Review: “Mike Tyson Mysteries”

The opaque marketing campaigns have come and gone, and “Mike Tyson Mysteries” has made its debut on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim — you can even watch the first episode here. What to make of it?

(Spoilers ahead.)

There is no way to make total sense of it. It’s eccentric in the way a lot of Adult Swim material is, and on the funnier scale of things… no anti-comedy like “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!” Which is great, because fuck Tim and Eric. “Mike Tyson Mysteries” is very much as it appeared from the previews: “Venture Bros.” lite, with a bigger name as its centerpiece and a central cast with a different set of quirks.

It is hard to say, beyond that quick capsule summary, whom Adult Swim is trying to reach with this one. It is not as weird as Venture Bros., at least not yet, and not as likely to provoke some of the same kind of oddly enjoyable squirms as that show. It certainly doesn’t have that show’s snappy pace, which might be related to the fact that its series debut’s timing is thrown off by tons of explication. (Albeit amusing explication: The Marquess of Queensberry’s protests about the life advice given to Tyson by a talking baby is the best recurring joke of the debut.)

So maybe the Venture Bros. crowd enjoys it, somewhat. Would a boxing crowd? Perhaps some segment of it. There’s a swath of boxing fandom that loves literature, to be sure, but the climax of the first episode features a series of jokes about Cormac McCarthy’s writing style vs. that of John Updike’s. Would the generic Tyson fan enjoy this show? Hard to say.

That might sound condescending, but it’s no more condescending than how the show treats its protagonist. It’s hard to be too offended if Tyson is an active participant in his caricature, but one of the things that has always made Tyson an interesting figure is how self-aware and intelligent he is in unexpected ways. Yet cartoon Tyson is a stream of malapropisms, a joke repeatedly mined in the first episode to cringe-inducing results. “Look, Tyson can’t say Cormac McCarthy’s name right!” Har har har.

It’s doubly too bad that the show took that approach, because one of the ways Tyson demonstrates his flair for surprising talents here is in his voice acting. Tyson’s delivery and range is quite wondrous, and contributes significantly to the funniest moments of the show. Whatever problem the show has with pace through one episode, it ain’t Tyson’s fault. As written, the line about Tyson deciding to beat the shit out of the chupacabra is amusing. As executed, it’s even better.

And any show that has Norm MacDonald as one of its voice actors is going to be pretty damn good at delivery. The only time the first episode really accurately skewers Tyson’s reputation — the mispronunciation gag misses the mark somewhat — is when the McDonald-voiced pigeon drunkenly declares that Tyson isn’t fun anymore since he stopped getting loaded and beating up random people.

All in all the first episode is worth watching for what a peculiar thing it is, and for some of the laughs. (Thank you, Cormac McCarthy centaur/pegasus.) Whether it will be worth watching going forward will depend on how much it falls back on lame cheap laughs vs. how much it becomes a smoother, well-paced delivery system for oddball comedy and adventure.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.