It doesn’t take long before “Mike” really goes off the rails. And despite the personal grievances of former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson, on whom the show is based, it’s not because creator and screenwriter Steven Rogers didn’t approach him for approval.
There’s a fundamental problem with storytelling across the entire Hulu series, which premiered on the platform Thursday. As many viewers will probably note minutes into the first episode, there isn’t really anything new to the story Rogers and showrunner Karin Gist are telling here.
It is well documented that Tyson, played by Trevante Rhodes, had an unhappy upbringing. He was the youngest of three children raised in New York’s Brooklyn borough by single mother Lorna Mae Smith Tyson (Olunike Adeliyi), with whom he had a tumultuous relationship. Even a quick Wikipedia search could tell you that Tyson was raised by then-trainer Cus D’Amato (Harvey Keitel) after his mother died when he was 16.
Before that, the boy was relentlessly bullied by his classmates for his lisp and his weight, in and out of prison throughout his teenage years for various petty crimes. But one detail that “Mike” repeatedly returns to is how damaging his mother was to his life.
Through a mournful portrayal of Tyson’s younger years by both Zaiden James and BJ Minor, we see Lorna Mae constantly devaluing her son and telling him he won’t mean anything.
Mike is a victim of almost the moment the series begins in the first of countless fourth-wall-breaking narrations by adult Mike, and this continues at least until the first five episodes made available to the press.
“There’s a lot of shitty shit we’re going to end up with,” Mike says.
And it’s all what’s been done until it. If it’s not his mother who is hurting him, it’s someone else. In later episodes, “Mike” alludes to promoter Don King (Russell Hornsby) who mishandled the boxer’s money. The series has a lot of potential to explore the way white Hollywood has commercialized young black male athletes, but this is strangely obscured.
Instead, Gist and Rogers choose to work home how his mother and the other women in Mike’s life, who are very conspicuously black, have helped him hurt him – from ex-wife Robin Givens (Laura Harrier) to 18 year-old Desiree Washington (Li Eubanks), who accused him of rape.
To be clear, “Mike” does not openly defame any of these women. But they’re each framed in a one-dimensional way that makes Mike look like the more complicated human we at least understand, even if we don’t agree with his actions.
When he does something that undeniably hurts these women, the series quickly shows us how he’s been hurt too — and sometimes by them.
Rogers is not impeccable just because he is a white male who may not understand how damaging this framing is. As the creator of a show featuring black female characters, it’s his job to establish this.
But this approach is especially baffling when you consider that Gist, known for black female shows like “Girlfriends,” told members of the press at a Television Critics Association panel this month that she strongly believed that women are part of “Mike.” ”
And yet this is what we have: a hackneyed portrayal of black women.
Tyson has said that his mother was emotionally and physically abusive while growing up. The series is also shown taking time off from work or her day to pick up Mike from the police station after his 37 arrests. She is a single black mother in New York with two other children in the midst of the still fraught civil rights era. None of these nuances are ever considered in “Mike.”
Admittedly, the series continues to remind us that the story is told directly through Mike’s personal lens, which makes Tyson’s resentment for the show all the more uncomfortable. But the fact that these women don’t get equally nuanced portraits results in an unpleasant watch.
Which brings us to the moment when “Mike” swan dives off a cliff. This is a series that premieres in a #MeToo era that claims to re-examine the way women are portrayed on screen, but it’s set in a time period – at this point in the show, in the late ’80s – that was anything but.
While “Mike” tries to reformulate Tyson’s story for a more conscious audience, it doesn’t extend that same grace to the black women on the show. A few episodes into “Mike”—which equates to only an hour or so of the series, as each episode is thankfully half an hour—he decides to hang Givens to dry.
This is after many have since re-watched a repugnant 1988 Barbara Walters interview in which Givens alleged that Tyson abused her during their one-year marriage. This is after she was consistently vilified in the press for being a “gold digger” and speaking out against her then-proclaimed husband.
This is even after hearing “Boomerang” director Reginald Hudlin say in 2017 that Givens, an actor in the 1992 film, was “a very controversial character because of her history with Mike Tyson.” Hudlin added that there was much debate about the decision to cast her amid “rumors about who she was as a person.” The story surrounding her marked Givens’ career.
This is even after New York Times critic Salamishah Tillet recently re-examined Givens’ legacy in the current era, realigning her undeniable value and contribution to screenshots of black women in light of how unfairly she was discussed. .
What happens when “Mike” really digs into the relationship between the boxer and the actress — without giving spoilers about how the story is told in episodes airing next week — paints her back in the corner she’s in. was located in the 1990s. And that’s irritating.
This one power would be overlooked if the series weren’t so determined to portray all of its black female characters in this way. For that, it’s impossible to ignore, and it shouldn’t be. We can’t even spend much time on Desiree’s traumatic account of her experience without the show also telling us about the impact it had on Tyson’s career and psyche.
“Mike” is a strange composition that seems to be primarily designed to juggle multiple truths about a man who, admittedly, has only had one negative story in the last few decades.
It’s not about portraying Tyson through the binary lens of villain or hero; the series doesn’t shy away from his rape charges or his flirting. Rather, it’s about extending that compassion and desire for understanding of nuance to the black women who circled his life. Without it, “Mike” comes across as twisted propaganda.