By Sarah Osman
Tiger King 2 comes off as a freak show that is content to scream “look at how insane these people are!”
When the pandemic first began and we were all hunkered down in our homes, unsure of when it would be safe to venture out again, we tamed our fears by watching a docuseries on Netflix by the name of Tiger King. Just as the pandemic seemed to come out of nowhere, so did the insanity of Tiger King, which spawned endless memes, fashion statements, catch phrases, fascinatingly tacky music videos, and a healthy amount of animal abuse. This wild concoction — tiger-owning rednecks imbued in possible murder plots — helped soothe our worries about the impending future. At least we were not that bad off. Deeply worried about the health of our families, yes. Making videos about killing our number one enemy, no.
Fast forward roughly two years later. There’s a vaccine, a new president, a gradual return to life as we knew it … and a new season of Tiger King. Most of the more insane details were already hashed out in season one, so season two focuses on the ongoing plan to pardon Joe Exotic, the titular “tiger king.” There are also excursions into the unexpected fame garnered by the subjects of Tiger King and, of course, speculation about whether or not “that bitch” Carole Baskins killed her husband. Any of these subplots could make for an interesting docuseries, but when crowded together the result is a hodgepodge, which makes Tiger King 2 an unfocused and rather dull follow-up. This haphazard mess raises the inevitable question: was the first season all that good or were we all so befuddled by COVID that we never noticed its flaws?
Joe Exotic is now behind bars (on a multitude of charges). An imprisoned antihero who claims he’s innocent isn’t that entertaining. Even less compelling: more on the efforts of Eric Love, a man who has decided to dedicate his life to convincing Trump to pardon Joe Exotic (spoiler alert: he doesn’t). Love fancies that a massive Tiger King bus would do the trick; he even goes to DC to try to convince Trump, only to arrive on the day of the insurrection. Some tantalizing possibilities are ignored: the traitors, who are gathered to stage a coup, severely criticize Love for simply waving a “free Joe Exotic” banner. And why is Love so drawn to this case in the first place? Neither thread is examined, and that is a shame. The insurrectionists are okay with overthrowing the government but not with what they see as animal abuse? That absurd contradiction warrants a docuseries in itself.
As the series goes on, we catch up with other subjects, all of whom acknowledge that what happened to the animals is “bad” and that’s about it. No one tries to actually assist the tigers that are being held in cruel captivity. At no point do the proceedings focus on passing any laws or insist that with the right activism the caged exotic animals could be helped (except for a few quick insights from a PETA representative). Sadly, the animals are — once again — the true victims here.
Another aspect of the first season that is vaguely glossed over is the treatment of Carole Baskins, Joe Exotic’s nemesis. A few comments are made, but the series has little of substance to say about that misogyny. Dealing with that issue would have made for an interesting way to develop the narrative. Instead, two episodes are devoted to whether or not Baskins murdered her husband. Predictably, we never get a clear answer. Worse, because Baskins and her family refused to be a part of the second season, we never hear a countervailing voice. That reduces Tiger King 2 into yet another true crime docuseries, a genre Netflix has overindulged in. And the streaming service has made several that are done far better than this.
So the second season of Tiger King comes off as a freak show that is content to scream “look at how insane these people are!” One season of ogling Exotic and company’s outrageous behavior is enough. If there was a Tiger King vaccine, there would be a mandate.
Sarah Mina Osman is a writer residing in Wilmington, North Carolina. In addition to writing for The Arts Fuse, she has written for Watercooler HQ, The Huffington Post, HelloGiggles, Young Hollywood, and Matador Network, among other sites. Her work was included in the anthology Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences in the Trump Era. She is currently a first year fiction MFA candidate at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. When she’s not writing, she’s dancing, watching movies, traveling, or eating. She has a deep appreciation for sloths and tacos. You can keep up with her on Twitter and Instagram: @SarahMinaOsman