Atlanta-based Adult Swim, in targeting young males, likes it weird. “Squidbillies,” “Aqua Teen” and “Tim & Eric’s Bedtime Stories” all qualify.
Welcome “Mike Tyson Mysteries” to the fold, debuting Monday at 10:30 p.m. It’s a clear homage to the 1970s classic “Scooby Doo” series featuring weekly mysteries and a mystery van. The music evokes FX’s “Archer.” The dialogue is probably even funnier if you are watching with illicit drugs in your system. (We’re looking at you Shaggy!)
Then there’s Mike Tyson himself, once a successfully yet vicious boxer with a terrible reputation (and a rape conviction under his belt) who has become a self-aware comedic punchline. He was a laugh riot as a warped version of himself in “The Hangover” films. He had a short-lived Animal Planet series about raising pigeons. Last year, Spike Lee put together a riveting one-man show for Tyson that stopped by the Fox Theatre as part of a national tour, then aired on HBO.
Two Warner Brothers animation executives Sam Register and Peter Giraldi approached Tyson about doing an animated series. He was surprisingly game to make fun of himself. His animated self always wears a blue track suit and takes care of carrier pigeons (just like his real life) – except in this case, the pigeons retrieve messages from clients about mysteries his team could solve.
“I didn’t have nothing better to do,” Tyson told a Comic-Con crowd recently, rationalizing why he said yes.
Tyson has a team, too: a ghost named Marquess of Queensberry (voiced by “Community” actor Jim Rash) who helped guide Tyson out of a funk. There’s his adopted 18-year-old Korean daughter (Rachel Ramras) who he thinks is Chinese. And Norm MacDonald plays the wise-cracking pigeon, who guzzles beer all day and complains about his plight, having formerly been a human being. (His ex wife was into witchcraft and turned him into a pigeon.) The trio frequently making fun of each other.
His adopted daughter Yung Hee: “Who is my mother and why did she leave me on Mike Tyson’s doorstep when I was a baby?”
“Probably because she didn’t want you,” Pigeon says. “Mystery solved!”
And based on the so-called “mysteries” of the first two episodes, these aren’t going to be the type you’ll see on “Bones” or “Castle.”
Instead, in the first episode, an author needs their help finishing his book. And in another, an IBM computer punch card with the words “HELP ME” leads the quartet to a Gary Kasparov/Deep Blue chess match.
Ghost to Tyson: “That’s computer code. It’s binary.”
Tyson: “Oh, for deaf people!”
Ghost: “You’re thinking Braille and that’s for blind people, not deaf people.”
Tyson: “So deaf people have no language. That’s pretty sad.”
Yung Hee: “They speak with their hands.”
Tyson: “Like monkeys!”
Like many Adult Swim shows, it’s more about the interplay among the characters than the actual plotlines that matter. Hugh Davidson, executive producer, was a bit skeptical when he first heard the concept. “I couldn’t conceive how we could make this funny,” he said.
In a brainstorming meeting, they wanted a ghost (and got it.) There was a dune buggy that talked. Davidson helped get rid of that. “I was trying to make it more grounded,” he said. That’s where the talking pigeon came in because of Tyson’s love for the animals. And the ghost sometimes walks, sometimes floats. It doesn’t really matter.
Davidson had worked at the Groundlings with Rash and Ramras and admired MacDonald’s humor. He had all three of them riff in the same room. (Tyson’s dialogue was done separately because he always seemed to be traveling.)
He was a little nervous mocking Tyson’s mangling of the English language. But Tyson didn’t complain. “He didn’t go to college but he’s street smart,” Davidson said. “He is also super into weird, arcane stuff.”
They also show Tyson’s seemingly calm, pleasant demeanor morph on occasion into Hulk-like rage in the cartoon. (In the chess episode, Tyson’s animated character notes that he will punch out the KKK Grand Wizard, – except he mistakes Gary Kasparov, who says he’s a chess ‘grandmaster.’).
“In public panels,” Davidson says, “if someone asks a weird question, there is that little tension in the air.”
“Mike Tyson Mysteries,” 10:30 p.m. Mondays, starting October 27, Adult Swim