I was able to view a few of FOX's 'Being: Tyson' episodes in advance. There's quite a bit to digest and, generally speaking, the show is worth viewing, but these are the most important takeaways I have after watching.
1. The show picks up where the movie leaves off. There is some subject and thematic overlap between the 2008 documentary 'Tyson' and this television series, but the key differentiator is that the movie brought the viewer up to speed on where Tyson had traveled to in his personal journey. This show picks up where the movie left off.
In that sense, the concept is deeply if not entirely derivative. Yet, it hardly matters. A documentary can only briefly take you into a person's life, particularly if much of the film has to spend time going over a man's long history. The FOX show allows for a deeper dive insofar as his present-day life is concerned, anyway. So while we can't credit FOX with originality, that's not much of an indictment. There's complete continuity from movie to television and if they're going to be derivative, they picked the right subject matter to piggyback.
2. Mike Tyson is still a deeply needy person. We're all needy to varying extents. Some of those reasons are legitimate, while others stem from personal shortcomings. Tyson has them both. I can imagine he still has some considerable debt to pay off. He needs to make money. While his intentions seem honest and there's a natural market for it, he is selling his memories and candor. At some point, one wonders how much of that becomes a gimmick or act. But more to the point, Tyson is living a moment where he is something new, something old and everything in between. He is a new, reformed person, but he can't fully escape what he once was. He tells the viewer on the show he just wants to live a simple life and pay his bills, but he also has a deep need to make sure others see him as he is now. He needs you to forgive him. He needs you to tell him it's ok. He needs you to recognize he is who he is and not who he was. He needs the validation and adoration only others can provide.
3. He's also never alone. I suspect Tyson's life isn't as wild now as it once was, but he's hardly engaging in solitude. As the show demonstrates, he never seems to have a moment absent a crowd or others clawing for his attention. In that respect, he can't escape the popularity and stature of who he once was, which is probably why he still grapples with the challenge of demonstrating that's not who he is anymore.
One wonders not only if Tyson will ever experience quiet moments of solitude, but whether he can even survive on such terms. He needs to tell you his story, not just its history but in real time. If he's not in front of crowds on tour in Indianapolis, he's in front of a camera spilling his guts. If he isn't doing autograph signings, he's being stopped in traffic. Tyson says he doesn't blame people for thinking he's still the old person and hanging onto his previous mystique. "It's what I showed them," he says. Perhaps the audience willing to listen is part of the therapeutic process, but it's not clear if Tyson is rehabilitating or just managing the demons. What happens when the audience goes away? Maybe it doesn't matter since they seemingly never will.
4. He is many; he contains multitudes. The show does an excellent job of demonstrating the compartmentalized identity of Tyson. He is a nice old man, but still can conjure the old menacing thug he once was. He's a jokester just looking to be happy, and an utterly fragile soul just the same. He doesn't miss boxing, but states how much he loves it when watching Evander Holyfield's son compete in his first amateur fight. He even cries when discussing his love ("I'm just a warrior, man."). If Tyson is in emotional turmoil, it's not difficult to understand why. It's hard to make sense of a self in stasis, but much less one that is everywhere, not this, sometimes that and occasionally something else altogether.
5. Tyson's candor is what makes any of this possible. The show is well produced and worth watching, but the success of the program is entirely a function of Tyson's willingness to share everything. His personal and professional life is mildly interesting, but what makes the show excel is Tyson re-framing the experiences with his own take. And because his own vision is often in contrast and conflict - he calls himself both a 'beautiful peacock' and ugly racial slur simultaneously before taking the stage at his one-man show - there's a unique view offered to the observer that's extraordinarily difficult to come by. When you consider what a remarkable, undulating life of accomplishment and abject failure he's had, you walk away with a deep appreciation for what his insight and willingness to level with you as a viewer does for the entire experience.
'Being: Mike Tyson' airs every Tuesday on Fox Sports 1 at 10:30 p.m. ET.