and he's having a blast devouring every scene playing Don King.
This series goes into all of Tyson's life, from winning the heavyweight championship to the lows of his separations and trials. He had it all, but everything was taken away from him, similar to many celebrities. Most biopics show the rise to fame and the fall from grace of archetypes like Tyson. They all have a similar story. From musicians to actors to athletes, they rarely are depicted as saints their entire lives. Tyson is no different than the others. In fact, he is the perfect example of this.
Craig Gillespie is known for directing and producing some other biopic and true-life stories, such as I, Tonya and Hulu's own Pam and Tommy. Tyson is another series about actual events. The other projects he's done, even Cruella, are better than this series. There is a vibe and feel he's going for here that doesn't work for me. I've been a fan of his other projects, especially I, Tonya, but this one wasn't for me. I grew up watching Tyson's life unfold on the little screen, and this version of his story seemed a little too much like a fever dream.
Mike is a series that goes all in on the ups and downs of Tyson's life and the loves and losses he faced throughout his tragic and successful existence. Everything was depicted in the show. Gillespie goes a little too far with breaking the fourth wall and the various ways he tries to tell Tyson's story. On the other hand, the actors — especially Rhodes, Harrier, and Washington — deliver everything they can to try and salvage this eight-part mini-series. It's just all over the place. Maybe that was the point of what they were going for. Diehard Tyson fans might like this depiction of his life; it just wasn't for me.
Mike streams on Hulu beginning August 25. Five out of eight episodes reviewed.