I find Mike Tyson fascinating. His mix of menace, sweetness, crudeness, shyness, gallant and studied speech, humor, tragedy...it's all riveting. Forget his prowess in the ring, the fact that he's still alive and functioning shows his champion strength.
And so, because he's at the center of "Taking on Tyson" (Animal Planet, 10 tonight), I'm all in. The series chronicles the retired boxer's return to competition in the form of pigeon racing in the New York area.
Tyson has long kept a coop and the birds; birds (although not racing them) were his passion before boxing. Indeed, Tyson reveals that the first punch he ever threw was after a bully killed one of his pigeons and threw the bloody carcass in his face.
The series is narrated documentary style, and sometimes heavy handedly, to make the point that this isn't just about pigeon racing, but also about Tyson struggling to continue on a positive path. Tyson is trying to strip away some of the characteristics that made him a good boxer, but not that great of a person. At one point, he tells of his beloved mentor Cus D'Amato's (the man who adopted and trained him) insistence that he think of himself as superior to others. That led to a blind arrogance a humbler Tyson now can't believe he was capable of. And yet, Tyson, a novice pigeon racer, needs some of D'Amato's teachings on winning to take on the competition.
The show opens the door on the world of pigeon racing, a sport all about bragging and one that's kind of grubby. These are the only New Yorkers I know of who don't see the birds as flying disease-carrying nasty pooping kin to rats. I will say that the show does a good job illustrating the beauty the rest of us might be hard-pressed to see. And certainly, in flight, there's a certain grace to the experience.
One episode in there are glimpses of the members of Tyson's Corner, the pigeon racing team, that shows they could develop into fun characters. But this is Mike Tyson's show. A work in progress, unafraid to openly discuss the self work he's doing, Tyson's more than enough to keep you watching.