Channel hop

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 May, 2011, 12:00am


We've been seeing the softer side of Mike Tyson lately. After a memorable cameo in 2009's The Hangover (in which we were treated to a tone-deaf rendition of Phil Collins' In the Air of the Night) brought him back into the public eye, the former boxing champion has been lobbying hard for a second chance at popularity.

But he isn't using his fists this time. Renouncing his aggressive tendencies, as well as drugs and red meat, Tyson has found a way to flex his competitive muscles without having to bite people's ears off.

Taking on Tyson (Animal Planet, Tuesdays at 10pm) returns the former boxer to his unlikely first love - breeding and raising pigeons on an urban rooftop; only, he takes it a step further by racing his birds.

The Brooklyn boy says, 'the first thing I ever loved in my life was a pigeon.' And, sure enough, in the first episode of this six-part docudrama, we see the 100kg muscle man grab one of his feathery wards from the coop and give it a peck on the beak. It's awkward, but you have to give Tyson - the show's executive producer - points for originality.

Older fans may appreciate a look inside Tyson's old Brooklyn haunts as he reminisces about his fighting past. Long-time friend and promoter Mario Costa - who still owns the Ringside gym in Jersey City where Tyson used to train - has embraced his erstwhile charge's new direction and outfitted his rooftop with coops for his racing team. Tyson has brought in pigeon trainer Vinnie Torre and two friends from the 'hood to help in his quest to win against more experienced bird racers.

Tyson links his new-found humility and inner peace to the progress he makes with the birds and the competition. That is something - as unfamiliar a sport as pigeon racing is to most of us - worth getting behind.

For another unique documentary series, with far less bird poo, we invite you to Meet the Amish (above right; Nat Geo Adventure, Sundays at 10pm).

Most of us would have a hard time living without motorised transport, or spending summers covered from head to toe, but the American Amish, mostly concentrated in the Midwest, are known for simple living, plain and modest dress, and their reluctance to adopt many conveniences of modern technology.

There is one diversion, however, for the youth of these religious and tight-knit communities before they decide to become fully fledged adult members - the Rumspringa. It's a spring fling of sorts - with a looser timeline - during which Amish youth are encouraged to go out into the world and experience that which cannot be found at home.

The programme follows five Amish teenagers as they leave their protective clans and travel to Britain. Their trip of many 'firsts' takes them to the Kent countryside, where they make art, not the craftwork they know; to one of Scotland's castles and hunting estates to rub shoulders with the upper class; and to Cornwall, where they try surfing and clubbing.

Meanwhile, back home, the production crew takes time to understand life in Amish Pennsylvania, including the religious doctrines behind certain practices.

How will America's squarest teenagers cope with everything that they experience? Will they be tempted to leave their old lives behind for the new freedoms on offer? This four- part series makes for fascinating commentary, not only on the Amish lifestyle, but also on the modern lives we take for granted.