'Mike Tyson Mysteries' is an ear-biting cartoon satire
It is hard to believe that it has been almost 15 years since the pioneers over at Cartoon Network offshoot Adult Swim began reappropriating the classic formats of Warner Bros. Animation and Hanna-Barbera to squeeze absurdist comedy from their marrow.
After finding success with "Space Ghost Coast to Coast" and "Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law" at the turn of the century, Adult Swim shifted from making profanity-laced spinoffs of classic cartoons into becoming one of cable television's most successful incubators for adult-themed comedy. Anchored by reruns of popular Fox animated shows, Adult Swim cultivated a devoted audience that consumes just about anything in its roster, from claymation sketch comedy "Robot Chicken" to the infinitely expanding live-action offerings of Tim & Eric.
With Adult Swim's trajectory from an obscure late-night programming block to an irreplaceable part of the cable television landscape in mind, the new show "Mike Tyson Mysteries" exists in a difficult to describe plane of postmodernity. It is effectively a throwback to throwbacks, the result of the endlessly cyclical process of mass-market entertainment while paradoxically fulfilling the network's mandate for absurd programming with its inherent familiarity.
Evaluating "Mike Tyson Mysteries" from an analytical perspective can get messy if not downright philosophical very quickly, which is hilarious considering how easily the audience discerns the premise. The show is essentially a direct takeoff of "Scooby-Doo," centered around real life boxer-turned-punchline Mike Tyson, voicing himself, who is delivered mysteries to solve by his coop of racing pigeons, a reference to something that actually exists.
Along for the ride are the Marquess of Queensbury (Jim Rash), a ghost who is hilariously depicted as an unfinished pencil sketch, a Korean teenager who was dropped off at Tyson's doorstep (Rachel Ramras), and a foul (pun intended) pigeon (Norm MacDonald) who was once a human before being cursed by an ex.
The classical animation style and loosely-defined "plot" structure recall memories of Saturday morning cartoons. However, the rampant cursing, laundry list of jokes regarding the work of "No Country for Old Men" author Cormac McCarthy, and the creative choice to leave in every instance of Mike Tyson flubbing his line deliveries make the show feel like some kind of fever dream. There are moments it seems this show cannot possibly exist while it's simultaneously obvious it does.
"Mike Tyson Mysteries" exists within the blurred lines of contradiction. The writing is swiftly intelligent, yet blisteringly stupid. The episode, clocking in at 11 minutes, is impossibly short but somehow fleshes out its core characters and delivers a thorough three-act plot. While often highbrow and almost always lowbrow, it never falls squarely in the middle, opting to operate on two completely different levels simultaneously.
This all lends to the contradictions inherent to the persona of Mike Tyson. In 2014, he is the embodiment of kitschy celebrity. His boxing career and the baggage that comes with it; biting off Evander Holyfield's ear, getting his iconic face tattoo and being convicted on rape charges have all been brushed aside. From "The Hangover" movies to this, Mike Tyson has been allowed back into the mainstream.
Is that acceptable? Probably not. But if his successful brand reinvention has to pay off, at least it is doing so in something that has the subtext to match its avatar. Mike Tyson is now the face of something designed to appear to be a throwback to old children's television, inviting to families in appearance except for the fact that its about Mike Tyson. Actually watch the program, and, unsurprisingly, it is deeply subversive, appealing only to those savvy enough to understand its deeply specific sense of humor while willing to roll with the punches (pun intended) of its rampant inanity.
This is all fine and dandy, but is the show any good? Judging from the first episode, absolutely. "Mike Tyson Mysteries" produces near-constant laughter, partly from the shock of its own deranged existence and partly from being genuinely clever. Whether you get your kicks from Mike Tyson struggling to pronounce the word "chupacabra" while punching the mythical monster in the groin or witnessing a talking pigeon compare the collective works of John Updike and Cormac McCarthy through the paradigm of their sexual content, there is something for everyone and no one in particular.
"Mike Tyson Mysteries" airs Mondays at 10:30 p.m. on Adult Swim. You can watch the first episode here.
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