Celebrity sells, so forgive Animal Planet for its subgenre that might be called “Famous People and the Weird (but Not Unnatural) Stuff They Do With Animals.” Enter Mike Tyson, who has done a remarkable job reinventing himself and playing off his image (witness “The Hangover”) in the wake of a prison stint and assorted scandals. Still, watching him race homing pigeons, as he does in the reality show “Taking on Tyson,” turns even the former heavyweight champ into a 98-pound TV weakling. Viewers might learn a little, but they’ll be tempted to snooze a lot.
Beyond reintroducing Tyson and his backstory, the show pretty quickly dives into his surprising passion for pigeons, and decision to get into what the narrator (“The Wire’s” Michael Kenneth Williams) calls “the highly competitive world of pigeon racing.” Hey, if you say so.
The program then shifts to mind-numbing detail about the intricacies of pigeons. Tyson recedes into the background for stretches, intermittently returning to additional chapters of his biography. In essence, the boxer’s role initially feels like little more than a ring girl — a splashy figure designed to get our attention.
Tyson is joined by a colorful group of guys who easily could have been extras on “The Sopranos,” but his quest to become a champion in this new arena simply doesn’t hold enough interest to stay airborne.
Granted, the channel’s called Animal Planet, but funneling Tyson’s competitive tendencies into pigeon racing is an awfully tall order.
“You have to have patience,” Tyson is told, Yoda-like, at one point.
Maybe so, but it’s hard to imagine many viewers patiently waiting for these pigeons come home to roost. Because while Tyson’s story is interesting, if you know it, there’s nothing new here. And the rest of “Taking on Tyson,” frankly, is for the birds.