Mike is an unflinching and raw account of the controversial boxer’s life, with Trevante Rhodes throwing his absolute all into his portrayal of Mike Tyson. The series is fast-paced, highly stylized, and deeply fascinating while somehow finding room to be surprisingly emotive too.
This review of the Hulu series Mike season 1 does not contain any major spoilers.
Writer Steven Rogers and director Craig Gillespie (Pam & Tommy) are the creative talents behind I, Tonya, a film that brought a bad-a*s, rock ‘n’ roll sensibility to what could have been a standard biopic about an ice-skater. The filmmakers reteam for a miniseries on the life of Mike Tyson, demonstrating that same dark humor and flamboyant attitude once again. Like I, Tonya, Hulu’s Mike is fast-paced and in-your-face, with a similarly cinematic style and a surprisingly emotive tone to its predecessor. The Hulu original breaks the fourth wall, is shamelessly self-aware and brutally honest in its depiction of Tyson, delivering one of the most fascinating watches of the year.
As you may be aware, Mike Tyson led an eventful and controversial life. There is so much to explore in his past that a biographical series was always bound to happen. The tricky part is firstly in structuring the series to do his story justice and secondly to authentically portray the heavyweight boxing champ with all his flaws and foibles. Well, the Hulu series manages to perfect both of these issues. The show is framed smartly and efficiently, while Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight) produces a knockout performance as Tyson.
Let’s start with the show’s framing. Rogers has decided to use Tyson’s one-man show from 2017 as the glue that holds this series together. Tyson narrates about his life, talking candidly to his audience in the crowd and in turn to the viewers at home too. He is honest and open about the many mistakes he has made over the years. Tyson comes across as self-aware and quite charming in this one-man show, all to Rhodes’ credit. He winces over some of his more embarrassing or controversial choices, but always reflects on why he made those decisions and how certain life events effected them. The narration interconnects the many timelines on display, although the show quickly reverts to a chronological structure, starting with his horrifying childhood, then moving onto his teenage years and adulthood.
Then there is Rhodes’ performance as Tyson and it has to be mentioned, the other two portrayals of Tyson are equally impressive. We see Tyson as a bullied child, a criminal teen and then the adult version played by Rhodes, with each iteration expertly crafted. Rhodes has perfected the voice and the look, bringing an added vulnerability to the athlete as well. His relationship with manager and mentor Cus D’Amato (Harvey Keitel) is also beautifully wholesome, providing a surprisingly emotional layer to the show. Keitel is masterful as the quirky, aging trainer, with an effortless performance that deserves award recognition alongside Rhodes’ work.
Mike can be glossy and infectiously witty, but there is an emotional side to the show too. Tyson is a lovable rogue after all, and the show-runners are eager to portray the boxer this way. For all his faults, he is used and abused by those closest to him. Desperate for love and affection. Along the way, there are many more hardships for Tyson to endure. There are doomed romances, with Laura Harrier (BlacKkKlansman) as his first wife Robin Givens as well as his infamous partnership with boxing promoter Don King (Russell Hornsby) to explore. The show doesn’t leave a single stone unturned and yet leaves you wanting more. This is an unflinching and raw account of the controversial boxer’s life that will entertain and astound.
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