Everyone knows Mike Tyson the fighter, but do they know Mike? In the latest series from Hulu, Mike shows viewers the life of Mike Tyson warts and all, allowing the viewers to make their own decision about the legendary sports figure.
Trevante Rhodes takes on the challenge of playing the legendary boxer, and when the series begins, we see a modern-day version of Mike standing on stage during a one man show, where he takes the audience through his life – and what a life it has been.
From his youth in Brownsville, New York, we see that Mike Tyson wasn’t always the king of the boxing ring. He was the victim of bullies, ignored and labeled by doctors, and generally just another statistic waiting to happen. His mother Lorna Mae (Olunike Adeliyi) is trying to survive alone as she raises her kids, but when Mike learns to fight back and becomes a street thug at the ripe old age of 10, she worries about his survival.
Arrested and put in a juvenile facility, Mike sees a chance to take his fighting skills to the boxing ring. From there, his life is guided by a boxing trainer named Cus D’Amato (Harvey Keitel) who takes Mike in and helps him grow as a fighter. Mike’s unbelievable punching power leads him to fame, a championship belt, and millions of dollars. The rocket propelled ride to celebrity brings him a marriage to Robin Givens (Laura Harrier), public discourse about his behavior, and a promoter named Don King (Russell Hornsby). The higher he is built in the public mind sets him up for the fall, but Mike Tyson’s failures were perpetrated by his own actions.
How do you tell a story about Mike Tyson without eliciting strong feelings from the audience. Anyone who was around in the 1980s and 1990s knows who he is and what he has done. What people don’t know about the man is what Mike explores and allows the viewers to add some context to the public life. Tyson grew up in a troubled time in a world where hardly anyone believed in him. When he found that acceptance from Cus D’Amato it was the first time he found a father figure.
Mike Tyson is looking to belong. He is looking for the father figure that he never had, and he is looking to matter. Mike has the audience following along with him as he reflects on his life, and the choices that he made. Trevante Rhodes total immersion into the role of Mike Tyson is what makes Mike a phenomenal success. From his physical prowess to his personality and demeanor, Rhodes exudes the look and style of Mike Tyson.
Harvey Keitel as Cus D’Amato is perfect casting. He plays the wise old trainer to perfection, and when Mike loses Cus, the audience feels for him more because of the genuine heart that Keitel brought to the role. It would be easy to see how Mike viewed Cus as the dad he always wanted, because Cus fulfilled that role perfectly, such as what Keitel has done with his time in the series.
Mike Tyson’s life is complicated. A life of crime, violence, drugs, and no real stewards to teach him how to live a normal life, plus being thrust into superstardom and more money than he knows what to do with, is bound to lead to problems. His relationship with Robin Givens is problematic, because Mike doesn’t know how to behave in a relationship. His drug addiction leads to violence and the short-lived romance with Givens ends in a whirlwind of bad publicity. But to Mike, the public still loved him, so nothing changed.
As Mike transitions from one episode to the next, we see Mike Tyson reflect on what he did, what he should have done during some instances, like punching Don King out when they first met, to talking about his own inadequacies. Mike tells the audience that this man, who was a monster and demon in the ring, is a normal human being, who like everyone else had issues with his parents, and didn’t know what to do. To make matters worse for Mike, he was a black man who gained prominence and had to fulfill a role to black youth.
Having the weight of the world on a set of shoulders that struggled to manage his own life, let alone the expectations of millions, is problematic. When the support system of people surrounding Mike are only interested in the cash he brings in and not his own well-being, it is a recipe for disaster.
But Mike doesn’t just blame others for Mike Tyson’s actions. When we get to the final episode where we see Mike’s conviction for raping Desiree Washington, the show allows the victim to speak and focuses this final episode on Washington’s experience. It’s hard to watch, but an important conclusion to the early story of Mike Tyson.
Mike Tyson was rewarded for having the bruiser boxer image, and the constant enabling of his behavior led him to commit his crime, because he thought he was untouchable. No one is untouchable, not even the heavyweight champion of the world.
No matter what you think of Mike Tyson, Hulu’s latest series is a devastating look at the price of fame, how someone with talent and superstardom could fall from grace, and why we should all be able to look back on our life and reconcile with our actions. The show was filmed without Tyson’s support, which he has criticized in the media. Had he been able to be part of the conversation about the portrayal of his life, Mike would be perfect.
Mike is a masterpiece and the perfect main event for television viewing in these final days of summer.