Mike Tyson’s story hardly suffers from a lack of media exposure, so an effort to create a new limited series around the former heavyweight champ entered the ring facing a high bar. Despite a knockout performance by Trevante Rhodes, “Mike” doesn’t consistently clear it, offering an episodic, occasionally too-irreverent tone in seeking to portray not just the boxer but those who passed through his orbit.
Created by Steven Rogers (“I, Tonya”), “Mike” represents an unauthorized depiction of Tyson’s life that has drawn the ire of the man himself, culling from not only upon the reported record but Tyson’s one-man biographical show, “Undisputed Truth,” using Rhodes replicating that material as a kind of interstitial glue to hold the production together.
The device proves a little too meta for its own good, creating an uneven drama that even with Rhodes’ impressive footwork at best delivers a split decision.
The narrative begins with Tyson’s hardscrabble early years, before his discovery by gruff trainer Cus D’Amato (Harvey Keitel) put him on a path to boxing glory, the enormous wealth that went with it and an almost Shakespearean fall, including Tyson’s excesses and exploitation by those around him.
As constructed, “Mike’s” 30-ish-minute episodes essentially create windows into different players in his evolving story, with Tyson periodically punching through the fourth wall to directly address the audience or narrate.
Rhodes (“Moonlight”) admirably captures Tyson in all his contradictions, from his imposing physicality to his emotional vulnerability, in a way that goes beyond just mimicking his voice and adopting his mannerisms. The smartly chosen cast also includes Laura Harrier as Robin Givens and Russell Hornsby as promoter Don King.
Still, “Mike” clearly wants to be more than just a biography, getting beyond the HBO movie of the 1990s to contemplate matters of race, class and sexual politics. The tonal shifts thus render it much more of a hit-miss affair, with the most effective episode focusing on Desiree Washington (Li Eubanks), the beauty-pageant contestant whose rape accusation against Tyson brought scorn from his defenders, prompting her to hauntingly say of the happy teenager that she was, “Desiree’s gone, and she’s not coming back.”
Tyson has remained in the public eye, for everything from marketing edibles to an altercation on an airplane in April. ABC weighed in last year with the documentary “Mike Tyson: The Knockout,” and in some respects that effort and this series from Disney corporate sibling Hulu complement each other.
On the plus side, the project’s shortish eight-episode format makes for a relatively breezy binge, and the broader issues that the producers highlight can theoretically benefit from being filtered through a more modern lens.
Still, using Tyson’s attempt to repackage his biography into a “show” as the central framing device conveys what a self-referential exercise this turns out to be. Perhaps that’s why it feels as if “Mike” scores a few potent points but ultimately doesn’t pack enough new into its fight plan to go the distance.
“Mike” premieres Aug. 25 on Hulu.