Friday, October 31, 2014

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: Mike Tyson Mysteries, "The End"

On In Living Color, Keenan Ivory Wayans once joked that Mike Tyson sounds like Tweety Bird, an eerie foretelling of Mike Tyson's transformation into a Warner Bros. cartoon character.

Every Friday in "'Brokedown Merry-Go-Round' Show of the Week," I discuss the week's best first-run animated series episode I saw. "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round," a two-hour block of original score tracks from animated shows or movies, airs weekdays at 2pm Pacific on AFOS.

There are two new fall TV shows with "mysteries" in the title: NBC's The Mysteries of Laura, the much-maligned and unwatchable Debra Messing cop show based on the Spanish procedural/telenovela Los Misterios de Laura (hence its soapy-sounding title), and Adult Swim's 11-minute Mike Tyson Mysteries, in which the former heavyweight champ (who voices himself), his adopted Korean daughter Yung Hee (Rachel Ramras), a talking pigeon named Pigeon (Norm MacDonald) and the ghost of the Marquess of Queensberry (Jim Rash) travel the world together to solve mysteries. From the moment when Iron Mike first mangles Cormac McCarthy's name--one of several examples of how, as Mike Tyson Mysteries creator Hugh Davidson once said, Tyson is the last person on Earth who should be solving crimes--it's clear that Mike Tyson Mysteries is the one with "mysteries" in the title that doesn't suck. I like how irrelevant the titular mysteries are, especially the one in the premiere episode, "The End," which, for most of its running time, barely pays attention to some sort of nonsense involving the reclusive McCarthy's whereabouts, a McCarthy imposter and chupacabras.

Mike Tyson Mysteries is far from a plot-driven CBS procedural that only the olds love because Gibbs is always right about everything and the young detectives who work for him are always wrong and clumsy because they're young, dagnabbit, and it's all Obama's fault and I can't find my dang pills because Obama! The titular mysteries are just an excuse for Davidson, who worked on Robot Chicken, to rattle off absurdist bits of humor, like the series premiere's unexpected-to-hear-on-Adult-Swim jokes about highbrow authors like McCarthy and John Updike, which sound like Dick Cavett invaded the writers' room. The 11-minute length is the perfect length for a show this plotless and weird but amusing nonetheless.

It helps that the cast includes Rash, who frequently steals scenes on Community (immediately Google "VCR Maintenance and Educational Publishing rap"), and MacDonald, who's great at stand-up or anchoring Weekend Update but isn't as great at anchoring a sitcom or a movie like Screwed, the 2000 buddy comedy where he co-starred with Dave Chappelle and Sarah Silverman. On this new show, MacDonald is perfect as both a supporting player and the snarky part of the ensemble. Pigeon's basically the Oscar Madison to Rash's stuffy Felix Unger, a laid-back boozehound who was once human and was transformed into a pigeon by his bitter ex-wife (the backstory of who she is and how she trapped him in this pigeon form isn't mentioned in the premiere; I predict she's a Wiccan). And I don't know who decided that Tyson should be voice-directed to just be himself--and then decided that if Tyson ever flubs his lines like he does in the premiere's first scene (even right before the running gag where he keeps mangling McCarthy's name as if it were Frank Bruno), it shouldn't be fixed in post--but that person who made those voice direction decisions deserves a free beer. The non-actory delivery of Tyson (who's credited as a co-producer) turns any of his TV acting roles, like his guest shot for Law & Order: SVU's recent "You Won't Believe What Happens When This Convicted Rapist Plays A Rape Victim" ratings-bait stunt, into a surreal few minutes of TV, and that same delivery is key to the silliness and weirdness of the whole 11-minute show.

Marquess is astonished over why this tough boxer sounds like Tweety Bird whenever he talks.

"It's extra funny seeing these characters that remind you of Scooby-Doo and they're saying profanity," said Ramras to The Hollywood Reporter. Sure, Tyson's Mysterymobile is based on the Mystery Machine, and the ghostly presence of Marquess is inspired by one of Hanna-Barbera's gazillion clones of its own cash cow Scooby-Doo, The Funky Phantom, which was about a mystery-solving ghost, but the type of cartoon Mike Tyson Mysteries is mainly parodying is one most TV critics clearly don't remember and haven't cited in their Mike Tyson Mysteries reviews. Ruby-Spears was the studio founded by Hanna-Barbera escapees Joe Ruby and Ken Spears, who created the first incarnation of Scooby-Doo, and in the '80s, it produced a couple of terrible cartoon vehicles for macho celebrities, in which they appeared in live-action wraparound segments that were ripoffs of Bill Cosby's live-action segments on Fat Albert. The studio's unwatchable Mister T starred the A-Team bruiser as the coach of a multiracial team of mystery-solving gymnast kids, and then later, Ruby-Spears took a Chuck Norris action figure line and turned it into a 30-minute toy commercial called Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos. The character design on Mike Tyson Mysteries is faithful to the character designs on Mister T and Karate Kommandos, but I like how the animation isn't as shoddy as it often was on those Ruby-Spears shows. Instead of being cheaply done, the animation is executed with the usual flair Warner Bros. Animation has brought to shows like Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated and Batman: The Brave and the Bold prior to Mike Tyson Mysteries; for instance, the premiere's striking final shot of the team riding off into the sunset would have been impossible to accomplish with '80s animation technology.

"The End" is a promising start to an offbeat little show that succeeds at being entertaining, whether you're stoned or not. The premiere makes me want to see more absurdity from this strange teaming of Tyson, his Penny from Inspector Gadget-ish daughter, a Funky Phantom ripoff (which means Marquess is a ripoff of a ripoff) and a wiseass pigeon with a taste for "Internet whores." I'm looking forward to the episode where the team must investigate the mystery of why Debra Messing keeps picking such shitty TV projects.

This awkward talk between Yung Hee and her dad about those rape charges just went from Tyson-singing-on-Jimmy-Kimmel-Live-level awkward to Tyson-cursing-on-live-Canadian-morning-TV-level awkward.

Memorable quotes:
* Yung Hee: "It says he can't find an ending to the book he's writing." Pigeon: "And he thought he'd turn to a retired boxer for help. So the actual mystery is 'When did Cormac McCarthy lose his mind?'"

* Pigeon, after accidentally destroying McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize: "So would you say, 'The Pew-litzer melted in the fire,' or would you say, 'The Poo-litzer melted in the fire'?"

* "I'm looking for one good sex scene to jack off to before I go to sleep, but it's nothing but cowboys talking to other cowboys. McCarthy's a prude. He's no Updike. I like those John Updike women, those middle-aged tan gals..."

* Marquess offers his assessment of McCarthy's latest novel: "It's fine. It's just, um, there are no quote marks, so I just had to keep re-reading sections 'cause I don't know who's talking."

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