FIB Review: Tiger King 2

Can lightning strike twice?

Credit: Netlix

It was the very beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. People were given orders to stay at home. At this time of anxiety and uncertainty, we were seeking something entertaining but not too intellectually challenging. Enter the first season of the Netflix documentary Tiger King.

Described by one reviewer as “a hillbilly Game of Thrones“, it introduced the world to a cast of larger than life characters, like Doc Antle, Director of The Institute for Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (T.I.G.E.R.S.), a cult-like figure who has, to put it politely, some questionable hiring and animal safety policies (he has since been indicted on animal cruelty and wildlife trafficking charges after an investigation by the Virginia Attorney General). Carole Baskin, the ostensible saviour of these animals, but also a woman with a seemingly dark past, and a second husband who had disappeared in (again I’m being charitable) questionable circumstances. And the linchpin, the main character and the big draw of the piece, Joe Exotic.

Joe is simultaneously charming and vaguely off-putting. A meth-smoking, openly gay, gun-loving private zoo owner, he seems to be almost a poster-boy for both the best and worst of America – its freedom and its excess. Joe has been “famous in his own mind” for years before the documentary, with a dedicated web TV channel, and multiple country albums recorded with a surprisingly good singing voice. After the shocking revelation that Joe was conspiring with other individuals to kill Carole Baskin, the government – who may or may not have been motivated by the desire to make other charges to do with animal mismanagement stick – charged him with conspiracy to commit murder and sentenced him to prison.

Unanswered Questions

This is the story that captured the world’s imagination at the outset of the pandemic. Nic Cage was scheduled to play Joe in a biopic. His image was all over social media, and was one of the most popular Halloween costumes was the blonde mullet and cowboy hat combo. Season 1 of Tiger King was truly a cultural phenomenon. Last week, Netflix launched the second season, asking that age-old question: Can lightning strike twice?

The short answer is no. While there are some compelling elements to the second series of Tiger King, it ultimately fails to generate the same sense of momentum and intrigue as its previous season. A 5 episode affair this time around, it zeroes in on some of the biggest unanswered questions that left audiences wondering. The first episode dives into Joe’s backstory, and is actually an interesting window into who the man would eventually become. Testimonials from his relatives and former friends provide more context into his behaviour.

The next two episodes are focused on the daughters of Carole Baskin’s second husband, Don Lewis, and their search for the truth on what happened to their father. It is here that the second series feels like it’s marking time – without much new information, much of this is a rehash of events already covered in the first season. It does provide some interesting – albeit cringeworthy – viewing in the form of Carole’s appearance on Dancing With the Stars to capitalise on her newfound fame.

It also introduces this series’ worst individual, John Phillips. The true definition of a slimy, ambulance-chasing lawyer, his antics are enough to make you say to yourself “this is why people hate lawyers.” Ultimately – even with the help of people from Phillips to a “psychic” detective Troy Griffin, there is not much – and no solid evidence – to change Carole’s status from “person of interest” to “active suspect” in Don’s disappearance.

Sophomoric Slump

Credit: BBC

The final two episodes deal with Jeff Lowe and Tim Stark teaming up to attempt to resurrect Joe’s zoo while he is in jail. However Tim has also long been the subject of investigations regarding his conduct with animals, and after a considerable investigation, the state turn up in force to remove the animals from his private zoo. While Tim is ultimately banned from acquiring, exhibiting and owning any exotic and native animals, Jeff Lowe – who is shown by the documentary to have a criminal history including fraud and his own involvement in the plot to kill Carole – walks away scot-free. Tim is not a sympathetic figure by any means, in fact, he appears quite delusional. But the notion of “justice for all” is clearly not a priority here.

Ultimately, Tiger King 2 suffers from a serious case of sophomoric slump. And is ultimately a little mystifying as to its overall point. With a serious lack of anything compelling to add to the events of the first series, it feels like an exercise in marking time, as we await the results of the investigation into Don Lewis’ disappearance, and Joe Exotic appealing his prison sentence. It sets up both of these events but ultimately is a disappointment as neither has been resolved.

Not only that, but much the same as a fictional series can, the second series of Tiger King suffers from shelving its main character. Joe Exotic is behind bars, and any new footage of him is taken from a prison interview where we can see the top of his head – his iconic mullet looking decidedly less blonde – and hear his voice through the same audio quality of a recorded phonecall. This means that minor figures from the first series are left to fill that void, but none of them seem up to the task. For better or worse, there is only one Joe Exotic.

For diehard fans of the first series, the second may satisfy the desire to spend more time in this bizarre, almost unreal world. And one thing the second series does have over the first: a happy ending for the animals involved. After the animals were taken from Joe and Tim’s possession, they were relocated to a wildlife preserve in Colorado, where they appear to be better taken care of. But apart from this, there is little to recommend here. Let’s hope if Netflix goes ahead with a third series, they wait for some sort of solid conclusion to one or both of the ongoing legal battles, which in turn will hopefully make it a satisfying watch.

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