For those who expected an Animal Planet reality series based on Mike Tysonâ€™s love of pigeons to prove the idiosyncratic ex-boxerâ€™s sanity, Iâ€™m sorry to say that you were wrong.
The premiere of "Taking on Tyson," which aired Sunday night, only solidified Tysonâ€™s over-the-top persona.
But it also educated the world on his impoverished childhood and love of birds.
In a nutshell, the show follows Tyson and his team of pigeon racing trainers, as they attempt to develop the top team in the New York-New Jersey area. (The narrator mentions that there are in fact 16 elite pigeon racing clubs in the region.) Tales of Tysonâ€™s East Brooklyn childhood and boxing career are slipped in throughout the episode.
As the story goes, Tyson threw his first punch over a pigeon. Living on a street where almost every rooftop had a pigeon coop, Tyson was on his way home with his own sack of birds when a neighbor stopped him on the street. Mocking Tyson, the older boy took one of the birds, snapped it in half and wiped the blood on Tysonâ€™s face. Tyson responded by punching the boy.
"He stole my bird," Tyson said. "It seemed like the right thing to do."
Assuming that the show is truly reality and not scripted, Tysonâ€™s next boxing checkpoint also came courtesy of a bird. In the late 1970s, at the age of 12, Tyson attempted to rob an apartment for money to buy pigeons. When Tysonâ€™s plot failed, he was sent to the Tryon School for Boys, New York Cityâ€™s most infamous juvenile detention center. It was here that Muhammed Ali spoke to the young inmates, initiating Tysonâ€™s dream of becoming the heavyweight champion of the world.
The biographical plot also goes into Tyson's half-pro, half-con relationship with trainer Cus Dâ€™Amato and his numerous legal troubles.
But the show makes sure to reiterate the point of its development: To follow Tysonâ€™s title-hungry pigeon racing team.
Tyson's team is made up of three childhood friends and an experienced coach. The owner of the coopâ€™s property, where Tyson has kept his pigeons for multiple decades, is Mario Costa. Tyson refers to Costa as a beautiful man, despite his chain-smoking and excessive use of hair gel. Junie and Rickie Roman, two of Tysonâ€™s childhood friends who also had legal problems, help Tyson and Costa out. Vinny Torre, a long-time pigeon racer from a club in Hoboken, oversees Tysonâ€™s team as their coach. Tyson looks at Torre with the same puppy dog eyes he once looked at Ali with, desiring Torreâ€™s knowledge of pigeon racing.
Overall, Animal Planet succeeds in tying Tysonâ€™ pigeon racing journey to that of his boxing career. When Tyson lost his heavyweight title bout against Lennox Lewis in 2002, Tyson jumped right on a private jet and flew to Costaâ€™ pigeon coop. The pigeons served as Tysonâ€™s distraction from boxing, as boxing had once served as his distraction from poverty. After almost of decade of relaxing by the coop, Tyson has had his competitive nature rise once again, as he hopes to become the best pigeon racer around.
Itâ€™s not every day that an interesting reality show about pigeons comes around, nor a program for sports fans on Animal Planet. However, Mike Tyson is a unique man. Through Tysonâ€™s sometimes hard-to-understand lisp and the hard Sicilian accents of his colleagues, "Taking on Tyson" displays the intriguing tale of a one-time mega-millionaire who has gone back to his roots.
Tysonâ€™s life after bankruptcy has brought the best out of him. He has outlived a life of partying and excessive spending to return to rediscover his youthful love of birds. Tyson spends his days with four lower-to-middle class men, bonded under the same love of a particular animal. Not every day are sports fans able to see their superstars associate themselves with a group of average individuals after a life in the limelight.
For those of you who missed the first episode of "Taking on Tyson," it is definitely worth finding on demand or on replay. It is a story about arguably the most interesting athlete ever in sports. While Tyson may be crazy, he has a heart and is truly a remarkable individual.
Line of the night:
Tyson, while a close-up of pigeon poop appears, concludes: â€śTop pedigree pigeon dump.â€ť
Animal Planet is no major network, meaning that the channel has fewer sponsors. As a result, commercial stints run much shorter than most American television viewers are used to. Also, the network made a smart choice choosing Michael Kenneth Williams, a man with a deep, yet smooth and steady voice, as narrator.