MIKE (Tyson) on Hulu

Written by Steven Rogers, Keisha Zollar, Darnell Brown, Karin Gist, Samantha Corbin-Miller, Mando Alvarado, Anthony Sparks
Directed by Craig Gillespie, Tiffany Johnson, Director X

Airing on Hulu, MIKE is a miniseries consisting of 8 half-hour episodes detailing the life and times (and crimes) of Iron Mike Tyson, the former professional boxer once known as the baddest man on the planet.

I grew up in the 1980’s when Tyson rose to prominence, I remember when he seemed unbeatable, and I watched many of his championship fights and followed his life and career in the news over the decades. I’ve also seen the 1995 biopic starring Micheal Jai White, and his one-man play Undisputed Truth. So I went into this knowing quite a bit about his life already, but this series expands on some of the major events.

It’s the play that serves as the framing device for the series, as we see Mike Tyson performing it on stage, serving as an ongoing narration to events we see in flashback during the episodes. Mike also regularly breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to us, the viewers at home.

Episode 1 covers his violent childhood in New York, where he infamously racked up 37 arrests by age 13.
Episode 2 focuses on Mike’s relationship with the Late Cus D’amato who takes him into his home and begins training him to be a boxer, culminating in him becoming the youngest heavyweight boxing champion in history.
Episode 3 has Mike meeting and beginning his relationship with Robin Givens, which leads to marriage and then divorce. Also in the wake of D’amato’s death, Don King begins to worm his way into Mike’s life.
Episode 4 is where Mike’s life really begins to spiral out of control, in a whirlwind of women, alcohol, drugs and reckless spending on luxuries, all the while his worst impulses are encouraged by Don King who has become his new manager. This ends in one of the biggest upsets in boxing history when Mike gets knocked out and loses his title to James “Buster” Douglas.

Episode 5 is the “highlight”, for lack of a better word, of the series as it introduces Desiree Washington, the 18-year-old beauty pageant contestant who claimed that Mike Tyson raped her. Li Eubanks plays Washington and is the only other character in this series besides Mike who breaks the fourth wall and speaks to the viewers. And this series doesn’t recount these events with ambiguity, the way the 1995 biopic did. This show flat-out states that Mike did rape her, and that event is shown (thankfully not too explicitly) on screen. And it’s not just Mike who’s the bad guy here, we see that Desiree is the innocent victim of not just Mike but of the Black community in general, as we see Black leaders like Louis Farrakhan publicly condemning her and she’s racked with nightmares during this ordeal, and even vomits in the courthouse during the trial. Eubanks shines in this role. And, well, with this episode it’s easy to see why Tyson was not happy with Hulu making this series.

Episode 6 deals with his 3-year stint in prison which led to his conversion to the religion of Islam before he was released to a hero’s welcome from the public.
Episode 7 deals with his boxing comeback, along with him meeting and courting Monica Turner, the woman who would become his second wife. But his successful ring return is halted by his surprising loss to Evander Holyfield and then in the rematch when Mike bites off a piece of Holyfield’s ear. The show does make a point of portraying Holyfield as deliberately headbutting Mike in both fights, which drives Mike to the frustration and anger that causes him to bite Holyfield.

And the final episode deals with the aftermath of the second fight, with his public image in shambles, he has a cocaine addiction that takes over his personal life, and his attempt to regain his title is foiled in a loss to Lennox Lewis (whom Mike attacked and bit on the leg during a pre-fight press conference). He fires (and beats up) Don King, loses more fights and retires from boxing, gets divorced again but meets his 3rd wife Lakiha, who had her own colorful history (she spent 6 months in prison for a crime involving her father while she was pregnant with her and Mike’s child), endures the tragic accidental death of his 4-year-old daughter Exodus, and then (supposedly) kicking his demons with the help of therapy, rehab, and his wife. It’s a satisfying conclusion to what is still an ongoing story.

Trevante Rhodes stars as adult Mike Tyson (with Zaiden James playing Mike Tyson as a child & Ethan Barrett playing him as a teenager), and he does a good job. To some degree, it can’t help but come off a bit like a parody, but I think that’s just because of who Mike Tyson is. Like, Trevante sounds like he’s using a fake voice, but then so does the real Mike Tyson, so it’s hard to avoid. Likewise with Russell Hornsby, who does as good a job as anyone could playing Don King, but he’s another larger-than-life figure.

Other standouts in the series are Harvey Keitel as Cus D’amato, and Laura Harrier as Robin Givens, who is at least a bit more sympathetic in this series than the scheming gold-digger that she was portrayed to be in the 1995 biopic (and in the real-life press at the time), although her mother Ruth, played by Leslie Silva, comes off as rather cold.

It definitely brought back memories. I remember watching the Buster Douglas fight live on TV with my mother. We were watching it on the big TV in her bedroom and my mother had fallen asleep during it, as like everyone else at the time this was expected to be another easy Tyson victory. I remember when the knockout happened I shook her awake shouting “Mike Tyson just got knocked out!” and she was shocked. I also remember us watching both Holyfield fights, and being confused about what was happening during the second one. It was like, “wait…did he just bite him?!?”

And yes I remember how pretty much everyone I knew, of all colors but especially Black people, assumed that he was innocent of the rape charge and that Desiree Washington was lying. Considering the change in public attitudes about such things, I have been surprised at the lack of backlash he’s received in the present, his public image has pretty much been successfully rehabilitated.

Whatever one thinks of Mike Tyson the man, Mike the miniseries is a compelling show to watch.


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