When Tiger King dropped on Netflix last year, the world was just a few days away from a global lockdown. It became one of the first things many of us binged in the ‘new normal’, and that was totally on point for the series; because nothing about that show was close to normal, even by true crime documentary standards. Needless to say, that smash hit first chapter created enough buzz for the makers to continue plumbing the story for everything it still had to offer.
But if you thought season 1 was kooky, the latest season takes it up a notch. The saga of Joe Exotic, Carole Baskin and the big cats caught in the middle grows murkier. This time round, the production is bigger and slicker. And for good measure, the five-episode season is also bingy-er. It feels more urgent and in-the-moment because much of what you see in the new season is the impact of the last one. I’m just not sure how much of all that is actually a good thing; such is the nature of the beast.
So, while the last season ended with Joe Exotic in jail for allegedly putting out a hit on his arch-enemy Carole, there are those who are convinced he was set up. The story has reached all the way to the Oval Office – there are those hopeful that Donald Trump, with his penchant for pardoning the (in)famous, might offer Joe clemency.
For me, everything crazy about the show is summarised in one scene in the first episode. It happens to be 6 January, 2021 – the day far-right elements in the US were incited to insurrection at the Capitol in Washington DC. And that’s where the story takes us. So, while scores of people with guns, tiki torches, Confederate flags and even a horned shaman were in the throes of waging their conspiracy theory-fuelled attack on the symbol of their nation’s democracy, there’s a little group right there, with a banner asking for a pardon for Joe Exotic. This is their last-ditch attempt after desperately trying to reach an inaccessible Trump all through the worst days of the pandemic last year. Just one group with a bizarre cause, amid a sea of would-be rioters. But the scene doesn’t end there.
This Joe Exotic group is actually shouted down by one of the many MAGA-heads gathered outside the Capitol, because the cause that the former group represents is meaningless considering the purpose of the larger crowd. Ultimately, the Exotic folk pack up their banner and leave, because they realise that this is the wrong place for their agenda. It is an anti-climactic bit of absurdist theatre that epitomises the high-voltage, mindlessly entertaining but ultimately meaningless drama of the show.
In terms of plot, we get to see ‘famous’ internet sleuths pick up the case of the 1997 disappearance of Carole Baskin’s then-husband Don Lewis. It is a predictably grotesque affair that includes big cats, transnational smuggling of hard cash, paedophilia, the works. All the various possibilities of what could have happened to him are discussed, including the things pointing toward Carole’s own involvement. By the time a psychic shows up to try and solve the case para-normally, you’re not even surprised anymore.
We also see the loopholes in the case against Joe Exotic, as the sympathy for him snowballs into something of a wave in America. Plenty of people seem to feel for him, despite him clearly being a messed up person who has said and done reprehensible things. None of it stays within any realm of acceptable human behaviour, but it’s easy to roll with it nonetheless. Makes you ponder over just how desensitised today’s audiences are to things that should ideally bother us deeply.
For all of the show’s global popularity, it’s clearly not going to create any mass momentum for any of the right reasons – putting pressure on the US to do something significant about that problem for instance. Instead, Tiger King has just created more celebrities out of thin air, for America to obsess over.
All through the season, the makers gleefully incorporate footage of characters being recognised in public because of all the noise around the first season on Netflix, giving a whole new spin to words like ‘metaphysical’ and ‘breaking the fourth wall’. Much of the archival footage used this time is just newsreel showing the aftermath of ‘Netflix show Tiger King’. People ranging from harmlessly silly to downright dangerous have become famous now, with a global platform to boot.
The manipulative Jeff Lowes and ill-mannered Tim Starks of the world might be involved in murder, but they sit in front of cameras to satiate the appetites of us content streamers. The show talks about people feeling suicidal, people potentially having serious mental health issues, but offers no trigger warnings, possibly because it’s been packaged like breakfast cereal spiked with meth. It’s all mighty entertaining, yes. But I’ll be surprised if any of it leaves you with a good taste in your mouth.
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