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Review

Animated and quirky 'Mike Tyson Mysteries' on Adult Swim

Mike Tyson the boxer is now Mike Tyson the cartoon hero in Adult Swim's "Mike Tyson Mysteries."

The transformation of Mike Tyson from chump to champ, con to ex-con (to con to ex-con), from drug addict to sober vegan and from boxing to Broadway, takes perhaps its strangest turn Monday with the premiere of "Mike Tyson Mysteries," on Adult Swim.

It is a cartoon. Some might say that Tyson, who lends his voice to the series, was a cartoon even before he was animated, but, you know, I'm not here to judge. At 48, he seems — if we accept his recent book-stage-and-HBO-special memoir "Undisputed Truth" as credible — to be in a better place, and to be a better person, than in most of the other 47. He is secure enough anyway to let himself be portrayed as a lovable idiot and to put his own, still-formidable shoulder to the enterprise.

Still, in some way Tyson — whose previous TV series, on Animal Planet, was the 2011 "Taking on Tyson," a reality show in which he tried racing pigeons — is incidental to the concept. The show has been shaped to him, certainly, but also follows the program that early defined the Adult Swim brand-aesthetic; like "Space Ghost Coast to Coast," "Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law," "Sealab 2021," "The Venture Brothers," it refers back to earlier adventure cartoons, sometimes taking their actual characters and making them weirder, or more banal, which also makes them weirder.

The specific target-inspiration is the Saturday-morning celebrity-adventure cartoon, especially those of the 1970s and 1980s, like "Harlem Globetrotters" and the short-lived "I Am the Greatest: The Adventures of Muhammad Ali," and also the celebrity-cameo episodes of "Scooby-Doo," that generational touchstone and inexhaustible template  except here the celebrities are not Sonny & Cher or Dick Van Dyke but Cormac McCarthy and Gary Kasparov.

The design and the music, the pacing and the staging are all pure late-mid-20th-century — it is a kind of apotheosis by parody, which is the Adult Swim method pretty much in a nutshell. Tyson himself, with his Brooklyn lisp and face tattoo, is presented as a bit of a boob, a little behind the conversation or a little too ahead of it — he clocks Kasparov, mistaking a Grand Master for a Grand Wizard — but no less heroic. They might have found another athlete for this job, they couldn't have found anyone better.

The cartoon in a way echoes Tyson's own path, as he tells it, from violent brute to sensitive soul: The ghost of the Marquess of Queensbury (Jim Rash) has appealed to him to "stop living for himself," and now he waits for distress calls delivered by one of his carrier pigeons. (Real Mike Tyson has raised birds since he was a boy.) Along with the Marquess, whom Mike calls Marcus, he is accompanied on his ventures by a teenaged adopted daughter, Yung Hee (Rachel Ramras), left on his doorstep as a baby, and a talking, beer-drinking pigeon (Norm MacDonald), who insults everyone.

"He's no fun, he doesn't party, he doesn't beat up random people," Pigeon says of the new Mike to the Marquess. "You've basically turned him into you. Except he's not a closeted homosexual."

What does it add up to? No more nor less than the premise portends. (You will like it, if you like what you've read.) It is amiably absurd and mildly profane, entertaining in a dry, droll way. Viewers must decide for themselves whether Tyson is being made a fool of; I tend to think not, because who would do that, and how could they get away with it?

In any case, he's funny, whether misremembering words (he variously calls a chupacabra a chipacama and a chimamonga and refers to McCarthy as Cortack McCrathy, Carsmen McArthur and Cormack McConaughey); singing a song called "Ain't Got No Time for Bird Sex"; or developing a theory about McCarthy's reclusiveness: "Did his face burn off in a fire and he has a metal face and everyone's scared of his face? Maybe he's really a robot or a mythological creature like a horse man. I bet that's the mystery."

He's not a bad actor, comparatively speaking, but the occasional awkwardness of his delivery and the sound of his soft Brooklyn lisp are certainly exploited for comic effect.

I will probably watch as many of these as are made.

Robert Lloyd is staying down for the count on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd

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